Meet Evan Brooks From the Climate and Society Class of 2024
Evan Brooks always had an interest in meteorology and atmospheric sciences. However, after a close family member was diagnosed with a cancer — likely a result of growing up on a Superfund site — Brooks switched his undergraduate major to Environmental Science and Policy. He wanted to better understand how environmental burdens like pollution disproportionately impact under-resourced and communities of color, and learn how to fight those injustices.
Now Brooks works as a legislative assistant with Florida Representative Kathy Castor, and this fall, he’ll be starting the MA in Climate and Society program at the Columbia Climate School. Ultimately, he aims to craft policies that make life better for all people.
Brooks is one of two students from the Class of 2024 to receive the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Fellowship, which covers his full tuition for the program. Below, he tells us more about his background, what this fellowship means to him, and why he chose the Climate and Society program.
Congratulations on receiving the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Fellowship! How did you react when you got the news? And what does this award mean to you?
I was genuinely shocked and overwhelmed with joy. I had to go for a walk to get some fresh air, because I couldn’t believe it. I am grateful to be a recipient of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Fellowship. Being a recipient of this award is a testament of the commitment of the Columbia Climate School to ensure its students come from a diverse background and will be equipped with the necessary tools for a rapidly evolving 21st-century world. To me that means understanding policy isn’t made in a vacuum and we will only be able to solve the climate crisis with a diversity of opinions, backgrounds, and people.
Tell us about your background and how you found your way into the climate space.
My love for the environment started early in life and was a direct result of my parents pushing me to explore what I was interested in and why. As a child, I was obsessed with the weather. I vividly remember watching my favorite meteorologist on the local news in 2003 as Hurricane Isabel made landfall. My parents were wonderful advocates for me to be intellectually curious and kindled the curious spirit of my youth. For years, I continued my passion for weather and became a certified National Weather Service Spotter. I went to college intending to study atmospheric science to pursue my goal of being a meteorologist. However, things changed during my junior year of high school. My father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and received a poor prognosis. After receiving intensive chemotherapy treatment, he went into remission. Unfortunately, his cancer came back with a vengeance during my first year of college. He was diagnosed with an advanced stage of “double-hit lymphoma,” an aggressive rare form of lymphoma. As a result, he successfully underwent a full stem cell transplant and is in remission. While this transpired, I buried myself into researching the causes of lymphoma as a coping mechanism to distract me from the situation. It was during this that I learned exposure to environmental toxins can increase risk of cancer.
Eventually, I learned my father grew up on land that would later be designated as a Superfund site, or a site requiring long-term remediation of hazardous chemical materials. That is when it all clicked for me. I remembered my father telling me growing up, his family didn’t have access to running water and relied on well water. I couldn’t help but be astounded that this was allowed to happen. Discovering the situation my father went through, which wasn’t uncommon in under-resourced and communities of color, motivated me to try to affect change to policy for all, so that these injustices wouldn’t continue. Eventually, this galvanized me to change my major from Atmospheric Sciences to Environmental Science and Policy so I could learn more about these injustices. Eventually, this led me to pursuing opportunities in federal policymaking on Capitol Hill where I could be a part of policy decisions.
Why did you decide to apply to the Climate and Society program, and what do you hope to gain from the program?
The Climate and Society’s focus on connecting, amplifying, and advancing new areas of climate inquiry, research, and impact, as well as reinforcing the basic and applied disciplines, was appealing to me. Additionally, Columbia’s elevation of climate, the most pressing challenge of a generation, by creating the Climate School is something that really stuck out to me. It really showed me that the University is serious about tackling the climate crisis and that is something that I certainly wanted to be a part of.
I hope to be able to gain the necessary expertise to make inclusive policy for all, that can truly address the climate crisis in an equitable manner. The Climate and Society program allows me to take the deep dive into the niche areas of science across climate and how that can be best translated to policy.
Which classes are you most looking forward to, and why?
I am most looking forward to three courses: the Climate Change Adaptation and Climate Change Mitigation courses, as well as the Quantitative Methods for Climate Applications. This trio is essential for expanding my knowledge base on how to tackle the climate crisis. Outside of those three, I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge of electrical power systems as well as additional chemistry courses to better understand hazardous materials.
What do you envision as your future role in solving the climate crisis?
I hope to continue in public service as a policymaker. But I do not want to be a policymaker that is high in their ivory tower, insulated from the real-world experiences people are facing because of the climate crisis. Whether it is making flood insurance easier to understand, what tax credits and subsidies are available to electrify or weatherize their home, I want to be able to make changes people can feel.
What are you working on this summer?
This summer I am continuing my role as a legislative assistant in Representative Kathy Castor’s D.C. office serving the people of Florida’s 14th Congressional District.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I truly am grateful for the opportunity and am looking forward to joining my wonderful classmates!