Adjunct professor Ali Zaidi chosen as Biden’s deputy national climate advisor

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President-elect Joe Biden announced on Dec. 16 that adjunct professor and Precourt Energy Scholar Ali Zaidi will be appointed as his deputy national climate advisor. He will work underneath former head of the Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy, who was appointed as national climate advisor. 

As deputy national climate advisor, Zaidi will be responsible for advising the president on domestic climate change policy and will also lead the White House Office of Domestic Climate Change Policy. Prior to his appointment, Zaidi helped draft the Obama-Biden administration’s climate change plan and helped negotiate the Paris Climate Agreement. 

“Climate change is already costing taxpayers,” he wrote in a 2016 paper. “But the costs we are incurring today will be dwarfed by the costs that lie ahead. Without action, taxpayers will face hundreds of billions of dollars in additional costs every year by late in this century as the effects of climate change accelerate.”

In a podcast with Columbia University, Zaidi also characterized an urgent need create jobs that rely on clean energy for communities that have been negatively impacted by fossil fuels. Zaidi’s position in the White House will give him the ability to act on this impetus.

“You’re talking about all these really cool jobs and wind and solar, where the hell you’re going to hire those people from,” he said. “You’re going to hire them from the same old, same old, or you’re going to create new roads of opportunity into the communities that have been taxed in six different ways from this pollution over the years.”

Biden said in a press release that “This brilliant, tested, trailblazing team will be ready on day one to confront the existential threat of climate change with a unified national response rooted in science and equity.”

Zaidi currently serves as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s deputy secretary for energy and environment. As an adjunct professor at Stanford, he co-taught MATSCI 301: “Engineering Energy Policy Change” with professor Paul McIntyre. 

He also co-taught CHEM 279: “Chemophysical Analyses of Costs to Lower Atmospheric Concentrations of Greenhouse Gases” with chemistry associate professor Christopher Chidsey. According to Chidsey, Zaidi’s background as a lawyer and policymaker allowed him to contribute a unique perspective to the course.

“What he really brought to the course was an appreciation for how the technology might fit in, both politically, economically, and culturally, and what some of the interdependencies could be,” he said.

Mahati Chintapalli, a student in CHEM 279 and researcher at the R&D company PARC, said she appreciated the environmental justice perspective that Zaidi brought to the course.

“I think that it’s a very important dimension to climate change mitigation technology that often gets neglected in a purely STEM curriculum,” Chintapalli said.

Chintapalli also expressed confidence in Zaidi’s role in the administration. 

“This is a critical time to respond to climate change, and I’m glad to see the administration putting in place strong, expert leadership with a variety of perspectives from technology to policy,” she said. 

Professor Chidsey said he believes Zaidi is “the right guy for this kind of stuff.”

“He’ll be great at it, because that’s what he does… he’s a policy wonk and knows a very large fraction of people in the business,” he said.

“Zaidi is a real team player who knows how to get stuff done,” he added.

This article has been corrected to reflect Chintapalli’s correct pronouns and last name spelling. A previous version of the article incorrectly spelled her last name as “Chintapaulli.” The Daily regrets this error.

Contact Annie Chang at annie215 ‘at’ stanford.edu, Victoria Hsieh at vhsieh ‘at’ stanford.edu and Carolyn Stein at castein ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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