Our Perspectives on the Latest Issues
The Woman of Renewable Energy & Climate Award will be presented to Christina Simeone at the 2018 Celebrating Women in Conservation Awards April 19 in Philadelphia, for her accomplishments and leadership as the director of policy and external affairs at Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Q. Where did you grow up?
A. I grew up in Philadelphia, home of the Super Bowl-winning Eagles, and the greatest cheesesteaks in all of the land, from John’s Roast Pork (on Snyder Avenue).
Q. Can you describe your educational background?
A. Bachelor’s degrees in economics, and a second degree in music industry (majoring in opera), and a master’s degree in environmental studies, focusing on science and policy. I have very understanding parents.
Q. What first inspired you to work in conservation?
A. It was a process of elimination and self-discovery, more Goldilocks than grandeur. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was younger. After college, I began working in the financial management industry, which was lucrative, but didn’t feel quite right to me. I went back to school for music, while working on the corporate side of the music industry. This was an extremely cool experience, but not intellectually fulfilling, and the Metropolitan opera wasn’t exactly knocking on my door. I wanted the right combination of mental engagement, personal fulfillment, and economic stability. I spent the majority of my childhood on farms, riding horses, and enjoying the outdoors. This is where my environmental sensibilities took root. When I learned about the University of Pennsylvania’s environmental studies program, I felt it might be “just right.” I worked at an environmental consulting firm during graduate school, and have been working on environmental and energy issues ever since.
Q. What is a day in the life like in your current position?
A. A lot of reading, research, data analysis, and writing, all of which I really enjoy and feel privileged to be able to do on a daily basis. With a focus on applied research, I get the opportunity to talk to and learn from industry and academic leaders, as well as regulators and policy makers. Being on campus and surrounded by such smart people all of the time is inspiring, and humbling. It is also exciting to be around so many young, brilliant kids who are so socially aware. I just wish they weren’t a constant reminder of my advancing age.
Q. What motivates you to keep going?
A. My daughter, my extremely supportive husband, and close-knit family. I’m luckier than I deserve. I try to give back in honor of my good fortune.
Q. Who inspires you in terms of female leaders?
A. Women like Katie McGinty (who hired me out of graduate school), Cheryl LaFleur (commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), and Gina McCarthy (former EPA Administrator) are impressive not only because they have accomplished so much in their careers, but also because they are fierce, wicked-smart, full of personality, and are moms to boot. My co-workers who have multiple children are also sources of inspiration, because I see them every day working magic at home and in the office. I never considered myself a feminist until I had my daughter. Now, as a mom, I’m convinced that women are super-heroes…and we are here to change the world.
Q. What role do you think women specifically can play in environmental efforts today?
A. I will shamelessly promote an essay entitled “Arrival of the Fittest” that I wrote for the book, “51%: Women and the Future of Politics” by Terri Spahr Nelson. The essay theorizes that through biology, women may be instinctually predisposed to better handle the political challenges facing our nation and globe in the future, as populations swell, competition for scarce resources intensifies, and environmental degradation increases. In so far as one believes that cooperation, not competition, will guide our species towards long-term self-sustainability, then the skills of the gatherer/nurturer may become more valuable compared to those of the hunter.
Q. What are the biggest challenges you face?
A. Keeping everything together on a day-to-day basis. Being a working mom is much harder than I thought, but also more rewarding than I could have expected. There are so many implicit demands on a woman’s time, but I feel lucky it is this way. I couldn’t imagine what it was like for women just a few generations ago, when home was the only frontier.
Q. What does the future of conservation in PA look like, in your opinion?
A. In the area of energy, Pennsylvania has, is, and will continue to be a national leader. The short-term challenges will be balance and transition. Continuing to improve environmental outcomes of energy production, distribution, and use, while making sure quality of life improves for residents. This must mean pursuing economic growth and development, in an affordable manner, and in a way that is consistent with our social values. These values not only include environmental stewardship, but must also assist those displaced as our energy systems evolve. Polarized positions—like “renewables only,” or “drill-baby-drill”—are easy because they provide a feeling of ideological comfort. And, in some states these positions may work. But, in Pennsylvania, progress will come from the universally uncomfortable reality of compromise.