What Do You Get When You Cross a Political Scientist and a Conservationist? The answer is easy: Bianca Barth. A policy officer for the World Future Council (WFC) in Hamburg, Germany, 28-year-old Barth combines her passion for the environment with her political science education to help promote climate protection and renewable energy use throughout the world.
“The World Future Council brings the interests of future generations to the center of policy making,” she explained. “I work with different people from around the globe who, like me, are concerned about protecting our world. Because we only have one Earth, it's very important to make sure it exists for those yet to come.”
The daughter of a homemaker and a carpenter (worker), Barth grew up in a small German village near the French border. Like many young people, she did not have a specific career path in mind when she graduated from secondary school. She did, however, have the support of her family as well as a favorite teacher.
“I had a German literature and art teacher I admire,” Barth recalled. “In the 1960s, she was a political activist who was very engaged in the student movement. Her passion and personality really inspired me. When I wanted to go abroad to study, she encouraged me to do it. It was a big step, but she always backed me.”
The new graduate moved to Brussels, Belgium, where she worked as volunteer with the Climate Action Network, an international network of more than 430 non-governmental organizations that strive “to promote government and individual action to limit human-induced climate change to ecologically sustainable levels.” According to Barth, this was the first time she realized the political arena surrounding climate change.
“By the time I was 19, I was lucky enough to have attended two United Nations Climate Change Conferences, including one at The Hague, Netherlands, in 2000,” she said. “It was exciting to see people from all over the world unite to try to solve the issue of global warming. In the end it failed, but a totally new world had opened up for me.”
Barth left Brussels to attend university in Berlin, Germany, studying environmental and development issues within the political science field. She remained active in environmental projects with various NGOs, such as Friends of the Earth International, and campaigned for corporate accountability at the 2002 United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. Ultimately, Barth decided to take some time off from university and travel to Central America.
“I wanted to see how people live in countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala,” she said. “Yet I also wanted to spend my time there doing something that made a difference,” she said. “For six months, I worked with groups that were examining the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the problems they present to small farmers. I wanted to raise the farmers' awareness of the risks related to GMOs.”
After returning to Germany, Barth completed her studies while working at the Environmental Policy Research Center as a student assistant. “That's when I came across the issue of how future energy systems should look like and that energy is one of the biggest contributing sources of CO2 emissions,” she said. “A shift to renewable energy was obvious. When I heard about the opening at the WFC, I knew it was perfect for me.”
One of Barth's first assignments was to become involved in renewable energy projects in the U.S. To do so, the young political scientist organized a strategy meeting prior to the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference. Afterward, one of the attendees contacted Barth with a proposal to bring a group of utility personnel to Germany to find out more about the German Renewable Energy Act and how it is being implemented. “After I was put in charge of organizing this program, I discovered many U.S. utilities lack information and experience on how to integrate renewable energy into the power grid,” she said.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Barth set to work initiating policy debate at the state level to promote implementation of the Feed-in Tariff, an incentive structure that encourages the adoption of renewable energy through government legislation. “To date, 16 U.S. states have introduced such bills, and Gainesville, Florida, actually implemented the program last March,” Barth marveled. “A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable that a policy with European roots would be adopted by the U.S. It's very encouraging.”
When she isn't campaigning for the WFC, Barth dabbles in acrylic painting, attending art exhibitions, going to the theater and spending time in nature. Most of all, Barth likes to discuss how to make the world a better place. “I want to contribute to a world that is powered 100% by renewable energy,” she said. “We still have a long way to go and a lot of technical issues to overcome, but I believe it is a realistic achievement.”