Jonathan Barrera

GHS grad hopes to shape environmental policies worldwide

Keep an eye out for Georgetown High School graduate Jonathan Barerra. This twenty-two-year-old grad student has big plans for himself—and for the world. If all goes according to plan, you may someday read about how this go-getter is shaping international policies to promote a cleaner, healthier earth.

“My dream would be to work with the UN or a similar organization to get environmental policies enacted in countries,” says Jonathan, who earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Stanford University.

Initially, Jonathan pursued biology as a stepping-stone to medical school, but that plan changed. Extensive traveling and a formative semester studying marine biology at Hopkins Marine Station in California made him aware of the environmental issues around him.

“Take Guatemala,” says Jonathan, who spent last summer visiting the country in Central America. “In the countryside, there are some very beautiful, pristine places. And then you see the city. The river that runs through the city is absolutely polluted. There’s trash everywhere, and it’s just getting worse.”

Jonathan, whose family is originally from Guatemala, found himself repeating a single thought as he observed the country: Something must be done. “A country like Guatemala has such a beautiful environment. It would be such a shame to lose something like that,” he says.

But Guatemala isn’t the only place in dire straits. For an example that hits closer to home, Jonathan points to Texas’s Corpus Christi beach. “You’ll notice how much algae there is,” he says. “That’s from pollution from agricultural runoff that goes into the Gulf of Mexico. These fertilizers that farmers use for crops on the mainland end up in the water, and that fertilizes the algae that grow there.”

Jonathan (middle) with his brother and cousin as they climb the volcano Pacaya in Guatemala

Jonathan (middle) with his brother and cousin as they climb the volcano Pacaya in Guatemala

“Those are just a couple of examples, but once you destroy the environment, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to restore it to its natural state,” he points out.

At twenty-two, Jonathan does not yet have enough clout to influence international policy, but he’s taking proactive measures to ensure that he’ll be able to bring about positive global change in the future. First on his list is learning as much as possible about environmental and ecological issues at play as he seeks a master’s degree in environmental earth science at the Freie Universität in Berlin, Germany.

“Germany as a whole is very good at working to enact environmental policies—at least better than the US is,” he says. “For example, here in Germany, everybody here recycles and knows how to recycle. Even here at my apartment complex, there are seven different [disposal bins]—there’s one for compost, brown glass, white glass, green glass. There’s one for cardboard and paper, one for plastics, and one for trash.”

Additionally, Germany’s “melting pot” environment provides him with a chance to live among and communicate with other cultures, preparing him for a future in international diplomacy.

Environmental issues are vast and complex; they affect everyone either directly or indirectly, Jonathan believes. “I think that, for the coming world, it will be a very important topic that will engage many people,” he says.

Though there are many pieces to the environmental puzzle, Jonathan suggests a partial solution to preserving our natural environment: “We need to strike a balance between modernization—continuing to live in a developing world—and lessening pollution, which is currently a byproduct for maintaining our modern lives. That may be recycling; it may be renewable energy; it may be preventing deforestation.”

Whatever the solutions may be, Jonathan hopes to join others who are forging the way.

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