Profile  |  January 17, 2023

Drawdown Science Profile: Amanda Smith

This article is the second in a series introducing the members of Project Drawdown’s new science team.

Amanda D. Smith, Ph.D., joined Drawdown Science as senior scientist, built environment, in December 2022. Amanda is a researcher and analyst with expertise in building science and energy systems modeling. Her professional career includes academic, national laboratory, and industry positions. Most recently, she served as senior energy analyst at SOCOTEC USA. She received her doctorate from Mississippi State University.

Here, Amanda shares her thoughts on, among other things, the intersection of climate solutions and the built environment, life as the daughter of a nuclear engineer, and the ideal weekend.

Q: When people ask you what you do with Project Drawdown, what do you tell them?

A: I’m bringing more perspective on buildings and energy systems into Project Drawdown: how buildings consume energy; how large-scale energy systems work and interact with the economy, the environment, and the other human-built systems they're providing services for. I’m looking at all of that through a lens of climate solutions and improving the human experience in the world. Through research, outreach, and education, hopefully we’ll get the word out about the climate solutions that are ready to go and help people evaluate which to implement. 

Q: Of all of the things you could be doing, why did you choose to join the Drawdown Science team?

A: The mission really speaks to me. When the Drawdown book first came out, I had personally been discouraged by feeling like we as humans were very comfortable using resources and not valuing the planet and our fellow humans with less access to those resources. The book was inspiring, and the question was practical: We know we need to get to drawdown, so how can we do this? At Project Drawdown I have freedom to do academic research. I have opportunities to teach people. But I’m part of a small team. I feel like we’re nimble and creative, and there is a focus to our work. Even though the things we’re doing are so different, it essentially comes back to one shared vision.

Q: What are some of the biggest obstacles to solving climate change, and how does your work with Project Drawdown address them?

A: A lot of the obstacles are in perspectives and attitudes. I hope I can bring a wider perspective by asking questions like, “Why are we building things the way we are?” “Why are we using resources the way we are?” We have technologies that can help with this, and we should be deploying them quickly and strategically.  

On the technical side, we tend to look to adding more technology to “fix” issues with how our buildings affect the environment. But what I want to make sure is out in the public awareness is that there is a lot of knowledge in building science we want to take advantage of, not just new technology, and simplicity has a lot of value. For example, using best practices for designing and constructing the building envelope (like the Insulation solution) means we need less mechanical equipment to keep the building comfortable for the people inside (like the High-Efficiency Heat Pumps solution). This can also make building management simpler, conserve resources, and boost the building’s resilience to extreme weather or power outages.

Q: Everybody has a superpower. What’s yours?

A: Being a systems thinker—being able to ask questions outside of my discipline or go beyond the original question asked. It probably came from having a mom who was a science teacher and who encouraged me to ask questions.

Q: What's a childhood toy or experience that relates to the work you're doing today?

I grew up in Russellville, Arkansas. We have a nuclear plant in our hometown, and my dad worked there as a nuclear engineer. I actually got to visit the site as a kid, pre-9/11, and he talked to me about his job. You can see some of the plant’s interactions with the environment. There’s a cooling tower visible from miles away that is evaporating water drawn from the river as part of the plant’s cooling system—to a child it’s a big cloud-maker. Growing up with someone who was a power plant engineer gave me the understanding from a young age that the electricity I’m using is coming from somewhere. I don’t look at a wall socket and assume the electricity magically appears; I have always known that so much happened before that electricity got to the building.

Q: If you could eat lunch with any famous person, living or dead, who would it be?

A: If I can have two, I’d have lunch with Alan Watts and Chungliang Al Huang. It would be amazing to witness their interactions and get to ask questions. Their writing has changed my thinking on science, technology, intelligence, and what it means to cooperate with the natural world and recognize yourself as part of it.

Q: What’s your favorite drawdown solution?

A: My favorite solution actually isn’t classified as a buildings solution: It’s Plant-Rich Diets. I love eating vegan food, and I feel good about how it affects me, the broader animal community, and the wider world.

Q: What gives you hope?

A: A lot gives me hope. I feel like the conversation has shifted well beyond, “Is climate change happening? Should we change what we’re doing?” to a more complex conversation. We have work from Project Drawdown and lots of other places to show that there are effective actions we can take using what we know now, and they have benefits beyond the climate. My job is to get the message out about that, and to help people understand how the technology pieces come together for a better future. Having the ability to do work that is meaningful—that gives me a lot of hope.

Q: Your ideal way to spend a weekend?

A: An ideal weekend includes some time in a forest, and a book, and probably a walk with the dogs or a cat on my lap.

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Profile  |  January 24, 2023
Drawdown Science team member Yusuf Jameel
Drawdown Science Profile: Yusuf Jameel
This article is the third in a series introducing the members of Project Drawdown’s new science team. Yusuf Jameel joined Project Drawdown in 2021 as a research manager for Drawdown Lift. In January 2023 he transitioned to the Drawdown Science team as associate scientist, data science. A multidisciplinary scientist with experience in water resources, public health, data analytics, and science communication, he’s passionate about finding solutions to climate change and bridging the gap between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Yusuf obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Utah. Please welcome Yusuf as he shares his thoughts on growing up on the banks of the Ganges River, enhancing human well-being through the adoption of climate solutions, porcupine hair, and more. Q: When people ask you what you do with Project Drawdown, what do you tell them?  A. As a member of the science team, I work on climate solutions using my experience in data analysis, especially on solutions that also address the food–energy–water nexus. I also work on translating the science in a way that makes it widely accessible.  Q: Of all of the things you could be doing, why did you choose to join Project Drawdown?   A: Project Drawdown is on a mission to actually address the biggest problem the world is facing today, climate change. I was really impressed by the book. It was the first to lay out that yes, we can address climate change—it's not just about gloom and doom, it’s also about opportunity. Project Drawdown addresses climate in a way that’s multidimensional, promotes the best science, addresses the different audiences, and passes the mic. That really motivates me. Q: What do you consider some of the biggest obstacles to implementing and scaling up climate solutions?  A: First is unlocking the finance to fund climate solutions globally. We need capital from the private sector, from banks divesting from fossil fuels, and we need to invest in green solutions. Another challenge is politics. We need to think more altruistically. This is a global challenge requiring everyone to join hands, yet it has not been the case so far. The good news is, public perception is changing. Hopefully politics will change, and more capital will be funneled into climate solutions. Q: OK, time for a break. What’s your favorite food? A: I would go with my comfort food, and that’s biryani. It’s a big tradition in South Asian countries, and if you ask anyone in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, biryani is probably one of the top dishes. It’s not the healthiest dish, but it’s just so comforting.  Q: I’m sure you have many, but can you tell us about one superpower you bring to this job? A: I’m a jack of all trades. Whether it’s high-level thinking, brainstorming ideas, or actually doing the work, I’m comfortable doing it all. I’m also adaptable. If a situation requires me to step up and take the lead I can, or I can step back and follow.  Q: What's a childhood experience that relates to the work you're doing today?  A: I grew up on the banks of the River Ganges. Every now and then there would be flooding. As a result, many people would go through an annual cycle of losing crops and be entrenched in a cycle of poverty, unable to get out. This had a profound effect on me. When I started reading about climate change and seeing flooding events become more and more intense, I recognized the need to address climate and development holistically.  Q: What’s your favorite Drawdown Solution?  A: There are so many of them! I really like Distributed Solar Photovoltaics and Reduced Food Waste, but my favorite is Clean Cooking. I think that solution can revolutionize the lives of billions of people in the world, especially young girls. It not only addresses climate but also vastly improves health, addresses gender equality, and opens up economic opportunities. If we can implement clean cooking and distributed solar, we’ll see huge changes in the lives of billions of people globally.  Q: Time for another break. If you were a nonhuman animal, what animal would you be?  A: As a kid I had short hair that was like vertical hair, as if I had had an electric shock. So many of my friends called me Porcupine. People  would rub my hair all the time as it felt like velvet. Now I keep my hair long.  Q: What gives you hope?  A: I derive my hope from two things. First, we’re rapidly advancing technology—a lot of people from across the world are putting their effort into finding and implementing the best and most important solutions to address climate change. Second,  when I was at COP27, I saw that young people are really leading the movement. That gives me hope that we can do meaningful work on this very important but challenging issue. Q: Anything else you’d like to share?  A: I like nature. I especially like mountains. This is something I realized very late in life, maybe because I grew up in cities with very little nature around. When I moved to Utah, I started going to the mountains. I realized how peaceful and how nice it is, and I can’t not talk about it.  As human societies are getting more urbanized,  a lot of us, especially young people who live in large metropolises, are cut off from nature. And I hope they reconnect with nature. We need to appreciate nature and biodiversity much more than we do. Once it’s gone, it’s not coming back. We need to love it, respect it, and protect it.
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