What leadership roles or volunteer experiences have been important to you during your time at Maryland?
In 2016, I volunteered in two important events organized by the then new Center for Global Sustainabilty: the Climate Action Forum and the Climate Action Summit. As a volunteer, I had the opportunity to attend interesting talks and to meet amazing professionals working on climate change action. It was definitely an inspiring experience.
At the beggining of my second year as a Masters student, I joined the Environmental Council of the School of Public Policy as vice president. This is interesgin group of highly motivated students looking to organize and offer extracurricular activities to enrich the experience of all UMD students. So far, we have organized a grant writing workshop, a forum on Protected Areas, a career panel with alumni working in environmental and energy policy, and we volunteered at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. We also co-host events organized by the Center for Global Sustainability.
How will you make a positive difference in the world?
Environmental and Energy Policy is a huge field, both in the United States and in the rest of the world. To write about possible contributions it is also a huge topic, and therefore, a huge challenge.
I worked on water issues in Chile for a few years, particularly in water management and hydropower sustainability. What I learned while studying and working impacted me tremendously: water management in Chile is highly privatized and led by market forces. This unique characteristic of the Chilean model has made us a highly productive country, of course, but at the same time, has made us blind about the vulnerable population dependent on natural resources for their own survival and about our own environment. For instance, in the agricultural sector - predominant on the center and north of the country, customary users struggle against market forces on a daily basis to survive, needing government assistance to be competitive. At the same time, irrigation regulations have made the agricultural sector highly efficient, impacting instream flows and the ecology of rivers.
On the other hand, the hydropower sector – predominant on the center and south of the country-, has been placed on territories taking into consideration only productive aspects for its development, rather than focusing on other environmental and social concerns. This has not only impacted the ecology of rivers and water availability but has generated great conflicts on indigenous communities and the rural population, who are not perceiving benefits from this kind of industry and rather have seen their customs and environment jeopardized.
I understand that many of the conflicts cannot be faced only with technical solutions, since their origin - based on my short experience - frequently comes from the decision making processes and from the power relationship among stakeholders. That’s why I’m convinced that solutions must be found and created at the Public Policy level. To find long term solutions is fundamental, however, the comprehension of social, economic and environmental dynamics, at national, regional and local level, their interactions and the impacts of the decision making processes on them.
Chile is very young in both energetic and environmental policy terms – both ministries were formally created on 2010 – and although there is progress in this area, there are many challenges to face in order to achieve agreement among government, private and social interests, ranging from lack of information for decision making, to lack of institutional, regulatory and economic mechanisms to implement and keep policies at national, regional and local level.
I came to the United States to learn about this particular issue, and take this knowledge back to Chile. My courses on environment and energy have been very useful to both visualize possible modifications on Chile’s regulation and policy making, and also to understand why things are like they are in Chile (we have taken U.S policy as an example and implemented it on our own system). Also, my internship in the World Bank has provided me of new experiences and knowledge about integrated watershed management.
My goal is making the intricate system of environment and energy, particularly on water issues, more sustainable and beneficial for every stakeholder. I believe that Chile needs an integrated system to manage its water resources and needs specialized professionals to help on this process. My objective is to be there when that happens.
Tell us about your favorite class, extracurricular activity, academic opportunity, community involvement or another unique experience.
I have to recognize that almost all my classes have taught me new interesting things. All of them have been very inspiring for me. However, the class "Peru: Sustainable Development, Democracy and Human Rights" was one of the most remarkable ones. We traveled to Peru (Amazonas and Lima) to learn about the environmental, social, cultural and economic problems brought by illigal gold mining in the region. Although it was a short trip, it was enough to understand how big and complex this problem is, and how many dimensions are being affected by it. This class was an eye-opener experience that made me realize how urgent is for us to take action and contribute to a more sustainable development as graduate students and future proffesionals of the environmental community.