If we’re destroying our trees and destroying our environment and hurting animals and hurting one another and all that stuff, there’s got to be a very powerful energy to fight that. I think we need more love in the world. We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter. I definitely want to contribute to that.Ellen DeGeneres
About a month ago, I got to interview Leonardo Pérez, an environmental consultant who has expertise in agriculture and mining.
Who or what inspired you to work in the environmental profession?
Pérez: Well I got into looking with an environmental dimension in a career in the 90s. There was a huge campaign against aboriginal lands [in Chile]. There were many elements to it that were incredibly important. There was so little understanding within the general population. There was no clear understanding of the value of what was lost. I wanted to get involved. I am a social scientist involved with environmental issues.
How has working and or studying internationally helped your career?
Pérez: The understanding of the environment is very different in different parts of the world; different ways of the professions, not so much natural resources. In the United States, there is a perspective of nature as a financial value. In professional terms, in Australia, the social perspective is stronger than in here (in the US). I used to idealize the Nordic region. They are welfare states and the most important is the welfare of the people, but they still exploit oil and gas. The American perspective is not as noticeable in the Nordic region.
What did you study and where? What has your education taught you?
Pérez: I did an undergraduate program in Chile in Sociology and a Masters of Regional Planning, which is a combination of urban planning, environmental planning, and policy. I did an exchange program in Sydney…It was very important for me to define my …and then I went back to Australia for a Ph.D. in a concentration of environmental studies (LinkedIn)
As a follow-up, do you think pursuing graduate school is worth it?
Pérez: It depends on so many factors. For me it was super important for the contact from an academic perspective. When you approach stakeholders, it is very helpful. It is perceived you are an expert from pursuing the studies. It depends on your own capacities, your own network. From a practitioners perspective, from the outside the demands of the job market, it is very fulfilling to complete graduate studies.
What was your experience conducting field research in the Finnish Arctic? I ask because I recently visited Finland and Norway and am fascinated to move to the region in an effort to work and study in the environmental sector.
Pérez: I was working as a stenographer and I visited a mining community inside the Arctic Circle. It wasn’t very long, but I ended up with a very confused perspective. People were so happy to have mining there. It was happening in a very fragile space because of climate change. They are taking advantage of the changing climate — to get access to the resources. Right now one of the main issues in the North is the Northwest Passage opening up during the summer between Russia and Japan, which is shortening traveling time for the shipping industry and opening the way for more oil exploration and exploitation. The governments are super happy to have the opportunity to extract these resources. There are a certain green outlook, but they are still cynical. They are very happy to exploit resources that become available.
When I was at university, I worked on a paper on American national parks. I have considered studying environmental policy in Sweden and completing a thesis with a comparative focus on tourism and its effects on the environment. Do you think some governments are in a better position to support eco-friendly tourism?
Pérez: It depends on how you define eco. In Norway it is very attractive. The same goes if you visit New Zealand, Patagonia, and Canada; but at the same time, it is not very sustainable. However, it is not the only way to eco-tourism. Another way to look at it is through education. That it’s not just idyllic fjords. How to you work with them [in the desert] to make people come and visit. Assuming that eco means just “green,” then there are changing dynamics for the industrial wastelands, environmental dynamics, and how these places have been recovered.
How do you define success in your profession?
Pérez: I don’t have much concern about success, as far as my career is defined. I don’t think it does creating value it goes against some of your concerns. To be successful in the environmental profession could be extending protections and passing new standards and protecting new species, if you can contribute to that. That is success. If you can create change to regulations. For example, if you go against a highway and mobilize enough people to demand change. That is a form of defining success. It’s not just an individual achievement. It’s based more on teamwork. It’s also the concept of multi-stakeholder achievement. It goes beyond your own metals and achievements.
Hope you enjoyed this interview for this month!