‘Riots would break out because of a rumor’
The government concentrator calls climate her North Star.
During a gap year, Lewis initially went to Florence to study painting. But she felt “ethically and morally removed” after the Parkland shooting and other public tragedies. In search of something more fulfilling, Lewis soon found herself teaching middle school in Cape Town, South Africa, where she received a crash course on resource scarcity.
“As soon as I landed, I was informed that I had 45 seconds of running water,” said Lewis, who knew of the country’s drought but not of its severity. “It was like a social tinder. Riots would break out because of a rumor that the water would be turned off. All of a sudden buses are being lit on fire in the middle of the street, and kids can’t come to school.”
Upon entering Harvard, Lewis resolved to think big and work for structural change on climate challenges worldwide. “Harvard gives you access to systems of power,” she said. “I showed up thinking I want to do something about climate. I didn’t know what. I’m not a science person. I’m not a math person.”
She found her niche in research and writing. Her senior thesis, with the tongue-in-cheek title “The Political Economy of Saving the World,” is an ambitious reckoning with the power of corporate interest groups. It puts forth a model for understanding and even anticipating the cultural and economic forces that allow certain industries to stymie climate policy. Coal is only the most obvious example.
“But coal is not the only industry that blocks climate change policy,” Lewis said. “There are other industries with similar traits that are going to be problems in the future. We need to be able to anticipate this. We can no longer have this thing where we introduce a policy, and everyone freaks out, and then the policy fails.”
Lewis also helped launch the Student Climate Change Conference at Harvard and wrote climate-related case studies for Harvard Business School curriculum. She is currently working with the Roosevelt Project, a joint MIT-Harvard climate initiative, where she’s contributing to a report on improving the energy transmission system for renewables.
Longer-term, Lewis hopes to continue with her research and writing, perhaps in a Ph.D. program, or maybe creating tools for policymakers. But first, she will head to New York City to work full-time with an investment bank, with the goal of building fluency in that influential sector. “If everything goes well,” she added, “I’ll work with the power and energy group.”