Alumni Spotlight: Jeffrey Fralick, climate risk analyst
Jeffrey Fralick was one of the first students to graduate from Columbia University Sustainability science program In May 2020. The timing couldn’t possibly be worse. It was near the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Fralik recalls several job opportunities being lost as the economy contracted.
In the following interview (edited for length and clarity), Fralik explains how he made the most of the situation before finally landing a job that perfectly matched his skills and interests. His story is a reminder that the path between graduate school and your dream job isn’t always straight, but with passion and persistence, you can find your way to where you want to go.
particle for direct object The last time we spoke, you just graduated and are thinking about growing hemp on your family farm. What happened next?
Well, the hemp farm didn’t exactly pan out. I think it was a great goal. But we have been able to adopt some sustainable and smaller farming methods. I convinced my parents to plant an acre of sunflowers for a pollinator garden adjacent to our crops as a natural means of insect control, and I try to grow them as much as possible and cover crops. to use
After graduation, I was able to work as a research assistant on a project with Professor of Sustainability Management Lynette Weider to track dust from bauxite mining until January 2021. At the same time, I was hired at Solv LLC as a support environmental scientist. Contract with the Ministry of Internal Security
What was that job like?
Increasingly, it was ensured that any proposed action complied with federal environmental regulations, such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act. Part of the process involved coordinating with state and tribal historic preservation officers to ensure that any actions involving construction and/or land relocation would not affect historically or culturally significant sites.
Part of this work also included conducting environmental compliance audits of various federal facilities and assisting in the preparation of classified exemptions and environmental assessments for projects, as needed. I also got to work on some specific climate resilience projects, such as preparing the appropriate NEPA documents for solar-powered microgrid systems in areas prone to extreme weather events. I think one of my personal highlights was getting a chance to review the Department’s Climate Action Plan.
Was your experience in the Sustainability Science program helpful in this role?
There were moments when I could have applied some graduate courses specific to the Sustainability Science program. Frequently, I can use some of the GIS skills I learned in the GIS for Sustainability Science class to prepare maps as part of the NEPA process. For example, mapping the potential impact zone to assess whether a proposed undertaking would affect any historic properties. In addition, “Resilience in the Face of Natural Disasters” emphasized the importance of building resilient critical infrastructure and how to respond to extreme weather events.
I think my previous experience as a graduate research assistant with the New York State Attorney General’s Office of Environmental Protection helped prepare me for this role by introducing me to the broader realm of environmental law. With this, there was an added element of enforcing environmental laws since I had to do in-person inspections. At the OAG, I would say my focus was more on, “Here’s what the law says, and here’s what can or should be done from a scientific perspective.”
Tell us about what you’re doing now?
Currently, I am a climate risk analyst at the Environmental Defense Fund. In general, this means that I use climate science to help assess financial risk. I can do all the weather research and writing I like, but it’s mostly through a financial lens, which I’m not traditionally used to. I can say that it is basically my dream job.
One of my favorite things to do is help draft comment letters in response to agency proposed rules or requests for information. My team has been really involved lately with the SEC’s climate disclosure rule, which requires public companies to disclose information about their greenhouse gas emissions and climate risks. During the comment period, I worked with Columbia Law School Sabin Center for Climate Change Law Draft A opinion letter On the physical science of climate change, in this letter we discuss and address the science behind climate change documentation and detection, climate models and downscaling, and release scenarios. [and dismissed] Opponents’ claims about the accuracy of the models. It was an absolute moment for me to be able to apply everything I learned during the SUSC program, and I even worked with Radley Horton, who was my advisor in my first semester, along with several other experts on this letter. Lamont.
I am struggling with it too Initiative on Climate Risk and Resilience Act (ICRRL), which is a joint initiative between EDF, the Sabin Center, NYU’s Institute for Policy Integration, and Vanderbilt Law School, that focuses on addressing the consequences of climate change.
I recently wrote the first ICRRL annual reportand helped write the three supplementary parts of the initiative Electrical flexibility toolboxwhich is intended to support policymakers and stakeholders on issues related to power sector regulation and climate resilience planning.
You mentioned that you now look at things through a financial lens. Can you talk more about how that lens helps you see things differently?
I’m very used to approaching climate change through a scientific lens—for example, here are the processes we know about. How And Why Greenhouse gases warm the planet. Unfortunately, the science itself doesn’t seem to be really motivating people, companies, and governments to make the changes necessary to avert climate catastrophe. I think if we’re going to see action, we’re going to have to put a monetary value on climate-related risks and impacts. before Their occurrence is the place to start.
What do you think will happen to you?
I like to stay in my current position as long as they keep me. This space is rapidly evolving and I’m sure there will be more opportunities to comment on climate risks and financial regulation, especially as this is a topic. A big priority Since the Biden administration, with more extreme events breaking records across the country, climate risk has attracted the attention of investors. It’s a really exciting (and emerging) space to be in, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to help shape it.
Last January, I also started a graduate degree in GIS at George Washington University, and I plan to use that course to sharpen my analytical skills to create compelling visualizations of climate risk.
This summer, I’m also (almost) reunited with Lynette Vedder as a teaching fellow for Hungry city workshopwhich has been great.
Do you have any advice for students interested in following a similar path?
If you come from a more traditional academic background but are interested in climate finance and ESG, I would probably encourage you to take more courses on sustainability management.
Another piece of advice I would give is to really focus on what interests you and let those interests and passions drive you forward, but be patient if you take a detour. When I graduated in 2020, the job market had taken such a hit from Covid. I was lucky to find a job where I was still in the environmental sector, but less focused on climate and sustainability. But in the back of my mind, I always thought, “I’ve got to get back to what I want to do.” And now I feel like I’m finally where I need to be.