Anushree Chaudhuri promotes community involvement in renewable energy planning

Anushree Chaudhuri is known for her bold decisions. In fifth grade, she embarked on a biking journey across California, despite having little prior experience. During her first year at MIT, she advocated for student recommendations in developing the Institute’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade. Recently, she conducted a field research project in California to document the perspectives of rural and Indigenous populations affected by climate change and clean energy projects.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or how young you are, you can get involved with something and inspire others to do so,” says Chaudhuri.

Originally a materials science and engineering major, Chaudhuri’s interest shifted towards environmental policy issues. She decided to pursue double majors in urban studies and planning, as well as economics. She will be receiving her bachelor’s degrees this month and will continue her studies to earn a master’s degree in city planning in the spring.

Community engagement in policymaking has become a major focus for Chaudhuri. As a 2024 Marshall Scholar, she will be heading to the U.K. next year to pursue a PhD related to environment and development. She aims to build upon her work in California and bring attention to the impacts of energy transitions on local communities, particularly those that are rural and low-income. She acknowledges the challenges of addressing resistance to these projects but believes that ignoring them only widens the urban-rural divide.

Silliness and sustainability

Chaudhuri categorizes her activities into two groups: those that help her unwind and those that require intense deliberation. She finds solace in her living community, Conner Two, a group known for their humorous nature. They enjoy making jokes, which can even be seen in their nickname, “the British Floor,” despite not being British.

Chaudhuri’s involvement with sustainability issues on campus began during the preparation of MIT’s Fast Forward Climate Action Plan. As a co-lead of a student working group, she played a key role in organizing discussions between the administration, climate experts, and student government. This experience taught her the importance of young people in making structural changes and also made her realize the potential for synergy among various organizations on campus.

She later co-led the Student Sustainability Coalition to foster community and collaboration among sustainability-related organizations. They worked on initiatives such as campus events and involvement in off-campus matters like the Cambridge Green New Deal hearings.

Chaudhuri recognizes the importance of community support while working on challenging projects. She believes that having a support system is crucial to avoid burnout when faced with frustrations and hurdles.

Fieldwork

Over the past year, Chaudhuri has been conducting independent research in California. With the support of advisory organizations, she has been hosting conversations with groups affected by renewable energy projects. She has observed that these projects often concentrate in rural, low-income, and Indigenous communities. Chaudhuri highlights the need to address community concerns to prevent further exacerbation of existing inequities.

During her site visits, she has documented community opposition to controversial solar and wind proposals and collected oral histories. Being an outsider conducting fieldwork for the first time presented challenges such as distrust, unpredictability, and the need to be adaptable. Chaudhuri emphasizes the importance of being open to new experiences and taking risks.

Role models and reading

Chaudhuri acknowledges the influence of role models and other impactful individuals in her life. Following her involvement in the Climate Action Plan, she attended a public narrative workshop led by grassroots community organizer Marshall Ganz. This experience shaped her view on leadership, both in campus advocacy and other projects.

Reading has also played a significant role in shaping Chaudhuri’s perspective on community organizing. She realized the connections between organizing, social change theories, and histories of social movements. She has developed a particular interest in social theory and political philosophy, drawing inspiration from various philosophers throughout history.

Brenda Mallory, the current chair of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality, is another role model for Chaudhuri. She had the opportunity to meet Mallory at the United Nations COP27 Climate Conference. Chaudhuri worked on implementing the federal administration’s Justice40 initiative during her internship at the U.S. Department of Energy. She admires Mallory’s ability to make an impact at different levels of government and hopes to follow in her footsteps as a public official committed to just policies and programs.

“Good leaders are those who empower good leadership in others,” says Chaudhuri.

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