Title: Staff Scientist
"I couldn't work for the chemical industry giants. I wanted to do something that seemed more meaningful, and I trusted that with some creativity and luck, I could forge my dream job...."
I remember clearly the day I began my career as an environmental scientist. I was alone on a busy street corner in Mexico. Having recently graduated with a Ph.D. in chemistry, it was time to make a decision. I picked up the pay-phone and dialed the number back to the States. "But is there a better offer we might be able to match?" asked the voice on the other end, after I had declined what to many chemists would be a dream job. There wasn't. "And what will you do instead?" he asked. I had no idea. But I did know that, regardless of the position or the terms, I couldn't work for the chemical industry. I wanted to do something that seemed more meaningful, and I trusted that with some creativity and luck, I could forge my dream job.and luck, I could forge my dream job.
Shortly thereafter I moved to Lima to volunteer for the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law (PSDA) and help assess the potential impacts of developing natural gas fields deep in the Amazon. I also began to learn Spanish and to comprehend what life is like for the millions who migrate to developing nations in search of a better life.
Like so many cities in Latin America and around the world, Lima is full of contrasts. Toddlers beg on the streets in bustling commercial and financial districts. Up-scale neighborhoods flaunt wealth, while others are built of cardboard. One can taste the pollution in the air, and the sunset over the Pacific is spectacular. Outside of the capital, Peru is home to some of the world's greatest archeological treasures and biodiversity. But, the country is also rich in natural resources that foreign companies vie to extract, often at steep environmental costs. Sadly, destitute city-dwellers may seem fortunate compared to rural villagers whose means for survival are threatened by so-called "development" projects or extractive industries. In Peru and most Latin American nations, balancing environmental protection in the long term with the immediate needs of low-income communities is no small task.
After five months in South America, I returned to San Francisco to begin work with Earthjustice and AIDA -- the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense -- an international environmental law organization that facilitates international collaboration on pressing environmental issues in the Americas. My years with Earthjustice and AIDA have greatly expanded my horizons. Working on diverse projects related to freshwater protection, global warming, marine and coastal conservation and the health impacts of environmental contamination, I have seen both the best and worst of our hemisphere. Along the way, I have been fortunate to play a part in many important environmental victories, ranging from halting offshore petroleum exploration in the Costa Rican Caribbean to stopping large-scale logging in southern Chile.
My work is an exciting combination of analyzing data, drafting policies and proposals, editing legal briefs and working with the media. Most importantly, I have the honor and pleasure of working with thoughtful, compassionate and intelligent colleagues both here and abroad, all of whom are dedicated to preserving precious ecosystems and protecting the human right to a healthy environment.