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Citizenship

Spotlight: How one global citizen is using the law to affect change

The interview below is with my good friend Sarah Gonzalez, a law student who is determined to use her career to change the world. Check back for more Spotlights on global citizens who want to leave the world a better place than how they found it.

So Sarah.. you’re studying Environmental Law. So cool! Where does your passion for environmental protection come from?

My passions for environmental protection and public service are rooted in my family values. I wouldn’t characterize my family as “green” or environmentalists, but they taught me the importance of thinking beyond myself. Despite having little financial means, my family always stressed the importance of giving back to our community. This is a value that I try to live by everyday, and it ultimately led me to pursue a career in Environmental Law.

My family had the same impact on me :) So you knew you wanted to give back to your community, but when did you become active in the environmental movement?

I learned the most about the environmental movement during my time at the University of Colorado. Boulder, CO is well known for its reputation as one of the top ten party schools in the US, but Boulder is also a beautiful community that is extraordinarily environmentally conscious. I was fascinated by the farmer’s markets, the “green” businesses and restaurants, and the abundance of nature. I did not experience much of this growing up in Los Angeles. In an attempt to learn more, I decided to major in Environmental Studies. My curiosity continued to grow with each class I took. One of my favorite classes was Environmental Ethics; my professor had the class volunteer at a local organic farm and read intriguing books like Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang, and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Sarah at the University of Colorado

I think that’s so cool you studied environmental studies. I took a few classes at school and always wished I could have taken more. Okay, next question: there are so many different things you can do with an environmental studies major, can you describe what led you to studying law?

After graduating, I moved back to Los Angeles and I was eager to contribute to the environmental movement. I wanted to use the information I acquired in college to make a difference, but, I wasn’t sure how to do so.

I decided that the first step was to volunteer with a local organization that promotes environmental protection. That is how I found Tree People, a Los Angeles non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire, engage and support people to take personal responsibility for the urban environment.

Tree People invites the school children and community members to help with the plantings, and after planting a tree we perform a ceremony and name the tree. Initially, what resonated with me the most was having the opportunity to teach the school children the importance of caring for the trees that they helped plant, so the trees would grow and help protect our local water resources and improve our air quality.

A personal photo of Sarah’s from a tree planting with Tree People

I found this work incredibly meaningful, but volunteering was not enough for me. I wanted to make a larger impact. I wanted to educate others about important environmental problems and I wanted to effectuate change. I decided that law school was the next step in my pursuit of that goal.

So tell me all about law school. What’s it like?

I am currently in my third year of law school, and I have never worked harder in my life. Although I do not have much of a social life, I can honestly say that I wake up excited to go to work and school everyday. Some of the highlights of my law school experience are serving as the President of the Environmental Law Society, and interning for the US Environmental Protection Agency and local environmental non-profits (Communities for a Better Environment and San Diego Coastkeeper). I am excited to graduate in May and have the opportunity to utilize the skills I have acquired to contribute to the environmental movement as an attorney.

A personal photo of Sarah’s from a beach clean-up

Now for the good stuff. I truly believe that we each have enormous potential to affect change, but it’s not always clear how to do so. Given your knowledge and experiences, what steps can we all take to protect our planet and care for our communities? Lay it all out for me, girl.

If there is one thing I can recommend to my peers, it is to think beyond yourself.

My passions for environmental protection and public service are what led me to law school. But, it is important to know that you don’t have to be an attorney, a politician, or a “tree hugger” to contribute to be a part of the environmental movement. Here are a few things we can all do in an effort to be more environmentally conscious:

1. Reduce plastic consumption

I don’t buy or use plastic single-use water bottles, and I try to encourage my family and friends to do the same; I use a glass reusable water bottle everyday; I bring a reusable bag to the grocery store; I use glass tupperware; I love coconut water, so I make an effort to buy coconut water that is packaged in paper cartons (not plastic).

2. Reduce waste

I am an avid recycler; I try to avoid single-use items.

3. Reduce your carbon footprint!

I try to buy produce from farmer’s markets that is grown locally; I always walk places whenever I can; I make sure to unplug my hair straightener and other appliances when I am not using them.

4. Volunteer

I try to regularly participate in local beach cleanups and tree plantings and I invite my friends and family to join me.

These little things do make a difference!

Well said, Sarah :) Thank you for talking with Global Citizen, and good luck!

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Christina Nuñez