Where Are They Now? Jonny Behrens

This is a guest post by ACE Alumnus, Jonny Behrens

The Start of a Long Path in the Student Progressive Environmental Movement



Jonny Behrens Jonny Behrens


A movement is sparked through initial awareness and education on a crisis and its root causes. However what fuels sustainable action and growth is the empowerment of individuals to recognize how their involvement can make meaningful change.

Prior to my involvement with ACE I had been fascinated by the science of climate change but felt powerless, unable to recognize how I, as one individual, could influence change on a global issue. As a junior in high school in 2010, this perception began to change when I attended an ACE presentation. Certainly the presentation raised concern and interest in climate change for many in the crowd, but what inspired me was the call to action - rather than being simply left with an overwhelming problem, I learned how I could work alongside my peers (many who I had never known were concerned with climate change) to take action.

Weeks after the presentation, myself and others were connected by Sophie Ostlund, the ACE Presenter. Together, with the support of Sophie and a dedicated faculty member, we created Verterra, an environmental action group on-campus. Over the two years, we did exciting projects to reduce energy throughout the school, implement a small scale composting program, and inspire student involvement with video campaigns. But what was the most rewarding aspect of the experience were the countless opportunities to receive mentoring and leadership training workshops from ACE staff - Sophie Ostlund and Leah Qusba.

After graduation and in my first year in college, I continued to learn and grow - building upon my experiences throughout high school. Through my involvement in the politically active student group, UChicago Climate Action Network, I organized students, faculty and community leaders to take action on environmental justice issues as I began to challenge myself to understand, at a deeper level, my personal interest in climate justice. Whether the it’s the toxic smoke that blows off petcoke piles on the Southside of Chicago into communities or the threat of fracking chemical exposure throughout Illinois’ communities - environmental and climate issues threaten the health and wellbeing of all levels of society directly (and often unequally); environmentalism is not simply about protecting a forest or animal.

I seek to dedicate my career to this intersection of science and public policy - emphasizing the value of the voice of all the communities affected by environmental and public health degradation. Over the past summer, I had an incredible opportunity to intern within the Office of Public Engagement at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), witnessing how “non-traditional” environmentalists, from brewers to the American Heart Association, could be engaged in the environmental movement. I aspire to mobilize people to understand not only how climate change and other environmental issues directly threaten our society, but also how they can join a greater progressive movement that will bring broad changes to solve the root causes of environmental injustice, working in research labs to non-governmental offices.

My path has only just begun, and I cannot overstate how strong of a foundation and inspiration ACE was at the beginning. Your generous support of ACE will ensure that more youth like me will have the opportunity to not only learn about climate change but also be empowered and trained to be a leader to create lasting climate solutions throughout their lives. Please consider supporting this wonderful work.

About Jonny Behrens

Jonny Behrens is a third year undergrad in the college at The University of Chicago studying chemistry. He aspires to have a career dedicated to ending climate change - working in anywhere from a lab to a government office. Beyond his studies, Behrens bridges his interest in science and politics through his involvement as a leader and mentor in the political environmental justice group on-campus, UChicago Climate Action Network. In summer of 2014, Behrens interned in the Office of the Administrator at the U.S. EPA working in the Office of Public Engagement. A native of the Chicagoland area, Behrens enjoys spending time in the outdoors hiking, riding his bike and growing delicious food in his garden.