Out West student blog

Exploring the world of climate finance

Ariella Chichilnisky du Lac, '23
Hometown: San Diego, California
Area of Study: Symbolic Systems
Intern, Blue Forest Conservation

Ariella Chichilnisky du Lac reflects on her experience with project development and the intersection between finance and sustainability at her internship with Blue Forest Conservation

I came into my role as Blue Forest Conservation’s Project Development Intern with a passion for sustainability, eager to learn but not yet knowing much about climate finance or project development. Seven weeks in, I’ve discovered a whole new side of climate work that may well translate to my future career.

Blue Forest is a completely virtual non-profit that focuses on creating and using financial instruments to support a shift toward sustainability. The Forest Resilience Bond (FRB), developed by Blue Forest, utilizes money from private investors to finance forest restoration projects. Organizations which benefit from restoration projects — benefits include decreased wildfire risk and increased water availability — pay back the investors over time. The FRB allows for forest restoration projects to be completed more quickly than they would have been had the capital not been deployed upfront, and this speed of implementation is vital given the steadily increasing threat of wildfire. 

My role as Project Development Intern has been looking into different potential locations and projects for future forest resilience bonds, sitting in on meetings with beneficiaries — groups who will benefit from projects, and thus may help pay for them — and doing research into the potential benefits of post-fire restoration. Much of the location-specific work I’ve been engaging with has been in California, although I’m also helping with a study that’s looking at Oregon water supply. In addition to engaging with these projects, I’ve been able to (virtually) meet many of the amazing team members at Blue Forest, and have been immersed in an environment of hard-working, passionate people, who collaborate beautifully to combine science and finance in the work to save our planet. And, even though they’re on Zoom, meetings are always fun: it’s basically a requirement to have a pretty nature picture as a virtual background, so even though we’re all just sitting at home taking meetings, if you squint a bit you can (sort of) pretend everybody’s out in the field.

Some of the projects I’ve been working on are similar to work I’ve done in the past, like reading and synthesizing information from academic journal articles to understand the context of a landscape. Other work, like reading the description of a forest restoration project and brainstorming who might benefit from it, is unlike anything I’ve done before. Regardless of each project’s novelty, I have learned so much from everything I’ve worked on — about the importance of and challenges associated with watershed and forest management, the role that conservation finance plays in streamlining these processes, and how to be an effective team member when contributing to multi-dimensional projects. Recognizing the power and impact that finance has as these projects progress is also really motivating; I love the feeling that this work that I’m contributing to is making a difference.

A few months ago, I had no idea that organizations like Blue Forest, who leverage financial tools with the goal of sustainability, even existed. But seven weeks of some of the most exciting, impactful work I’ve ever done has opened up a world of possibilities that I can’t wait to continue exploring. I’m starting to seriously consider business school, restructuring my future coursework plan to incorporate elements of finance and project-based learning, and feeling that I’ve discovered work that fulfills me. 

I’ve heard, in many personal narratives, that there is often one particularly impactful experience which directs the course of a person’s career. And, just seven weeks in, I’m starting to think that this may be exactly what my experience at Blue Forest will do for me.


Recent Center News

A keystone species slowly disappears from the Yukon; Cuyama Valley, California farmers boycott Big Carrot; a pond turns pink in Maui; environmentalists oppose an Alaskan Arctic oil drilling project; direct-air carbon capture arrives in the Central Valley; pikas return to the Columbia Gorge; and other environmental news from around the American West.
Advisory Council Member Nancy Pfund and colleagues author a new paper exploring the benefits of prescribed burns, highlighting how new technologies in wildfire mitigation, vegetation management, and forestry can help prevent catastrophic fire. The paper also investigates how a variety of innovative funding models could be harnessed to dramatically scale the ability to use prescribed burns safely and effectively in the future.

Photo courtesy of Brandon Kapelow

Every year, the Bill Lane Center awards a $5,000 fellowship to support a journalist illuminating crucial issues about the American West. We are proud to announce Brandon Kapelow as our 2023-2024 Western Media Fellow, and the publication of new work by last year's fellow, Janet Wilson.