At the same time that he discovered his love for the environment, Benjamin Rego realized the danger of climate change–the environment could be destroyed within his lifetime. This realization spurred Rego’s present passion for sustainability.
“As a junior in high school, I remember taking AP environmental science and biology, memorizing the Latin names of the trees in California, while at the same time Al Gore came out with his monumental movie about climate change that shook me to the core,” Rego says.
Now a dual Master’s Candidate at the University of Michigan’s (U-M) Ford School of Public Policy and the School for Environment and Sustainability, Rego was recently awarded a Dow Fellowship to address sustainability challenges. He wants to use leverage the Fellowship as part of his plan to make a lasting impact at the university. He’s also looking to gain a specific skill set that will help him further his passion for sustainability, and specifically sustainable energy policy.
“I want to learn to envision how a more sustainable society would operate, with special emphasis on energy systems, and gain analytical tools to be able to evaluate sustainability and equity across a number of different metrics.”
Rego has been tailoring his classes to ensure he gains these skills and understand the impacts of data and research in policy arenas. His favorite classes so far have been Renewable Electricity & the Grid (RE&G) and Quantitative Methods of Program Evaluation.
“Coming from a background in international development and refugee operations, RE&G was a great introduction to the different renewable technologies and issues/opportunities they provide consumers and the grid as a whole,” says Rego. “It also introduced me to analytical tools used to evaluate new technologies across a variety of different metrics.”
With the new knowledge from this class, Rego feels he is now better able to judge whether empirical research constitutes a firm basis for policy. But he’s not just drawing knowledge from the classroom. Before coming to U-M, Rego served in the Peace Corps, in Paraguay, where he coordinated efforts to implement community projects based on climate change mitigation and adaptation.
“In the past few decades, Paraguay has seen rampant deforestation and conversion of that land for farms and cattle grazing. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I worked with a non-profit to reforest parts of the Paraguayan landscape with native trees,” he says.
Rego’s commitment lasted from 2011 to 2013 and is one of the accomplishments he is most proud of. “Despite often feeling discouraged and thinking that I wasn’t progressing, when I look back, I realize that I did have an impact and improve the livelihoods of many of the students in my classes, families in my neighborhood, and business owners in my community that I had the pleasure to work with.”
Rego has also had the opportunity to work on a policy initiative with the California Independent System Operator. The objective of the initiative was to ease the transition from gas and nuclear generation to renewable generation.
“Our initiative helped reduce costs for energy producers, allowing more resources to participate in energy generation and lowering system costs.”
What interests Rego about sustainability and policy is that they can seem to be on opposite sides of a spectrum. Often times, a policy is developed in a short-term context–what can be implemented and have a proven impact within four to six years. Yet in order to properly build sustainability into different systems, thinking beyond that short time frame is necessary.
“In order to bridge that gap, I see my interest in sustainability as developing my long-term thinking and a vision of what a sustainable society would look like...my understanding of policy helps me shape that thinking about what is achievable in the short and medium-term that will help reach those long-term goals.”
After finishing his program at U-M, Rego plans on moving back to the Bay Area. He’s not sure what his dream job is yet but knows he wants to follow his passion for sustainability.
“In some capacity, I want to work to make the energy generation and the grid more equitable, democratic, clean, and reliable.”