Chris Avila ’21.5

Office of U.S. Senator Christopher Coons (D-DE), Washington, DC

This summer, the strangest of my lifetime due to the Covid-19 pandemic and other concurrent national and global crises, I interned for Christopher A. Coons, the junior U.S. Senator from my home state of Delaware in his Energy and Environment policy group, known as Team E&E or affectionately as Team Earth. I joined a small but mighty group of four unabashed wonks, three of them holding Ph.Ds. in the hard sciences. We covered everything from industrial chicken farming (the second biggest employer in Southern Delaware) to climate change. I was not feeling peckish about the chickens and was thankful to be able to work almost entirely on climate policy.

To me, climate change is the most important policy problem in the world. It is “upstream” of all of our other problems and threatens racial, economic, and intergenerational injustice on a scale never before seen. And yet, the federal government has not incorporated this existential problem into its policymaking, let alone made a coherent plan to address it. After studying climate policy for the past year, I had begun to agree with Coons’ strategy of how to affect big, durable change: bipartisanship. So, being from Delaware, I reached out to his office and offered to help with projects related to the Bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus he co-founded with Senator Braun (R-IN).

My job was to provide the best information on climate policy in the most accessible form to a bipartisan group of 14 Senators and their staff. First, I piloted and then produced a monthly newsletter of climate policy news, analysis, and stories. Second, I attended think tank presentations, government hearings, and corporate pitches and then summarized their contents in about 150 words for Caucus members. Additionally, I was invited to join, as a fly on the wall, for the Caucus’ virtual events. It was humbling to witness Senators, CEOs, leading scientists, and policy experts grapple with, and argue about, how to act on climate change. Needless to say, I learned a lot.

I am taking three lessons away from my time in the Senate: First, the personal relationships of Senators and their staff matter. When they don’t talk, progress grinds to a halt; when they do, it becomes a dynamic and exciting place to make change. Second, the private sector has a bigger role to play in addressing climate change. Corporate participation in policymaking is a given, so we must learn how to harness it with proactive regulation, vigilance, and policy evolution in mind. Third, meaningful work does not just derive from what you do, but also who you do it with. Team Earth welcomed me totally and engaged me nerdily.

I sincerely appreciate the support I have received through the Alumni Sponsored Internship Program these past two summers. I often bemoan the lack of civic mindedness of the majority of my peers at Williams, and I am thankful that this program exists to combat this phenomenon—and to do so equitably.