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Three UvA graduates fight for the climate

Louisa Bergsma,
28 maart 2019 - 09:55
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Folia talks to UvA alumni Joël, Maxime and Felix about their efforts to plant trees in Brazil, help keep beaches clean in Asia and carry marine life research. 

Joël Boele (26), Future Planet Studies and Environmental Geography 

‘From our office in Amsterdam, my colleagues and me are working on a re-forestation project in Brazil. Over the next three years we hope to plant 2.4 billion trees on an empty plain that was once a thriving part of the Amazon rainforest. The first trees were planted in 2016 and we’re approaching one million by the end of this year. But this isn’t just about planting forest. We’re creating a biodiversity corridor to bring an area of 40 x 2,600 kilometers back to life.


‘It was during my gap year that I read about Future Planet Studies and I liked the sound of it immediately. Around the time I finished my masters, I met Ben Valks in a bar, the founder of the Black Jaguar Foundation. He asked me to visit his office and that’s how I ended up here. Now I have a permanent job.’ 

‘I was studying econometrics and only thought about money but this trip changed everything’

Maxime van Leeuwen (25), Law and Private Law 

‘I work as a trainee in the mobility department at the municipality of The Hague where our mission is to improve the city’s public transport. The Hague is a special city. It’s our seat of government, close to the sea and very densely populated — and we expect the population to grow by 20 per cent over the next twenty years. In order to keep the city livable it is increasingly urgent that we limit CO2 emissions. One way of doing so is making public transportation an attractive alternative to cars. As it exists now, this isn’t the case. It must be.’ 


Felix Petersma (25), Econometrics and Statistics 

‘In 2016, I went to Indonesia for my diving certificate. I was studying econometrics and only thought about money but this trip changed everything. Most days I was in the water for 10 hours, diving and exploring nature. But I was shocked by how polluted the water and the beaches were. I finished my studies, but didn’t like the jobs on offer and decided I wanted to do something with marine biology and ecology, so I went to the Philippines to volunteer for the Large Martine Vertebrates Research Institute, one of the largest research institutions there.’


‘Over four months I helped conduct research on the whale shark population and that of sea turtles but when I returned to Amsterdam, I still didn’t know what to do. I ended up at Save our Sharks, a campaign to protect sharks and inform people in the Dutch Caribbean and for which I helped with the Dutch Caribbean Shark Week in 2017 and 2018. It’s easy to be an environmentalist in places like the Philippines or Indonesia where you’re confronted with pollution every day. In Amsterdam, you just don’t see it.’