How to turn frustration into passion
SUMAN GUHA MOZUMDER
Ishan Nath, the Rhodes Scholar elect from Atlanta, exemplifies how one can turn frustration into a passion.
Ishan, a senior at Stanford where he will receive
bachelor’s degrees in economics and earth systems
next year, has been frustrated with American environmental policies, particularly in terms of reducing
greenhouse gas emissions. But he felt that somebody
has to work to change policy.
“We need to influence them for the future of the
humanity and I wanted to do that,” he said.
When he was in high school, thanks to a book by a
MIT physicist that alerted him about environmental
issues, Nath became concerned about climate change
and put his energy into community activism. He took
charge of his school’s environmental group and
implemented a variety of projects, from planting
trees to installing energy-efficient lighting.
In his Rhodes Scholarship essay, he writes: ‘Our
small group of students made gradual progress,
spreading awareness and raising $30,000 in grants
that helped purchase the school’s first solar panels. I
took pride in our work, but yearned to do more… For
me, this warming world conjured images of India,
my birthplace, and its struggling masses already liv-
ing in extreme poverty and oppressive heat. They,
along with others in equatorial regions, could ill-
afford another setback and I was determined to help
Since then, Ishan has been eager to do more in
terms of influencing the US policymaking in a posi-
tive way towards environment.
“If you realize that there are large challenges, it
motivates you more; and that is how I have turned
my frustration into a passion,” he said.
His senior thesis relates to clean energy and a
national cap-and-trade emissions trading system. He
also interned at the office of economic policy at the
White House and served as a consultant to the
Department of Energy.
Given that he wants to see policy changes, should
he not have been in Congress rather than in Oxford,
where he will study development economics?
“I do not know how to answer that,” he said. “I do
not think I am cut out for electoral politics. I think I
would do a better job as an economist rather than as
Ishan, a Truman Scholar and an Udall Scholar, has
also been an editorial writer for The Stanford Daily
and a political columnist.
How optimistic is he about changing policies, particularly of the US, in terms of reductions of greenhouse gases after he finishes his Oxford studies?
“I think it is presumptuous to think anyone will
change politics, but I think everyone hopes that his
or her work will have some impact on politics and
decision-making,” he said. “So it will take a lot more
than a few people’s hard work for American policies
to change, particularly on the issue of climate change. A lot of people are already working on this and they are strug- gling. There are major forces working against them. But I intend to work on a broad range of economic issues relating to environment in the US and in other countries. I think climate change is a difficult political issue but hopefully progress will be made in other areas. The only thing I will like to add is that politics change rap-
idly. So, the political climate for climate change in
the US right now is totally different than it was in
2008 before I started my college education, and
maybe in some years it will be totally different again.”
He agreed that there have to be other avenues for
climate change other than the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change
“There are countries that are taking action on cli-
mate change,” he said. “The US, of course, is lagging,
behind. I think what is important is that countries
must have right policies in place and that are imple-
mented. I guess there is not one overarching solu-
tion. The keys that we need to adopt are cheaper and
more reliable technologies for clean environment.”
A marathon runner who will do his master’s on
development economics at Oxford, Ishan admitted
that at times when the US economy is going through
recession, environment is not on the frontburner for
the people on the street.
“Climate change has been so politicized and partisan that I feel policies will not change, particularly in
this situation,” he said.
Ishan, who was born in Delhi and came to the US
when he was 2 years old, “would really like to play
basketball while I am in Oxford. It is going to my
dream come true! If I can get into the Oxford basketball team that would be awesome!”
Demonstrators for clean energy hold
a rally on Capitol Hill, March 2, 2009.
Right, Ishan Nath
Policy matters on a
As I thumb through the pages of The Economist or the latest popular economics text I wonder: What policies would reduce unemployment? How can some poor countries follow others
that have found success? Why does America’s education system fail
its underserved students?
To learn and refine my views, I spend hours debating policy
with professors in hopes of developing my own expertise. But
making serious analytical contributions requires much more,
as I learned while working for President Obama’s Oil Spill
Yet even the best answers to economic questions become meaningless if policy does not follow. The Commission’s work languished
when Congress ignored its recommendations, as did dozens of
strong proposals I saw as a White House intern. Legions of economists agree, for instance, that America could revive a depressed construction industry and improve productivity by investing in its
degrading infrastructure. But without Congress, this suggestion can
My undergraduate education provided a technical understanding
of economics and energy, but left me curious to learn more about
By pursuing an MSc in Economics for Development at Oxford, I
could explore a range of topics, from Xiaolan Fu’s work on techno-
logical innovation to the pioneering strategies outlined in Paul
Collier’s Bottom Billion, before narrowing my focus later for a
But why dedicate my career to policy dependent on capricious
political institutions prone, even in an advanced democracy, to
ignoring science and gambling economic stability? Because policy
matters on a tremendous scale.