To some, our love of nature begins with catching a fish. Ane Deister experienced her love of nature this way and that love grew into a successful career in environmental engineering. As the Assistant Secretary of California Resources during the early Jerry Brown administration in Sacramento, Ms. Deister led the Resources Agency by applying the principles of net energy accounting. Ane explains how environmental engineering combined with the ability to clearly communicate are essential skills that can be applied to solve difficult problems.
Ane Deister is a vice president with the Parsons Corporation’s Environment and Infrastructure Group in Northern California. She has a Masters degree in environmental engineering and systems ecology from the University of Florida where she studied with renowned systems ecologist Howard Odum.
She has over 30 years of experience in water resources and environmental management, and over 25 years in executive leadership and mediation. She has experience with water restoration, irrigation water management, and water and waste water systems throughout the state, working with multiple jurisdictions and people at the same time. From 1978-80, she was an assistant secretary of resources under Huey Johnson, during the Jerry Brown administration. She and her husband and daughter live in El Dorado County.
Ane Diester: When I was a kid, my dad would sometimes come in and he’d grab me by my big toe and he’d shake it and that would wake me up, and he’d say, “Come on, let’s go catch some fish.” So we had a little Boston Whaler, and we’d just jump in and we’d take off, and we’d go put in at some little place down in the Florida Keys, and we’d catch fish. We’d catch mangrove snapper or yellow fin tuna, or whatever was running, and you know we’d catch a mess of it, some of it we’d take back for my mom to clean and some of it we’d cook right there on the–on the sand. But it was that experience of seeing the birds and the fish and the amazing colorful plants, and those great roots of the mangroves. That whole thing was, you know, pretty magical as a kid and I was pretty much in awe of it. And it really created that connection to the value of natural systems for me. But it also created a warmth that, you know, surpasses any kind of measuring value, it’s something a little bit more personal.
Huey Johnson: You are a well known and highly respected engineer, and how in the world one gets from that love of nature to the technology specialty of engineering is a matter of curiosity to me.
Ane Diester: Well, the world of engineering is very vast and the world that I like to operate in is environmental engineering. And over the years, I’ve been less of a classical engineer and more a communicator, and helping take the tools of the engineering trade– the tools of the science trade–and weaving them together into a story, or an idea, or concept, or even a solution that will move something forward, make something better, improve, you know, something that needs to be fixed, or solve a problem. And I think we’re all problem solvers, we all get there in different ways and we speak different languages. And what I’ve learned over the years in my success has been the ability to communicate among and between these craftsmen, these classical engineers, these classical scientists, and that’s actually been a pretty good recipe for success for me.
Huey Johnson: Another dimension of our getting together, kind of a high-level political function in the state capital was–you were a specialist in what was called net energy accounting which none of us had ever heard of and you had studied it. Can you tell us about the background on that?
Ane Diester: Yeah, actually the Odum brothers, H.T. Odum and Eugene Odum, pretty famous ecologists, came from very strong roots of biology and ecological systems, really came up with this whole idea of looking at entire systems. Human systems, natural systems, the confluence of those systems together, and tracking the flow of energy in the systems and across the boundaries. And the reason they looked at that is that they said, “You know we’ve got to somehow create a metric where we can evaluate the impacts that mankind has on natural systems.” And its hard to do that when nature is, you know, growing kilo calories of biomass and we’re accumulating dollars of wealth.
Ane Diester: One of the things that Dr. Odum at University of Florida did was he looked at net energy analysis as a way to figure out, if I invest this much energy into a solution or an operation, how much energy of product do I get out? Pretty simple, I mean, its just like a checkbook, right? And it helps take away that emotional component that often clouds decision making. That’s not to say I’m not emotional, but it helps, it helps us.
Huey Johnson: Well, if you were to look back on your life and you’ve enjoyed success as a career, what have been lessons learned?
Ane Diester: Well, I’ve had a fabulous professional life and a fabulous personal life too, which is–I’ve learned that that’s–it’s important to recognize the value of both of those, and that you’re not alone, in your profession or in your personal life. The hardest thing as a young, fresh, right out of graduate school professional who had studied with some of the hot shot professors of the time, was trying to remember I didn’t know everything, and I–and also trying to remember I wasn’t always right. And yet, that’s–that was sort of the thing that pushed me forward too–is that I felt I did know everything, and I felt I was right, and that’s what made me so tenacious, and I just kept going and going, and stayed with things until something got solved. But now, I’ve learned that stepping back a little bit, creating a little of that momentum and getting people started, stepping back and listening to others give their take on the problem or the solution. You really do learn a lot from other people’s perceptions and other people’s views. And so the magic I’ve been trying to weave is taking all of those great ideas, whether they were, you know, similar to what I had put on the table in the first place or not, bringing all those ideas together in creating something that moves things forward.