White House National Climate Advisor and Activists Address Student Climate Conference


The deputy White House climate advisor discussed how the Biden administration will tackle climate change during one of the administration's first speaking engagements on climate change this year in a webinar hosted by the Student Climate Conference at Harvard.

The event, entitled “Climate Action in Biden’s First 100 Days,” included opening remarks from Ali A. Zaidi ’08, the deputy White House national climate advisor, and a panel with Jacqueline Patterson, the senior director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, and Alex O’Keefe, the creative director at the Sunrise Movement. Los Angeles Times journalist Rosanna Xia moderated the discussions.

Zaidi explained that his office is part of a greater national climate task force, which is composed of 20 different government agencies working together.

“It is a structure that recognizes the intersectionality of climate change, and is built to take full advantage of that in driving solutions that are really comprehensive,” he said.


Zaidi said he and his colleagues strive not only to prepare the nation for responding to disasters, but also to address more regular and persistent climate concerns he believes are often underestimated. Zaidi cited workers and incarcerated people without access to proper protection from rising temperatures.

“What we often don’t talk about is the people who are poor, who don’t have access to air conditioning as heat stress becomes a bigger deal in cities, and they can’t do anything about it, and no one's helping them,” said Zaidi. “So I think part of it is thinking about the resilience of the systems and the people and the extremes that aren’t as visible.”

While Zaidi spoke about the administration’s efforts on a national scale, Patterson and O’Keefe focused their comments on grassroots efforts to turn enthusiasm around combating climate change into tangible actions, particularly ones that aid disadvantaged populations.

O’Keefe noted the importance of earning public trust.

“The issues I’m most concerned about are the issues that will build greater political will and public buy-in,” O’Keefe said. “I don’t want this era of green transition to be marked by tax breaks and grants and things that people can’t see.”

Stephen K. Snider, the conference communications manager and one of the event’s primary organizers, said the event aimed to create a discussion about the Biden administration’s actions regarding climate change and to spark conversation among Harvard affiliates ahead of Earth Day on April 22. He added he is proud the organization comprises affiliates from across the University rather than involving only one school.

“We’re not just talking about climate change for the graduate school or for the business school or for the law school,” he said. “We’re talking about it holistically and that’s all we have to do for climate change in general. We can’t talk about this global issue in a very small, siloed way.”

—Staff writer Alexandra N. Wilson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @alex_wilson2023.