UCSF Sustainability Stories

Sophia Labeko

Next Generation of Environmental Health Leaders - Madeline Matthys

This story is a continuation of the Extracurricular: Next Generation of Environmental Health Leaders story.

Madeline Matthys, is a second-year student at UCSF School of Medicine. She interned with Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers (PSE) for Healthy Energy, a nonprofit research institute that studies how energy production and use impact public health and the environment.

The big question Matthys wanted to answer was: can we develop a framework for identifying optimal regions to retire CA gas infrastructure. “This was a new domain for me, but I’ve been interested in the process of electrification and decarbonization for many years and was wondering how I could relate that into my career in medicine,” says Matthys.

Looking into how our climate change solutions impact different communities, Matthys learned that gas pipeline infrastructure in California, which should be easily accessible to the public, is, in fact, not easily accessible to the public. This posed a major challenge to the project because having access to pipeline information is crucial in answering questions like: how old is the pipeline supplying my home, are there any gas leaks in the area, and how to prioritize electrification based on gas pipeline infrastructure.

Another challenge was addressing how the existing climate change solutions, like decarbonization and electrification, impact disadvantaged communities. “When approaching decarbonization, wealthy communities will be able to adopt electrification strategies first, which then places the burden of maintaining gas pipelines onto disadvantaged communities. Ultimately, this means that the divide of who’s getting exposed to environmental toxins grows bigger,” notes Matthys.”

While her original goal of informing decarbonization policy in California still stands, the lack of available data shifted Matthys’ research focus to just that: advocating for access and availability of gas pipeline data for all. 

Watch Matthys’ full presentation on YouTube.