Bright One at Work: Jamie Bemis’s Fellowship in Germany


“In a rapidly changing, complex, and interconnected world, it is becoming increasingly important to analyze tomorrow’s challenges today. Through the McCloy Fellowships on Global Trends, the American Council on Germany is tackling overarching issues that affect communities around the world in the areas of urbanization, climate change and sustainability, technological breakthroughs, and demographics and social change.” – American Council on Germany

As a McCloy Fellow, I will be traveling to Germany for three weeks in March to better understand what is being done at the forefront of the efforts to mitigate climate change.  As a former city planner and current manager of efficiency and renewable energy projects for my affordable housing clients in NY, I feel the threat of climate change on the horizon like an oncoming storm. Only five years ago, Superstorm Sandy whipped through the City, claiming lives, leaving millions without power, and wreaking havoc on homes and city infrastructure. It was the first consequence of a warming planet to really hit home, and it shattered the city’s veil of invincibility.

This sentiment is becoming a shared experience across cities worldwide. Communities have recognized their own imminent dangers that will result from a destabilizing climate. For low-income residents in New York City, who are already economically vulnerable, changing weather patterns can result in higher utility bills as residents compensate for hotter summers and unpredictable winters. Worse still, low-income residents often live in areas more vulnerable to storm impacts. In response, many cities have put forth bold plans to tackle the challenges of global warming. And still, there is more progress to be made.

Being A Part of the Solution

With a background in engineering and urban planning, I feel uniquely responsible to help address this issue.  At Bright Power, we contribute to these efforts by partnering with developers to make their affordable housing developments more sustainable and resilient – like at Arverne View, where a renovation was able to reduce onsite energy consumption by almost a third while improving tenant comfort. Bright Power also developed the Resilient Power Hub as a means to provide emergency backup power in the event of a blackout – particularly relevant for affordable and supportive housing communities, which often include elderly residents and residents with medical needs.

Through the McCloy fellowship, I plan to improve our ability to contribute to these cutting-edge projects even further by learning what is being done at the forefront of the efforts to mitigate climate change, so I can advocate for these measures on a local level and contribute to the collective fight. And as a young professional, I know that our very futures depend on it.

Why Germany?

Not many industrialized countries can surpass Germany with regards to the breadth and depth with which the issue of climate change is being addressed. Since 2005, the German government has paid explicit and consistent attention to the issue, documenting the anticipated challenges that result from climate change, as well as strategies for risk mitigation and adaptation. In 2016, Germany released its Climate Action Plan 2050, which outlines the strategies for achieving the nation’s climate goals. That same year, the “Integrated Environmental Programme” report was released, describing past achievements and outlining specific focus areas to aid the nation in reaching the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an outcome of the Paris Climate Change Conference of 2015. In 2016, Germany was ranked first in the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s international energy efficiency scorecard.

There is much that the United States—and countries around the world—can learn from German initiatives. Over the course of my three-week fellowship in Germany, I will learn about climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts from the front lines of where these efforts are being enacted by asking this question: How is the buildings industry responding to the needs of a changing climate? My research and interviews will focus on innovations in the built environment, including housing-specific initiatives and community-scale strategies, that seek to mitigate the consequences of climate change.

I look forward to sharing best practices, lessons learned, and key strategies that can be implemented here in the United States.  Together we can work towards our collective well-being and a future in which we can all thrive.