Earth Institute Profiles

Victoria Diaz-Bonilla

Climate Change Adaptation Initiative Intern; Environmental Science and Special Concentration in Sustainable Development, Columbia College '11

Victoria Diaz-Bonilla

This summer, Victoria Diaz-Bonilla has continued her work helping local communities in Northern Manhattan negotiate the complex realms of climate change, energy and transportation policy. A Columbia College junior, Victoria undertook an internship with the Climate Change Adaptation Initiative.

The Climate Change Adaptation Initiative of the Earth Institute has helped open dialogue between city agencies, nonprofits and Columbia students who will be spearheading the efforts to unite these stakeholders and achieve adaptation targets identified by these projects. The initiative was made possible by a generous $500,000 grant from HSBC in the Community (USA) Inc. Victoria is one of 22 students interning through the initiative this summer.

“When I received an e-mail from the Earth Institute in October publicizing an intern position doing climate change research at a local non-profit, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to work at WE ACT,” Victoria said.  She applied and was chosen to work with Stephanie Tyree, environmental policy coordinator at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, a community-based environmental justice organization representing Northern Manhattan and concentrating on energy, transportation and climate change policy. Victoria’s project includes analyzing and comparing state policies that address greenhouse gas emissions and critiquing the policies based on criteria identified by WE ACT on climate change and environmental justice. Victoria has also been helping to prepare materials related to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

“Victoria has been instrumental in moving this project forward and in creatively thinking about this internship as an opportunity to promote and advance the broader climate change justice movement. She has taken the initiative throughout her internship to stretch the boundaries of the project so that it is responsive to the policy needs of our organization and the climate justice movement,” said Tyree of Victoria’s involvement in the project. Further, she added, “Victoria’s work has already had an impact on New York state policy. She was instrumental in helping us prepare for a negotiation with a state agency where we sought to increase environmental justice representation in the agency’s decision making process around the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. I also fully expect her work to impact the national climate justice movement as we work together on strategizing for the expansion of this movement.”

Since she began working with WE ACT in November, Victoria has grown to truly understand the importance of environmental awareness and of fostering open communication across both environmental professionals and the public. “To address this challenge, everyone, from the scientists to the lobbyists at the environmental consulting firms, needs to speak up and petition their governments for scientifically based policies that recognize the urgency of proper environmental stewardship,” she remarked.

The internship will undoubtedly provide a context from which Victoria will launch her studies in the field of environmental studies. “I hope to leave this experience with the principles of the environmental justice movement ingrained within me and ready to apply in future situations. I hope to eventually work in the field of environmental policymaking, most likely with a focus on climate change and renewable energy,” she says.

More information about the Climate Change Adaptation Initiative and the work of the students can be found at http://www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/2465.