- The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is one of the largest and most influential environmental funders in the world. Since its inception in 1992, the GEF has provided more than $20 billion in grants for over 4,800 projects and 170 countries, engaging some 24,000 civil society and community groups.
- Over the summer, the GEF elected former Costa Rican Environment and Energy Minister Carlos Manuel Rodriguez as its CEO and Chairperson. Rodriguez served in key leadership roles when Costa Rica pioneered key conservation innovations, transformed itself into an ecotourism mecca, and assumed an international leadership role on environmental issues.
- Rodriguez joins the GEF at a pivotal moment for international efforts to combat a range of dire environmental issues. 2020 was originally intended to be a critical year for meetings that would chart the future of international collaboration around environmental issues, but the postponements and cancellations of summits has instead has come to reflect the past decade’s lack of progress on key high level environmental goals.
- Rodriguez sees the setbacks of 2020 as an opportunity to reset society’s relationship with the environment and shift business-as-usual approaches toward more sustainable models.
The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is one of the largest and most influential environmental funders in the world. Since its inception in 1992, the GEF has provided more than $20 billion in grants for over 4,800 projects and 170 countries, engaging some 24,000 civil society and community groups. Yet the institution remains less well known to the general public than many of the organizations and initiatives it funds.
However, that may be about to change. Over the summer, the GEF elected former Costa Rican Environment and Energy Minister Carlos Manuel Rodriguez as its CEO and Chairperson. Rodriguez served in key leadership roles when Costa Rica pioneered a payments for environmental services model that paid landowners to maintain and restore forest cover on their holdings; expanded the Central American nation’s protected areas; emerged as an ecotourism hotspot; advanced a global plan to protect tropical forests that became the political impetus for the United Nations’ Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) program, and laid out a bold strategy to decarbonize the country’s economy. In between his periods in office, Rodriguez served for 12 years at Conservation International, a large conservation NGO.
Rodriguez joins the GEF at a pivotal moment for international efforts to combat a range of dire environmental issues, including the extinction crisis, worsening impacts from climate change, rising deforestation and incidence of forest fires, and the socio-economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has collapsed tourism-based livelihood models that underpin conservation programs in many parts of the world. 2020 was originally intended to be a critical year for meetings that would chart the future of international collaboration around environmental issues, but the postponements and cancellations of summits has instead has come to reflect the past decade’s lack of progress on key high level environmental goals, from curbing emissions to cutting deforestation from commodity supply chains to slowing species loss.
Rodriguez sees the setbacks of 2020 as an opportunity to reset society’s relationship with the environment and shift business-as-usual approaches toward more sustainable models. Speaking with Mongabay in an October 2020 interview, Rodriguez says the pandemic recovery presents a chance to rethink the economic system that “got us in this problem” through “confrontative relationships between humans and nature.”
“Even though our economic model has helped many countries in the last century to do much better in social and economic terms, it has two big problems,” he said. “One is that the economic model aims for unlimited growth focused on individual prosperity. The second is that it doesn’t recognize planetary boundaries. This economic system has put us in a very delicate situation. Today’s COVID, tomorrow is going to be climate change.”
Beyond the opportunities in post-COVID recovery efforts, Rodriquez talked with Mongabay about his background, his experience navigating political divides, and his hope that younger generations will be more thoughtful, ambitious, and dedicated than older generations in combating the ecological challenges that face the planet.
Note: this interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
AN INTERVIEW WITH CARLOS MANUEL RODRIGUEZ
Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay: Congratulations on the new role at the Global Environment Facility.
Rodriguez: Well, I’m very pleased and honored. I’ve been working half my professional life in government and half within the civil society in Costa Rica. I have worked very close to the GEF, including in the early days of the GEF. I was a negotiator for CBD for the Rio convention and also had the fortune to work with the government of Costa Rica in the first implementation of GEF funding in Costa Rica. Those were very interesting times, the mid-1990s.
I’m really delighted that 25 plus years after that, I’m leading this very prestigious organization. I never thought I would have that opportunity, particularly for coming from a developing country, a recipient country.
Mongabay: How did you get interested in the environment or nature in the first place?
Rodriguez: I was born in 1960 so I grew up in a very different Costa Rica than the one that we have today. Today, Costa Rica is quite urban as opposed to when I was a kid, which was very rural. So I spent a lot of time in the outdoors.
I come from a family with a strong tradition in coffee farming so I spent a lot of my days as a kid in the family farm. That coffee farm was right next to a larger track of a primary forest that eventually the government of Costa Rica protected.
I remember as a kid spending my holidays and summertime in the family coffee farm. My cousins were very much interested in the coffee operation. I was delighted in hiking the forest and looking for wildlife. My grandfather was a sport hunter. There was a tradition back here, and I remember joining him in some hunting expeditions in that primary forest. And that has an impact on me, not just because the contact that I had with nature, but also I began to appreciate the diversity of animals and plants of Costa Rica.
I remember one time at the age of 10 or 12 when I visited the family farm that there were suddenly a lot of more birds than I usually saw. This was my first introduction to migratory species. And that was a very interesting finding for me: half of the year, there were a lot more birds than the rest of the year. I didn’t know why, but I knew when.
Once I had access to books—because there was no internet—I found that there were migratory species coming from Canada and the U.S. to Costa Rica. That some of those very small, beautiful yellow warblers were coming from all the way from the United States was really shocking to me.
In the ’80s, I saw deforestation big time in Costa Rica. Costa Rica was not exempt from development in the ideas of putting land under production. And based on the fact that Costa Rica had an economic system that depended a lot on crops and cattle ranching, resulting in deforestation. The forest was impacted by forest fires, deforestation, and logging. That really helped me understand that what should I be doing in my professional career.
Mongabay: From that start, you rose as high as you could possibly go in the environment in Costa Rica when you became the Minister of Environment and Energy. I’d love to hear about your path to that position. And then, once you’re in that position, Costa Rica made very impressive progress on issues like forest conservation, payments for ecosystem services, and decarbonization of the economy. I’d like to hear about which of those achievements you’re most proud of and why?
Rodriguez: By the end of the mid-1980s, I was part of the second generation of conservation in Costa Rica. The first generations were the founders of the national parks systems, but they were concentrating in national parks. My generation was much more concerned about deforestation and not other environmental problems like hydropower: big dams was an issue back then. We were questioning the decision-making processes and the lack of value and recognition for nature.
So with a group of friends, we established a watchdog organization. I cut my teeth fighting big dams and logging companies, and I decided that I should get involved in politics.
A few of our friends were vetted to create a green party, but we decided to try to work with the traditional political parties. Back then, we had two main political parties; center-left, center-right. And we began working from the inside out.
So from the 1990s to a month ago, I entered four times in the ministry of environment. I helped create the legal framework and the institutions in Costa Rica. I have been fortunate to work four times in different periods in the ministry of environment.
My first job was in 1995 as director of the national park service, probably the best job I ever had in my life. And then I served three times as Minister of Environment. I was going into government and leaving government because of political changes. And every time I left the government, I worked with NGOs and research institutions.
So, the thing that I felt most proud of probably was leading the team that came up with the innovative policy in the mid-1990s that created the payment for environmental services. That team was able to pass new legislation in 1996 through the new forest code where we put a tax on fossil fuels, and the revenues from the tax on fossil fuels was channeled to owners of forest because there was an evident market failure that didn’t price and recognize the environmental services being provided by natural forests, plantations or agroforestry systems.
We fought a lot deforestation and land-use change and tried to enforce policies and regulations. But that didn’t work because we had the market against us. We understood that we need to put the market on our side, which is what we right now are basically doing globally. We came up with an idea of doing payments. These payments are what I call the second generation of forest incentives; we had a first-generation before payments for environmental services (PES).
PES came in 1996, but before the PES that is based on the tax on fossil fuels, we already had a first generation of forest incentive that was created in 1979 when the government realized that they need to put some incentives to restore degraded lands and promote plantations. The issue was basically the fact that money was coming from the central government.
So, there were some incentives, basically subsidies and tax exemptions in that first generation, but even though it worked for almost 20 years, it was politically and financially not sustainable. The government had to have resources to allocate to that funding mechanism, and the government has always gone into many different cycles of fiscal deficit and good years. And in one of those very difficult moments of fiscal deficit, the government realized that they didn’t have enough money to continue investing in forest. So based on that and on the fact that we need to put the market on our side, we came with the idea of doing a payment for the services that people provide by keeping and restoring forests. And also, we came with the idea of creating a financial mechanism that didn’t depend on the financial health of the central government. So we put a tax on fossil fuels.
This is a very interesting rationale whereby those who pollute should be paying those who offset carbon emissions for the service they provide. I think it was innovative. It was cutting edge. Costa Rica was doing something that eventually countries catch up with around 2005 or 2006 when they agreed at the UNFCCC to start this global mechanism to recognize the services of carbon offsetting by forests and owners of forests. So, that is without doubt what I feel most proud of because that really began changing the balance in terms of deforestation, conservation, and restoration in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica has been able to reverse deforestation. We have doubled the size of forest up to 52% of the national territory within the decarbonization plan. We aim to have 60% forest cover by 2030 without competing with where we produce our food, where we produce our energy, where we live, and that is great. Nevertheless, on the terrestrial side, we do great. On the marine side, we do very bad, and this is where we need to catch up. And I think this administration is very serious about the 30% marine protected areas by 2021 target. This is great.
I also feel that one other strong contribution from me was leading the team that came up with the decarbonization plan. Costa Rica has no net emissions from land-use change, and deforestation has no net emissions from how we produce our electricity. That is great because those are the two biggest source of carbon emissions globally speaking, but we needed a plan to implement our NDC and our political commitment. So we did a deep sort of plan to decarbonize our economy by 2050, compliant with our commitment to limiting average temperature rise to 1.5C. Leading that process was also very rewarding. It was very complex.
Politically speaking, I was on the spot because people are concerned, afraid, or even against decarbonization. Costa Rica is not that different from many other countries where people feel that decarbonizing our economy is very expensive. That’s a very strong argument. So that is another activity that I was engaged that I have very close to my heart.
Mongabay: It’s certainly been impressive what Costa Rica has achieved with the increase in forest over the past 30 years or so. Do you think Costa is exceptional in that standpoint because other countries have tried to adopt REDD+ over the past 10 years, and it doesn’t seem like any have made quite as much progress as Costa Rica made? I’m just curious as to why that is.
Rodriguez: Well, this is an area I can talk for hours. Let me talk about REDD.
REDD has been a big failure because it has been governed by people that don’t know how to run a forest agency and have never been in government. They don’t have rubber boots. They don’t know how to protect and restore a forest. These people have good intentions, but they invest more in trying to monitor and assess rather than understanding the underlying and direct causes of deforestation. And that is what we have seen throughout many different forms: the forest investment program, the forest partnership, the forest carbon facility. Lots of money there, but they haven’t moved the needle anywhere. And UN-REDD is doing great, but again we concentrate on the issues that we shouldn’t concentrate in the initial stages.
We created a fund for readiness, and then a fund for piloting. We were doing piloting before readiness, and it was kind of a big mess. Most importantly, the price for forest carbon of $5 is unacceptable from any point of view because the rationale to create REDD+ was to create the same thing we did in Costa Rica to deal with the market failure. If we value forest because of the human, biodiversity or climate economic benefits, we should be compensating those who give us a carbon offsetting service with the real value of that service, not whatever the donor or the fund wants to pay. We need to match the cost of the opportunity of doing the wrong things that we don’t want to see in those landscapes.
And that was the rationale that we used in 1997 in Costa Rica when we put the tax on fossil fuels. Immediately we generated a sustainable, politically viable source of finance; we began paying $42 per hectare per year for those who want to keep their forests because of their services. $42 was the cost of the opportunity of doing cattle ranching in the same landscapes. So we immediately addressed the market failure. Today, if I want to access these carbon forest funds, I will be paid between $5 to $7 per ton. The cost of offsetting a ton of carbon in Costa Rica is $17. So I won’t be interested in receiving $5 or $7 if the cost of offsetting a ton of carbon to us is $17. So we had a big issue there. I hope we can talk a little bit more about REDD+ because it is key in the context of what we have in the next 10 years.
Going back to your question about why Costa Rica is different. Costa Rica has done great, not necessarily in environmental conservation, even though it has some very interesting things. If you see our track record on pollution, water pollution, toxic waste, solid waste, plastics, we are a mess like many other countries. We’re dealing with that. We are good on the green agenda, but not on the gray agenda. But here I want to highlight the fact that Costa Rica did a leap forward in terms of human development that created the enabling conditions for us that allowed conservationists to step in to present some ideas that eventually began to have a transformational impact in the country. The leap forward in terms of human development was done between my grandfather’s and my father’s generation, where Costa Rica committed big time to mobilize resources for education and healthcare. Based on strong principles and values associated to liberty, democracy, respect to human rights, my grandfather’s generation was able to abolish the army and divert those funds into education and healthcare, things that were already a priority for this country.
Even though my grandfather grew up in probably the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, Costa Rica, in the early 20th century, in a matter of one or two generations, we were able to do a leap forward in terms of human development. We had the civil rights reforms in the 1940s, the creation of the higher education system, the social care and the health system in the 1940s, and the abolishment of the army, meant that we did very good in terms of human development. Those were the enabling conditions that my generation received when the pioneers of conservation were already creating national parks. We came in with these great enabling conditions.
If you want to protect nature and use it as a driver for growth to deal with social inequality and to be prosperous, you need to have good governance and good institutions. Those were the things that Costa Rica did. I think there are tens of nations around the planet do have those enabling conditions and are working hard in bringing together good management of the human and the natural capital.
Mongabay: You’ve had this long career between governments and working for NGOs. I’m curious what you learned from those experiences, in terms of how it applies to your new role.
Rodriguez: The takeaway lesson from being on both sides of the aisle is that we need to create strong private-public partnerships on many fronts and many levels. Even though the government of Costa Rica and the politicians in Costa Rican Congress, in the judicial and the executive branch, play a huge role in many of those landmark decisions that helped Costa Rica do good in the green agenda. That would never happen if we didn’t have the scientists, the academics, and the civil society organizations working with or around the government. That never meant that relationship wasn’t tense or conflictive.
In many of the world’s countries, there’s a lack of trust within governments and civil society. The environmental sector is not an exemption. But Costa Rica was able to generate consensus, and Costa Ricans always try to avoid conflict. They put aside conflictive issues and agreed on working on those broad issues where there is evident consensus. So that strategy has worked very well for us on many different fronts and sectors; education, health, growth, and private sector engagement. So we try to avoid conflict, avoid going to courts, and avoid physical confrontation as much as possible. That is very much within our DNA and that has helped us.
Nevertheless, there are issues where we disagree, particularly, there was a change in civil society. We used to be conservationists. Now, we are environmentalists. That’s a very big change that happened in civil society in Costa Rica because conservation is where those guys were very concerned about nature conservation in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. As the cold war ended, new membership came into our groups, which were not very much interested in preserving nature rather than bringing other environmental and social issues into the cause.
That was very interesting because as we turned from being a rural society into an urban society many of the environmental challenges shift from the rural to the urban. So pollution, waste, and energy production became big things. The conservation movement became very much ideologized by the new ranks and members who used to be very active in the cold war, the east-west confrontation. Remember that the cold war, a confrontation of the USSR in the U.S., wasn’t fought directly: Central America was one of the battlegrounds during the cold war years. Costa Rica was relatively immune to the armed conflict but was very much affected by the social and human crisis that we had out of the cold war.
So those were elements that set the basis of a relationship within the government of Costa Rica and civil society. But I tend to believe strongly, and history can tell that we have a lot of common ground where civil society and the government have worked together, particularly on creating and managing protected areas, biological corridors, and the role of local communities in taking care of those key biodiversity areas.
Mogabay: You were quoted last month saying “When the COVID-19 recovery occurs, we will have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to scale up support for critically needed nature-based solutions to help our forests, lands, and oceans sequester carbon and protect habitats.” That was an insightful comment. What you think are the best ways to realize that opportunity and the GEF’s role in driving that change?
Rodriguez: Today, most nations from the East, the West, the North, and the South are struggling with this human crisis. We’re just entering this economic recession that nobody will be exempt of it. All countries are working hard in very difficult political contexts because people are unhappy, sad, and even angry with governments because of their situation. I have never seen in my lifetime so many jobless and impacts on businesses, particularly small businesses. So most countries are trying to agree, particularly in parliament and in Congress, on how they deal with the COVID-19 crisis and how they stimulate economies, and get back on track on positive numbers.
Here is where we have the opportunity because this should be the chance in our time to begin connecting the need to come up with very quick, even “magical short-term solutions” that can bring back jobs and economic stability. At the same time, we get to move away from the economic system that got us in this problem because we need to recognize that this pandemic is a product of these confrontative relationships between humans and nature, as seen within our economic model.
Even though our economic model has helped many countries in the last century to do much better in social and economic terms, it has two big problems. One is that the economic model aims for unlimited growth focused on individual prosperity. The second is that it doesn’t recognize planetary boundaries. This economic system has put us in a very delicate situation. Today’s COVID, tomorrow is going to be climate change. So, this is the moment we need to help governments understand that the way out of this crisis is mobilizing resources to blend short-term aspiration with midterm aspirations.
The mid-term aspirations are already there in the multilateral agreements; be carbon neutral by 2050, protecting 30% of nature by 2030. We already have many of those targets and aspirations, and we shouldn’t put them aside as we “restore” our health and our economies. This is the moment to restore our health and economies and move away from this neoclassic economic model that aims at unlimited growth and doesn’t recognize these planetary boundaries.
The problem with the political challenge that we have in front of us is that countries need quick solutions to the human and economic crisis. We, the conservation community, the sustainability community, need to understand that we need to provide data and information and ways by which we can begin upscaling the transformational impact. We’ve been working on a transformational impact for the last probably 15 years. Learning by doing and the GEF has been in the center of those processes, but nowadays, we need to make the best out of these political circumstances. It won’t be easy because we have a highly polarized planet from a political point of view. My concern is that probably half of the developing nations will be dealing with a high debt issue. Probably one-third of the planet’s countries will be close to defaulting to their debt obligations very soon. Domestically, they will be dealing with populist politicians bringing crazy ideas on resolving the crisis in one or two years.
Mongabay: On that populism front, in many countries, the public is increasingly polarized over political issues. Do you see conservation, or more broadly, the environment, as an area that can unify people across political divides? If so, what are the elements for achieving this?
Rodriguez: If you see surveys and polls where the nature conservation, particularly climate change, stands within citizens across the political spectrum, you will find a lot of common ground on people younger than 35 years. Here, we’ve got a very fertile ground to work together on the long-term solutions because even though those young citizens may have very different ideologies and political visions, there’s a common ground that climate change will be a major driver of poverty and challenges. So I tend to believe that the young generation feel that their future is compromised by climate change and probably even by the loss of biodiversity. So, even though they have a different political visions and ideology, there is a lot of common ground to work with them. I tend to believe that there, we have a great opportunity to really upscale and accelerate transformational changes.
Mongabay: Beyond kind of populism and COVID, the other big issue of this moment in time seems to be around inclusivity, especially among communities that have been historically marginalized. In the conservation space, this can translate to these groups lacking the capacity of the big NGOs to seek grants and things like that. I know you’re new to the GEF, but how do you envision the GEF will be responding to this issue?
Rodriguez: I agree with you that social inequality is probably the biggest actual challenge, bigger than the loss of biodiversity, climate change, or even the pandemic today because it is a social time bomb. Here, we fully agree that this is not just poverty alleviation. It is middle classes around the planet feeling extremely upset by the economic system that doesn’t allow them for a decent opportunity in their lives. You have seen the unrest in the North, in the South, in the East, and in the West, which will be exacerbated by the economic recession that we’re getting into. Here, populism will capture the interest and attention, and even the support of many of these people who have been set aside or left behind in terms of prosperity. So, for me, from the human political perspective the big, big issue that we need to solve in the next decade as we solve environmental problems.
So the very interesting aspect is that social inequality, as with the case of climate change, is the end product of an unsustainable economic system. As we move towards a green circular, more inclusive economic system, we will solve many of those problems. I tend to believe that there’s a groundswell moment happening towards that direction led by young people who feel that their future has been totally compromised.
The GEF is playing and will play a very important role in this context because this is one of the agencies that first understood that instead of dealing with the problem, we’ll be dealing with the problem’s root cause. Here’s where these new approaches came a few years ago under the leadership of Naoko Ishii with good, excellent vision and wisdom began transforming the GEF with the support of the council and the partnership to move from just working on the implementation of the different multilateral agreements or understanding the transformational responsibility that the GEF has to do in terms of dealing with the drivers of unsustainability. I think that should continue to be the role. So, here is not just the GEF partnership, but the nations of this planet have to agree on ways forward. If we see how we channel solutions for a more sustainable world, the GEF is able to deliver higher impacts based on our good experiences of almost 30 years.
Butler: On that front of inclusivity and involving more people, over the past decade, there seems to be this growing recognition of the importance of helping indigenous peoples and local communities secure land rights as a mechanism for achieving conservation goals. I’d be curious as to how that fits into the GEF strategy.
Rodriguez: In the pure center of that, of course. Social inequality is not due just to the economic and financial systems. It has to do with access and benefit-sharing on the management of natural resources as well. You see the same tendency in all sectors, and the environmental sector can be part of the solution. That is very clear to us. That is why the GEF is working so much at a community-based level, particularly since GEF-6 and now in GEF-7, with a small landholders and indigenous communities. We strongly believe in the full recognition of land rights and the rights to manage their natural resources, which is then another element. We said we need to talk more about REDD+ and the issues we need to talk about REDD+, who owns the forest carbon?
There are all kinds of loopholes at the country level in terms of legal frameworks. If we cannot deal with that, we can grant and recognize full land rights and respect the land rights because that’s another issue. Many countries have granted and recognized land rights, but they don’t respect them at the end of the day. That’s meaningful, but then here’s another front in terms of who owns the environmental services and who has the right to receive the benefits of the good management of those natural resources. So, it is in the center of that.
If you see where the carbon, the biodiversity, the freshwater, the forest, and the indigenous communities are, they all overlap in a very positive manner. So we need to move forward this sustainability and rights agenda. We need to develop rights-based approaches everywhere. The GEF’s experience is very big, but we need to upscale that in all possible geographies.
Mongabay: We’ve talked about some of these short-term crises that we’re trying to deal with right now. Obviously, it’s changing priorities. What are your near-term priorities for the GEF, now that you’re in charge?
Rodriguez: You understand more and more the operation of the GEF as I understand, how do we define goals, targets and measure our impact, as I understand the politics around the operation of the year, because it’s a partnership of more than 183 nations. I will concentrate on the potential that we have to have a higher impact in terms of amplification by really understanding the policy development at the country level. This is key because we’ve been working with countries for 30 years doing great things, but they’re very small scale. We need more policy coherence at the country level. For me, it doesn’t make any sense to put $20 million – $30 million in a country that is investing $2 billion – $3 billion in activities that generate biodiversity loss and contribute to climate change.
Understanding the political realities, the institutional challenges, and the data gaps at the country level, then working with them hand in hand, will help generate more policy coherence in their development policies. It is something that I do have a lot of interest in. Here’s where a little bit of my experience being in the government of Costa Rica can help me because institutions, government, politicians, and the stakeholders are the same everywhere you go. You got the same realities and challenges and putting the pieces together, even though it may sound simple, is very complex.
I have a lot of interest in issues related to development policy coherence in developing countries where there is a need to help them understand that they can mobilize domestic resources more efficiently. That is key to me because I can double and triple the allocation of resources but our impact will be limited relative to the scale of the problem. So we won’t be able to do the leap forward in terms of our sustainability aspiration until we can mobilize resources from all sources.
Today, 80% of the finance for nature conservation comes from public expenditures. I think we can do that much better in a more efficient manner. There’s a big empty role or space, and GEF can get in and help countries do those two things, mobilized more effectively resources, and generates more policy coherency. We do both things; we will be on track to achieve the multilateral environmental agreements’ goals and targets.
Mongabay: You mentioned the environment is being a unifying issue for the under 35s, but the challenges we face daily are really quite daunting. What would you say to young people on environmental issues in terms of what they can do or why they should be hopeful?
Rodriguez: The under 35 that I mentioned are those who have had the opportunity to live in a stabilized nation with education opportunities. Probably half of the under-35s on this planet don’t have internet, freshwater, or any opportunity for prosperity, personally or in their social environment. That is a big issue. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that this new generation of citizens have it very clear.
Let me give you an example, what I mean by this. I’ve got four kids, and as with any other father, I want my kids to follow my tracks and follow my career. Even though I’m not a biologist, I’m a lawyer, I became an environmental lawyer, I want my four kids to work on nature conservation. As they left high school and went into college, none decided to study ecology or biology or forestry. Initially, I was kind of upset, and I thought I failed to give my kids a good example. Still, they surprised me and decided to study a career that doesn’t have to do anything with management or natural resources, but whatever they are going to do is related to nature conservation and climate change. My two older sons, one is studying business, and he’s full-on green business, and my other daughter, studies psychology. She’s working with local communities and indigenous groups and wildlife conservation.
So, the point here is the new generation, whatever they decide to study or work, they will be a strong force of green transformation. So that’s why I’m rationally optimistic, or a prisoner of hope. I strongly believe that they will do the transformation for which we are just beginning to lay the building blocks for.
Mongabay: What advice would you give to the average person in say America or Europe who has resources and wants to maximize their positive impact on the environment?
Rodriguez: I will basically tell them that we need to really engage in the transition towards the new economic paradigm. Whatever you do and whatever you work on, you need to really understand that we have one big opportunity in the next decade to do a major change and everybody has a responsibility. Instead of thinking that your aspiration will be to become a millionaire.
It was very funny the other day, I met my high school mates, 30 years after we left high school. I was the only one who dedicated my career in conservation, non-for-profit kind of environment, public sector. You don’t become a millionaire working in government, in the right government, of course. Many of my friends were very wealthy people, but they were relatively sad. They told me that if they had an opportunity, they would probably change their life.
So, that was very meaningful to me because I felt that I was one of the few in my generation that really understood the tradeoffs that we had. I dedicated my life to a passion that will probably mean a lot of sacrifices, but a lot of rewards. I believe that the rewards that I will have will be seeing these young generation coming in with the technology, the passion, and the data that we didn’t have and do the big transformation. So these young kids are going to make the change. I’m really positive about that. We need to continue building, putting the blocks in that new building, green building, and that is what we need to concentrate on in the next decade.