A summer internship funded by GPS led alumnus Joe Bettles ’21 to coauthor two academic papers on climate solutions – and the experience is carrying over to his new career in zero carbon shipping
It all started with an internship – but not the internship then-Master of Public Policy student Joe Bettles expected to have in the summer of 2020.
“I had been interviewing for an internship at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris when the first lockdown started,” Bettles said. “The OECD abruptly canceled all internships, and many of us first-year students found ourselves starting from scratch for summer positions.”
UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) professors and staff stepped in, reaching out to their networks to find remote opportunities for the students who suddenly found themselves without a summer internship.
Through the internship, Bettles became a research assistant with a group of scholars operating under Yuta Masuda, senior sustainable development and behavioral scientist at The Nature Conservancy.
At the beginning of Bettles’ internship, Masuda’s team was in the process of submitting a paper on the impacts of heat on labor and the increased need for adaptation interventions as the climate warms. Based on that research, the group was poised to dive further into agroforestry, or the intentional integration of trees and farmland, as a potential natural climate solution that could provide a wide range of ecosystem, economic and climate benefits and contribute to lower temperatures for rural farmers. Bettles’ initial task was to work on a critical review of agroforestry adoption barriers and policy solutions.
“While agroforestry policy has been well studied, most reports and articles have focused on interventions by national governments, overlooking NGOs and the private sector as key agents driving much of the change,” Bettles said. “Halfway through my summer internship, we realized that we had enough material on non-state actor interventions to increase agroforestry adoption for a standalone paper.”
The team submitted the paper to Forest Policy and Economics in March 2021, and the paper was ultimately published in the September 2021 issue – with Bettles as the lead author.
Putting technical skills from GPS to use
The academic paper in Forest Policy and Economics was followed by publication of a paper on evidence of cooling benefits of agroforestry in Nature Communications, which was published in February 2022. In order to make the cooling impacts more actionable for policymakers, the team included insights from the previous policy paper. Additionally, the team decided that the new paper should include images of what agroforestry at different levels looked like.
“10 tC per hectare is a difficult value to get your head around, so we thought the images could help orient the reader,” Bettles said. “At the time, I was near the end of the Remote Sensing class in my second year with professor Gordon McCord, and I volunteered to try and pair satellite imagery with global data on carbon levels on pastureland. The result is Figure 1 of the paper, which shows levels of agroforestry on a range of biomes – a great example of how I’ve been able to put technical skills offered at GPS to use.”
Bettles said he was grateful for Masuda’s guidance throughout the publishing process of both papers.
“Before submitting the first agroforestry paper, I had been warned that it would be a long process – but it still came as a shock how long it ended up being,” Bettles said. “Just when I would make what felt like the final edits, new suggestions came internally or from the peer review process. Thankfully, Masuda, who has published numerous papers in this field, was a highly knowledgeable and patient mentor that helped me throughout the process. It would have been impossible without him.”
Expanding his skillset in quantitative and spatial methods
Bettles’ path to publishing was anything but set in stone.
Like many students entering master’s programs at GPS, Bettles had little to no background in mathematics or social sciences, but he took advantage of every opportunity at GPS to learn quantitative and spatial methods – and became proficient enough in those skills during the two-year program to contribute to high-level academic publications.
“Joe Bettles exemplifies the best of GPS,” assistant professor Teevrat Garg said. “He was one of the best interns my colleagues at The Nature Conservancy have ever had. It’s no exaggeration to say that he has paved the way for future placements for GPS students.”
During Bettles’ time at GPS, he also contributed to launching the SDG Policy Initiative (SDGPI) and its student blog, gaining experience working with policymakers and researching effective ways to accelerate decarbonization across government and industry.
“It was remarkable to watch Joe grow during his time at GPS as he soaked in a broad swath of skills that our school offers,” said associate professor and SDGPI director Gordon McCord. “Joe’s invaluable dedication to the SDG Policy Initiative set the stage for us to engage in important policy work spanning decarbonization, sustainable land use and SDG monitoring in locations from Mexico to Paraguay to San Diego.”
A career in zero-carbon solutions
Bettles’ experiences at The Nature Conservancy and SDGPI strengthened his passion for climate policy work. Starting in February 2022, he began working as a market analyst for the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping, a new center dedicated to accelerating the transition to zero-carbon shipping.
“The experience of contributing to research for the academic papers gave me the opportunity to take a big, fuzzy idea that is difficult to define and narrow it down to specific questions that have not been answered before,” Bettles said. “In my new job, I am using the same skill of working with a global problem that has a wide range of sources and an even larger range of solutions. I’m looking for specific actionable questions that can be answered.”
Though Bettles said it is too early for him to know what specific contributions he will be making, his skills in geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing have already attracted attention from colleagues working on a number of projects at the center.
“I learned so much from GPS and am so thrilled to be taking the skills I learned out into the real world to try and make a difference,” Bettles said.