Traveling for Work: A Trade-off in Emissions for the Power of Face-to-Face Conversation

This past week, I found myself thinking, “What do I like most about my job?” Is it being able to work on such a large, challenging, and impactful task as combating climate change? Or is it working with such a passionate and motivated group of peers? Or perhaps it’s simply being able to work in the same awesome town that I live? All of these reasons contribute to the enjoyment of my work, but I think one aspect of my job that I don’t give enough credit to is getting out into the community and meeting people face-to-face. As it turns out, when it comes to the success of our projects and my career fulfillment, it’s probably the most important aspect of them all.Climate Planning Team in Yosemite

Through the development of Energy Action Plans (EAP) for local governments in our region, I have been travelling around the Sierra Nevada and meeting diverse rural communities that are similar to one another, but geographically fragmented. In order for me to attend a meeting with stakeholders in Mariposa County, for instance, it requires 9-11 hours of round trip driving time, and likely an overnight stay. So, the Climate Planning team has had to become quite the bunch of road-trippers. Thankfully our travels often provide not only exceptional scenery, but opportunities to discuss our efforts with the residents they’re meant to serve.

Spending so much time on the road makes us really appreciative of the large expanse of the region that we cover as an organization, and of the landscape and people that make up the Sierra Nevada. Our region is home to an incredible amount of biodiversity, but also diversity in our workforce, interests, religions, and political beliefs. Working with opposing viewpoints is a large part of our climate planning efforts, and we need to be able to collaborate with all parties to ensure we develop strategies that are effective.

We often find that when speaking with Sierra Nevadans on what can be sensitive issues, like how your community plans to adapt to climate change, it is easier to sort through the ideological points of contention that won’t soon be resolved and focus on the points of shared agreement when you are physically there, in person. And sometimes just getting a person’s argument really heard and understood, even if you can’t fix it, is enough for her to support the overall benefit of the work we are doing.

I must say, driving over 5,000 miles this year for these meetings has not exactly helped in reducing my carbon footprint. However, being present at a Board of Supervisors meeting, or garnering community input at a public study session, is an absolutely essential part of why we are having success in assisting our local governments reduce their energy use and GHG emissions. There is so much value to being there in person and showing that we are a part of this community, regardless of how long it may take to get there.