J. Drake Hamilton: Critical Collaborator

  • May 14, 2019
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At Environmental Initiative, we feel particularly lucky to be part of a strong community of people who care about each other, as well as the issues we work on each day. The strength of our community really shone through when J. Drake Hamilton was injured this winter. As you may have heard, in February, J. fell on the ice and faced serious medical problems as a result. However, thanks to her excellent medical team, she has been able to recover quickly and completely, even returning to work far earlier than expected. J.’s triumphant recovery and return has reinforced our decision to honor her with the Critical Collaborator Award this year. We spoke to her about her work, and what she’s excited about for the future.

Meet J. Drake Hamilton, Our Critical Collaborator

Presented by Dorsey & Whitney

J. Drake Hamilton is the Science and Policy Director at Fresh Energy, where she works with her colleagues to study and share information on clean energy, climate risk mitigation and sustainability. Her science background has allowed her to become a trusted source in the environmental community, especially in Minnesota. As part of her work, J. is invested in ensuring good outcomes and impacts for all stakeholders, from shareholders to customers. One of the ways she does this is by working with her colleagues to find the “best policy solutions for the energy situations that preclude us from moving quicker to clean energy. And this often gets down to unearthing which technologies are becoming cheaper and cheaper.”
In the world of clean energy, we often know the solutions that are available, but the obstacle is what is unknown: What are the costs? Is this worth the transition? Is it feasible? In short, the costs are lower than you may think, it is worth it, and it is feasible. J. works with her team to prove that, then share the information with others, who trust that they’ve done the analysis and are providing sound information, scientifically and economically. Their work has shown that clean energy technology is increasingly inexpensive, often to the point of being less expensive than legacy technology. Plus, as new technology becomes more commonplace, it becomes easier and easier to adopt. And, of course, it’s better for the planet.

Beyond her work on clean energy, though, J. shares a passion for equity with us. Fresh Energy has been working for years on sharing the public health impacts—and benefits—of cleaner energy alternatives, in the hopes of all Minnesotans having access to cleaner air and less expensive heating bills. The way she sees it, these inequities bind Minnesota to the past, and only by addressing racial, economic, social and environmental inequities will we be able to move on to the prosperous future she sees for all Minnesotans.

Communication is Key

One of the skills that J. is known for is her ability to communicate. Her nominator wrote she “knows how to communicate a complex message simply and effectively,” and we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. One of the challenges of discussing climate science and climate risk mitigation can be taking a large, abstract idea—you can’t see climate change, or the future damage that will be done if we don’t act, and even the science can be inaccessible to some without strong science backgrounds—and making it concrete. J. succeeds in this realm by giving her audiences and the communities she visits each year “a core of constructive, unifying actions” that allow them to “leave [her] talks energized for very specific actions to take.” Not only is she able to communicate the issue, but she can also discuss actions to take to mitigate the issue.

She is able to make abstract more concrete by speaking to both local and international audiences about relevant issues. Throughout her esteemed career, J. has had the opportunity to travel around the state, the country and the world, being involved in climate conversations in Montreal, Poland, Germany, and even Paris, during the original Paris Agreement negotiations. This gives her a unique perspective on what’s happening not only in our home state, but also what other countries are doing to utilize climate science in their work. For instance, J. notes that “one of the things that people ask me a lot about…is what is happening more quickly or less quickly in other countries, and they wonder how those global conversations go.” This, to her, indicates a willingness to learn from each other, and to come together to solve this global problem. “[People] know that serious scientists have done a lot of work to develop clean sources of energy, and…they’re eager to keep that long-term collaboration in the United States.” Moreover, they are eager to see that science applied across the globe and applied equitably. Understanding the science is not enough; we must act, and that’s part of J.’s personal mission.

In her own work, J. travels to about 60 communities in Minnesota each year, to talk to them about her work and the possible solutions. Not only does she talk about her work with clean energy, but she also shares the realities of the transition to clean energy: the sound economics behind the transition, examples of successful transitions from legacy technology to clean technology and even examples of businesses and people who have taken this information and used it in ways that benefit their business and the state. Her community conversations aren’t just about her own experiences, though—J. also makes it a point to listen to others. “People tell me their stories and what they’re developing, and I learn new things every time I go. Then I can spread the news of what that part of Minnesota is doing and maybe it’s a touchstone for other communities and what they are doing.”

Unexpected Friends

Ultimately, to J., her work cannot happen in a vacuum. She works every day to “find a way to…make the lives of all people better” by investing in ways to improve our system so that we can take better care of our local climate and our world climate and each other. She feels that, no matter how good a scientist is, “a scientist studying alone can’t make change or move forward alone.” So her work centers in collaboration as not one way to move forward, but the way to move forward. As for finding partners, she believes we’re in an excellent state for that, because “there are a lot of highly educated Minnesotans who care passionately about their communities and their environment and who want to make it better for their families and their kids.” Next time you’re feeling frustrated by the state of the world, remember J.’s words: “We all have many more friends in the Minnesota community than we may even know,” and “people working together are a great source of good for our society. So reach out—someone around the community will always be there to listen, commiserate and move into action with you.

Celebrate J.

Join J. to celebrate her work, her recovery and our community at the Environmental Initiative Awards on May 22. Learn more about the program here.

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