Joshua Carrera at Glacier National Park in Montana on June 20, 2009. (Courtesy The Nature Conservancy)

[VIDEO] How nature opened a young man’s eyes to a new world

At 16, Joshua Carrera was just a typical teenager from Brooklyn, NY. He didn’t know one day he’d prefer studying plants and ecosystems to video games and sneakers, but at 22, he doesn’t only prefer it, he’s teaching it to others.

His life profoundly changed when he took advantage of The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) Program that was offered by his high school. The program has worked with environmental high schools across the nation for the past 18 years and provides paid summer student internships in the conservation field.

“It was a dream internship job, because I never had a paid job or left New York City,” says Carrera, who always felt a strong pull towards the sciences. “I never experienced nature before.”

He says the LEAF program exposed him to nature for the first time, and opened his eyes to a new adventurous career. Carrera is currently getting a dual degree Master of Science in conservation leadership at Colorado State University and El Colegio de la Frontera Sur in Mexico, and he is spending his winter break co-teaching an eco-tourism course to 16 University of Vermont students in Costa Rica.

“Prior to embarking on this path, I was like a lot of kids on my block — spending so much money on sneakers and clothes,” says Carrera who is thankful for his education. “I was very into that culture. I still have the latest kicks, but I now I think about how my actions influence nature…and those around me as well.”

The young scholar says the most important reason for conserving nature is that we depend on it. Although a 2012 Hewlett Western States Survey studying 336 Latino voters says 85 percent feel that toxins and pesticides in our food and drinking water is a serious problem, and 83 percent say air pollution and smog is a serious issue, Carrera says the connection to nature isn’t really present in urban communities.

Latinos have an overwhelming concern for the environment, maybe less exposure, but we still care,” says Carrera. “Because we don’t connect to it, it’s difficult for us to connect to the land. It’s important for me to make it relevant, otherwise we won’t have a planet to live on.”

For this reason, Carrera says he feels it’s really important to include people like him in the conversation. While the rest of his classmates are relaxing for winter break, the extremely focused Carrera just landed in Costa Rica to teach a two-week course on eco-tourism.

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“We are going all over the country to various sites…talking to the people who are being impacted…tour guides, communities, business owners. They have to be stewards of the land,” says Carrera. “After the students finish the program, they leave Costa Rica with the benefits of eco-tourism and sustainable development. They learn how to travel with a low impact on nature and the communities and local cultures.”

Carrera says he dreams of returning to work in Ecuador one day — the country where his parents were born. He says while he was majoring in natural resources in college, he realized how ecologically rich the country was.

“Eventually, I will be the business owner or the tourist guide…I will be the one working with the communities,” says Carrera. “Right now I am a student.”

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