Tom Erb

Major: Public Policy Analysis (concentration in Environmental Analysis)
Minor: Politics
Profession: Policy Fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) 
Hometown: Poway, CA

What are you doing now?

As a policy fellow, my policy portfolio at C2ES includes domestic market-based climate policy and international carbon pricing and climate finance. I also support the Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC), which is now the largest U.S.-based group of corporations focused on addressing the challenges of climate change and supporting mandatory climate policy. The BELC comprises 35 industry-leading, mostly Fortune 500 companies across a range of sectors with combined revenues of nearly $3 trillion and 3.7 million employees. On the domestic side, I focus on our Climate Innovation 2050 initiative and advocate for federal policies necessary to drive a net-zero U.S. economy by 2050. Internationally, I support negotiator dialogues on topics such as Article 6 of the Paris Agreement and international climate finance leading up to the 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). I am also currently pursuing a Master of Professional Studies in legislative affairs at George Washington University at night.

How did you get there?

I am here because of the sacrifices many people were willing to make on my behalf. I fundamentally believe that we reflect the people we have met and interacted with. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of my family, friends, teachers and professors, coaches, mentors and community members. To be specific, I vividly remember a moment from my childhood that continues to fuel my passion for advocating for ambitious climate policy. I remember being woken up abruptly in the early morning and being told that we had to leave right away. When I exited my house and looked right, I could see the urgency. Just a few miles away, a devastating wildfire was quickly approaching my neighborhood, eventually taking the homes of several of my classmates. I specifically remember the fear I had of never being able to return home to the childhood I knew and loved. In a single night, all of that could have been taken away by an uncontrollable wildfire. Climate change has and will continue to make wildfires larger and more destructive. We also know that more severe natural disasters, in addition to the other impacts of climate change, will disproportionately impact more vulnerable populations, making climate action a matter of correcting a significant global injustice.

Of course, in the moment, I did not realize the connection between wildfires and climate change or my ability to potentially mitigate the impacts of a warming world. However, I remember a specific conversation with my father around the age of 14 or 15 where he explained to me the reality of climate change. To be frank, the conversation terrified me, but it also propelled me to action. This realization, in combination with the sense of service that was instilled in my mind from a young age—most simply from my mother regularly asking me “what did you do to help someone today?”—led to my involvement in politics and policy.

My passion for climate action was one of the main reasons I chose Pomona College. During my time at Pomona, I experimented with the different ways I could contribute including local energy efficiency campaigns (shout out to CHERP), internships on Capitol Hill (thank you to fellow Pomona alum Senator Brian Schatz ’94), and starting a student carbon pricing advocacy campaign (Put A Price On It), and concluded that institutional public policy change was the place I could have the largest impact and feel the most fulfilled. After Pomona, I spent 1.5 years at the World Bank working on international carbon pricing advocacy with the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition. In this role, I helped organize the World Bank’s first international research conference on carbon pricing in New Delhi, collaborated with corporate leaders and government officials during the international climate negotiations, and advocated for ambitious climate policy through technical dialogues in Bangkok, Accra and Madrid. I started at C2ES at the beginning of February 2020.

How did Pomona prepare you?

Pomona was the best decision I ever made. The rigor of the academics, the support of professors, and the community of students helped me grow as a scholar, young professional, and person. As a scholar, I learned the ins and outs of climate change policy—from local environmental injustice to the global security implications of oil. The Career Development Office, community leaders such as Devon Hartman and mentors including Professor David Menefee-Libey and Hilary LaConte took an interest not only in my career but also in my life. Their guidance and the opportunities they opened for me were foundational to my growth. As a person, supportive friends such as Grant Steele and Polina Goncharova made Pomona feel like home, which made everything I accomplished possible. I am forever in debt to them for the love and support they gave me during the best and hardest moments at Pomona. The larger community of students, especially those in the Public Policy Analysis (PPA) program, challenged my world view each day and made me a better person because of it. I will forever be grateful to the Pomona community.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I will still be working on the climate challenge. Unfortunately, this is not a problem we will be able to solve in the short run. It will require consistent effort, investment and organizing for decades to come. After all, climate change is not just an environmental problem. It is an economic, social, justice, security and health problem. After my current role, I have a particular interest in moving to government. I have also grown more interested in returning to California to work at the state or local level. At times, D.C. is too detached from the communities being impacted by decisions being made on the Hill.

Any advice for prospective or current students?

To Prospective Students:
It is okay to be uncomfortable. When you get to Pomona, your world view will be challenged and, to be frank, torn apart. This is a good thing. Avoid the temptation to find comfort in circles of people or the internet that only confirm your previous beliefs. Your time at Pomona will be a time of reflection and growth. Embrace that and support your fellow students that are going through a similar journey.

Connect with professors and students ahead of time. If there is any way to start building relationships before you start, I recommend that. The first semester can be tough, but there are supportive people all around you.

To Current Students: 
Lead! Pomona students are some of the most talented, dedicated, and inspirational people in the world. This only becomes more evident once you leave Claremont. If we are going to address these big challenges—from climate change to criminal justice reform—we will need Pomona students in positions of authority. Leadership truly does matter, and Pomona is an opportunity to experiment with taking chances in the classroom and in the community.

Start building your network but do it in the right way. By now, you have probably heard someone say, “it is not just what you know, but also who you know.” This is true but let me add some nuance. Networking is not about making as many transactional relationships as you possibly can. It is about putting yourself out there so you build real relationships with people who you can help and who can help you. Focus your networking not on how many people you know, but rather on the strength of those relationships. To be clear: no one is going to use their political capital on recommending you for a job after a 15-minute conversation where you asked them what their day-to-day looks like. They are going to help you if you have already shown an interest in them, are willing to help them, and have similar values and goals. Also, give back! As you grow, remember to reach back and help those who were in a similar position as you just a few years before.

Say thank you. Be kind. Show up. We will need all of you to address these big challenges. During your own growth, remember to remain grateful to those who helped get you there, always be kind, and show up even in the hardest moments.