Spotlight Story

20 July 2022

Gabriel Van Praag: An Advocate for Climate and Environmental Justice



Category: Spotlight Story

Gabriel Van Praag grew up in one of the most biodiverse countries in the world— Caracas, Venezuela. Its geographical location neighboring the Caribbean Sea, and the North Atlantic Ocean, supports Venezuela’s terrestrial and marine ecosystems; however, the country also faces environmental challenges that threaten the livelihood of the species and people that live there. At a young age, Gabriel was aware of the effects of climate change, and became interested in climate science and geography as possible career paths.

“My love for ecology and conservation grew out of a couple of biology courses and one inspiring field course,” said Van Praag. “After those learning experiences, I realized it was possible to work in nature while also addressing climate change.”

Van Praag graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies, and a Bachelor of Arts in Geography. He was involved with clubs and organizations that fueled his passion for conservation, such as the Environmental Justice Alliance. His participation and leadership in the group, helped him further develop his problem solving, and community organizing skills. Collaborating with other students to advocate for climate justice encouraged him to seek other opportunities, such as the MANO Project.

As a Civilian Climate Corp Fellow with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Van Praag is responsible for an array of projects and tasks, including the development of a framework to implement climate change adaptation into the Big Oaks and Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The fellowship has allowed him to work closely with refuge biologists to develop climate adaptation strategies. He also provides briefings and tours for visitors which has helped him understand the importance of involving community members with the environment.

“Even though community outreach does not fall within my role, I want to leverage my privilege and resources as a fellow to improve equity and access for all people,” said Van Praag. “Once I complete the climate adaptation project for my field station, I would like to seek input from underrepresented communities, including Latinos, who are often left out.”

Historically, communities of color have been turned away from environmental conversations, and though Van Praag’s research is geared towards creating a sustainable framework, his focus is also set on making sure his community is heard and represented. His fellowship, education and early childhood in Venezuela shapes the way he approaches climate change research and what it means to his community.

“I believe everyone deserves an equal voice in shaping the future of our society,” said Van Praag. “Climate change is already severely impacting us, but we must work in a just, equitable, and inclusive manner if we want to both mitigate and adapt to drastic changes.”

Hispanic Access is inspiring, training, and supporting local leaders like Gabriel Van Praag, who have a stake in their community and have the drive for positive change. To help support and continue this work, please consider making a Charitable Donation

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