Changing climates: Arvind Ravikumar on when Science meets Policy

We always have something new and exciting planned every week here at Real Scientists, and this week promises to be no different! Please welcome Arvind Ravikumar (@arvindpawan1), a post-doctoral scholar at Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences.

Arvind Ravikumar

Arvind completed his PhD at Princeton, where he worked on developing lasers to study air pollution. And as if that wasn’t a cool enough pursuit, he then moved on to energy and environmental policy for his post-doc at Stanford, looking at ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to a low-Carbon economy.

As always, we asked Arvind about his life in science so far; here is what he told us:

I lucked into science. Even as I had great teachers in middle and high school in science and math, history and arts weren’t taught very well. This sort of set me up to not enjoy the social sciences as much as physics. Funnily enough, now that I realize how wonderfully useful a liberal arts education could be, I’m playing catch-up by reading as much as possible on history, philosophy and other subjects.

I chose to work in energy and climate policy because that is how I want to contribute to science. What keeps me going is the enormity of the challenge in front us when it comes to climate change. The longer we delay decisive action, the more expensive and disruptive it gets later. Often, the most vulnerable communities among us are often the ones who are significantly affected. I think that’s incredibly unfair. I want to help change that for future generations.

I study technology, systems, and policy as it relates to energy and the environment. I got interested in this field after taking a couple of classes on policy in the 5th (!) year of my Engineering PhD. I realized that our policies and analysis tools do not sufficiently account for the rapidly evolving technology landscape – this is especially important in technology-heavy areas like climate and energy. So, I now use my engineering background to develop models that analyzes the role of technology in addressing our energy and climate challenges. For example, I study technologies that help reduce emissions from fracking activity – these are critical to ensure clean air in local communities. I then use insights from my models to recommend cost-effective policy solutions.

Everyone should care about energy use because it literally powers all of our activities. In a practical sense, decisions we make now on our energy sources and adaptations to a changing climate will long affect what we pay in utility bills. And we need to make these decisions in a way that is fair to everyone and does not increases costs on the average consumer. Understanding how energy works is also critical for important personal decisions – from something as small as buying an energy-efficient LED to as large as buying an electric car like Tesla.

I love the outdoors – all the free time I have is spent hiking or backpacking in the mountains. Moving to California from New Jersey has made getting to the mountains a lot easier than before. I am also a huge fan of the National Parks – I have visited nearly half of all parks and plan to visit the rest in the next few years.  I also occasionally dabble with the violin. Whenever possible, I take the train instead of a flight. Most notably, I have traveled by Amtrak from DC to San Francisco. I will also be going to AGU (an academic conference) from LA to New Orleans by train next week.

I love reading widely – something that you don’t often associate with an engineer. Typical books include works on ancient history, historical fiction , mountaineering adventures, social justice, education, and politics.

My ideal day off will start with a morning run (I’m a very early riser), and a breakfast of avocado toast with coffee. I would spend the afternoon in San Francisco – visiting museums, bookstores, perhaps catching an afternoon showing of Hamilton or doing a short local hike. The day will wind down with an early dinner with friends. Then comes the favorite part of the day: good books and whiskey for the evening. Now, that sounds like a wonderful day.

Please welcome Arvind to Real Scientists!

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