Patrick Drupp earned his PhD in Geochemical Oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His time there served as a catalyst to make climate policy his career. He now works as the Director of Climate Policy and Advocacy for the Sierra Club.
While a graduate student, Drupp taught a course on oceanography at a community college. Since most of the students were Hawaiian locals, “I always spent time talking about climate change because most of them would be long-time residents,” he says, “and be impacted by climate change, sea level rise and changing hurricanes and weather.”
After an internship through Sea Grant on climate change education at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Drupp says he realized “I can’t separate the advocacy very well from the pure research.”
Drupp says the root cause of climate change is the fossil fuel industry. “That’s a societal problem that can only be addressed with large systemic change.”
Policy work is constant, Drupp says. The Sierra Club team had a goal to help achieve “the biggest climate bill that we can get passed. That’s the goal we had for two years with a Democratically- controlled Congress that wanted to act on climate for the most part,” Drupp says.
The provisions included in the Inflation Reduction Act, which was signed into law by President Biden in 2022, were “ultimately the largest investment that was made in climate and clean energy by any government ever,” Drupp explains. The focus immediately after passage was how to “get the money in the right places, the implementation,” he says, “to not waste any of it.”
Climate change policy is his sole function at the Sierra Club. Drupp oversees a team focused on “all things climate, which is almost everything at this point,” he says. It includes cleaning the electricity sector by trying to reach 100% clean energy by 2035. “We work in the transportation sector, and then the industrial sector has three main pieces of the economy where decarbonization needs to happen to reach our climate goals,” he explains.
The Sierra Club was founded in 1892 by naturalist John Muir. It continues as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit environmental organization, with chapters in each state. It is one of the largest grassroots environment organizations, and the oldest one.
The Sierra Club’s lobby team works on various campaigns such as “the Beyond Coal campaign, which was to stop coal plants. There's the Beyond Dirty Fuels, which is to fight the oil and gas, the expansion of oil and gas drilling,” he says. There are also efforts made on climate finance “and trying to get banks to stop funding oil companies.”
Each success “creates more political power and more movement power to actually end up where you want.” He feels hopeful about the Earth’s climate “because there is still time to avoid the worst things.”
The ARCS Scholar Award helps graduate students, Drupp says. “Graduate students aren't always making the largest amounts of money.” He used his award to attend conferences and to learn more.