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131: Being Smartly Selfish is Selfless with President Carlos Alvarado

Happy Military Abolition Day in Costa Rica!

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About this episode

¡Feliz Día de la Abolición del Ejército en Costa Rica!

Happy Military Abolition Day in Costa Rica!

Every year on December 1st, the country of Costa Rica celebrates the day that Christiana’s father and former Costa Rican president, José Figueres Ferrer, abolished their national army and redirected that part of the national budget to biodiversity and education. This year marks the 73rd anniversary!

So with that in mind, we take a break from our COP26 reflections to speak with President Carlos Alvarado of Costa Rica! With over 50% of their country re-forested, an energy grid that is 99.5% renewables, and ZERO investments in weapons or military, Costa Rica is a model for how to lead sustainably in a world of compounding crises. How does Costa Rica do it, and what can other countries learn from this example?

May we all be more like Costa Rica!

And! Stick around ‘til the end for a soulful tune from musical artist Bobby Bazini!

Mentioned links from the episode:

Listen: The Way Out Is In Podcast


Full Transcript

Tom: [00:00:00] So I think I think we're going to have to go with some different music this week, given what we're talking about.

Paul: [00:00:04] But not at the very start. It's still the normal music or do you think from the very start? 

Tom: [00:00:07] I think It's going to be from the very start, the whole thing.

Paul: [00:00:11] Clay, we're in your hands. Here we go. All right.

Clay: [00:00:15] El Himno Nacional de Costa Rica.

Tom: [00:00:37] Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism, I'm Tom Carnac.

Christiana: [00:00:40] I'm Christiana Figueres, the only Costa Rican on this team,

Tom: [00:00:45] But not on this podcast. Sorry, Paul.

Paul: [00:00:46] And I am Paul Dickinson, who's not from Costa Rica at the moment, but we'll see.

Tom: [00:00:51] This week we bring you a special conversation with President of Costa Rica Carlos Alvarado. Plus, we have music from Bobby Bazani, and I hope you're enjoying the Costa Rican anthem. Thanks for being here. Ok, so this week we are taking a short break from our weekly assessments of what happened to COP26, although COP26 will of course feature heavily in the conversations we have today in different ways, but we're not looking directly at it because what we're doing today is we are doing something that we often do informally, but today we're doing it formally and that is we're celebrating Costa Rica. Yesterday was the celebration of No Army Day in Costa Rica, which is the anniversary of the day the army was abolished and obviously an incredible legacy from that. So we're going to discuss that for a few minutes now for a shorter conversation at the front end. And then we bring you a special conversation with the president of Costa Rica, and we'll be back at the end with some more analysis. But Christiana, what memories do you have? This was done by your father. It must have formed the backdrop to your childhood in many ways, knowing that your father had done this. What does this call to mind? Talk us through what it was like to grow up in that family with this legacy.

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Christiana: [00:02:18] Well, you can imagine it's quite a legacy that we all share. It's not just our particular blood relatives, my brothers, my sisters, my children. This is a legacy that is shared by all Costa Ricans, and we're just incredibly proud of the fact that we don't have an army, that we don't have a military, and that the budget that had been adjudicated to military was then passed out to education and biodiversity protection. The two best investments we've ever made. And so seventy two years because this happened in nineteen forty eight as the result of a successful revolution to reinstall democracy in Costa Rica and because it had been the government army that had attempted to not respect the results of elections. That is why my father, the leader of the revolution, said right, in that case we're going to disband the army. He also disbanded his own Revolutionary Army. Disbanded both armies sent everybody to actual work in the fields. Years later, we have some of the most highly educated people in the world and we have just completely reforested our terrain to, it went down to twenty nine percent of forest cover, and we're now up to fifty two percent because this is really it just runs in our blood. Peace, non-military approaches to everything. The rule of law and the protection of our biodiversity just runs in our blood. If you take a little drop of blood out of us, it's not red, it's green.

Tom: [00:04:10] I mean, as inspiring, that is, of course. What we now need is every other country or many other countries around the world to replicate some of the elements of that. And of course, you know, this was a habit and a policy that was developed by Costa Rica deliberately to take a different path. But we've never seen any other country do the same. Why not, do you think?

Christiana: [00:04:27] Well, because I think we have such an attachment to the status quo, to legacy. And you need someone who truly is not just very visionary, but someone who is willing to do tabula rasa wipe out what was and begin to construct anew. That takes guts. That is a very, very bold move. That is not something that you find usually and that's the kind of transformation that is needed. Honestly, when you think about our challenge on climate change, we need a serious dose of that. Also because we also have to do tabula rasa with fossil fuels and start anew, having the technologies that we do. But we need that kind of bold decision and then execution that we are still sadly lacking.

Paul: [00:05:27] And you know, I just when I was growing up, I heard this phrase, the military industrial complex. You know, the idea is that the armaments industry kind of protects itself and it grows itself. And I thought that phrase military industrial complex when I was growing up had come from some kind of hippie and a peace camp. And do you know what it didn't? It came in the farewell address of President Eisenhower of the United States in 1961. He went on television and he warned the people of the United States that there was a risk of the military industrial complex taking over. And now just look, the United States is spending 3.7 percent of its GDP. 778 billion dollars a year on the military. Thirty nine percent of the global total. But look at China, 1.7 percent of GDP 252 billion. India, 2.9% of their GDP, seventy three billion. It's just a tragedy that all of this money is being spent entirely unnecessarily when we are not at war with each other and when we so desperately need that money spent to mitigate climate change and to protect the poorest whose suffering is so intolerable.

Tom: [00:06:40] Well, that feels like the perfect introduction to our special conversation this week. As we said, we are with a shorter introduction. We'll have more conversation afterwards, but we are bringing you a very special conversation with President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, the 48th president of the Republic of Costa Rica, inaugurated into office on May 9th, 2018, making him the youngest serving Costa Rican president since 1914. In the years that he has been in office, he's established a bold path for Costa Rica, setting targets to reform transport, energy waste, land use, building on his country's rich legacy of sustainable development and environmentally mindful growth. He is a very inspiring human being. He was just one of the stars at COP26 in the corridors. Everyone wanted to talk to him, obviously recently awarded the Earthshot Prize for the incredible legacy of Costa Rican leadership on the environment. I don't think any listeners to this podcast need any reminding of how profound that is. So here is the conversation with President Alvarado, and we will be back afterwards.

Christiana: [00:07:45] Señor Presidente, thank you so much for joining us on Outrage + Optimism. I very much want to have this conversation in Spanish and start by probably the hymn, the National Anthem of Costa Rica, because my colleagues will tell you that this is very much a podcast about the beauties and the wonders of Costa Rica. Yes, and every time I do something, want to say something wonderful about Costa Rica, they all hem and haw and roll their eyes and they go, Wait, wait, wait. Remember that we're talking about climate, not about wonderful Costa Rica.

Tom: [00:08:19] And that's not because we don't agree, because we do agree. But just it seems to be a bottomless bucket that we can just go further and further into.

Paul: [00:08:26] All optimism when you talk about Costa Rica. There's no outrage.

Christiana: [00:08:32] However, we do have to be true to cause here. So, President Alvarado, you have just a couple of weeks ago come back from cop twenty six. There were a couple of things that we wanted to ask for your opinion on because we're doing a series of episodes with different leaders from different sectors on their post-COP26 impressions. The first question that I have for you is the two main decisions that came out of COP 26, unusually start the text by reminding everyone of the importance of multilateralism. That really caught my eye because those decisions are the result of multilateralism and one would assume that therefore we're just taking that on board. But it does seem to me that multilateralism has been under attack recently and that the response from the U.N. system was to again remind everyone about the importance of multilateralism. I know that this is close to your heart, and I just wanted to have your impression mostly about the attacks that are being lobbied against multilateralism. And why do you think that we have to continue to strengthen it?

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:09:54] Well, thank you, Christiana. And thanks to Paul and to Tom. It's a real pleasure to be here. On that question, Christiana on multilateralism. I do believe this last COP found us in a different place that, for example, three years or two years ago. The scenario was very different because before that we felt like there was a partial multilateralism. There were some of the big players and small players, most of them that recognize the role of multilateralism. But they were big players, mostly the United States, that were not part of the game. So there were lots of hypotheses because the debate felt like incomplete. So one positive thing, if we want to talk about optimism is that many or the relevant players were on the table. And even though, for example, China was not represented at its highest level with his head of state, their representation was felt in COP26. So in the good part, I do believe we are in a better position now on multilateralism. But yet we are not there were where we need to be. Because it is true that we are experiencing the same flaws that multilateralism, for example, shows in an arena like the United Nations, where the Security Council has a power of veto. So somehow that dynamic, we can see a mirror of that dynamic in the cop and you can see that, for example, in the differences between the large countries and the small countries. And I don't like using the word here, developed because some use the argument well, I'm developing country, but you are one of the largest.

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:11:57] So I think it's about in terms of aggregates or large who are not as large. But there is optimism. If you want to think in that perspective, we are in a different scenario. We saw most of the players in the negotiation tables. That's good. But we need to see that as well on the results. So if you ask me about the results of COP Twenty six, I will say they are a little bit bittersweet. What's the sweetness of them? Well, there were relevant agreements on COP in terms of ammonia, in terms of reforestation, for example. In Latin America I think did a great state of nature based solutions. When Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and us, Costa Rica we decided to create this large protection area in the oceans. I think those are great advancements. But. It was not enough, and it's still not enough. That's the bitter part, even though we saw advancements. It is not enough, so the problem is not solved. So I believe that's where we are standing now, and I believe the part of if you want to put it in the context of bittersweet or outrage/optimism, the outrage is that we are still not there. There are several vetoes on advancing faster, and we need to keep putting pressure on the different actors to get things done. And I think that's a key role that civil society and also the small countries have to enforce. A moral pressure of why it's so critical to get things done.

Christiana: [00:13:52] Well, I'm interested that you point that out about the smaller states and the larger states because I would totally agree with you that several years ago, if you want to talk about a political divide, the political divide was the annex one countries in the non annex ones, which means the developed countries that are responsible for climate change historically and the developing countries that are that are not as responsible. But I dare say, President, that as of late, that division is not as evident as the division between G20 countries and the rest. And the G20 are the 20 largest states, the 20 largest economies that today carry 80 percent of the emissions. And then everyone else, right? 110 or 100, how many more? 140 smaller states, mid-size and small states whose efforts are important, but they are not going to be the solution to climate change. It really rests with the G20 countries, some of whom are industrialized, some of whom are developing. And I wonder whether you see that dynamic also across other issues, President, this new divide, this emerging divide between the larger economies and the smaller economies? Or is that only present in climate change?

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:15:31] Well, I think this is one of those cases when the words frame our thinking. And I'm speaking about large and small, I'm speaking about wealthy, mid-income and poor. All those, and developed or developing, north and south. All those things frame the way we are thinking. But as you mentioned, if we go bottom line, we're talking about that there are 20 big countries or countries that are the main emitters that are causing climate change and those are putting in risk the whole of humanity. So that's a fact that's not an interpretation, it is a fact. I do believe we as countries, as peoples of the world, we have the right of development. Everybody has that right. But that doesn't mean necessarily that we have a right to pollute. As the history of humanity has been relying on industrialization and somehow industrialization also has relied on fossil fuels, we tend to think that develop means polluting. And as others have done that in the past when I have a right to do that. So I think that's not the right framing because therefore that line of thought will drive us into an end game.

Paul: [00:17:04] But Mr. President, if I can try and steer you here, if we if we reject that conventional model of development, you know, huge factories and massive production, super consumerism that you know, everybody is going crazy on shopping for all this, you know, what's the alternative vision?

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:17:24] Well, that's a great part of the debate. Why? And here comes other of the categories. It's wealthier or wealthy countries and the ones that are emerging, or perhaps not as wealthy. On most of the wealthy countries, you have the big polluters. And some other than not necessarily are the big polluters. Somehow the ones that are not the big ones, but are wealthy. My approach is that they are doing their part in it. You have countries like Norway, you have countries like, you see them stepping forward. Denmark, some of the or the cohesion within the European Union. You see they stepping in, recognizing most of the times that they have a strong footprint, but also providing the resources for those that are emerging small or big to make the necessary transformations. We should not think that development is a same pathway for everybody. If the mellowment were to be the same pathway for the whole of their humanity, then it's over. I mean, we cannot expect as a humanity to have, for example, the levels of consumption of the United States. If that is development and we all have those levels of consumption, then we will need not one planet. We'll be like three planets to satisfy all those. So a new concept of development has to emerge out of this. And that's why I believe there's some level of resistance in the more classic economics, because obviously that will be challenging the common notion of a free market, for example.

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:19:14] But also in order for this to happen, it challenges multilateralism. Why? Because there is no solution for this that one or two countries can adopt and say, OK, we're going to fix this bilaterally, and it's done. There is not such a scenario. Why? Because you have the large polluters that somehow they compete between them, so you need agreement between them. So they establish several patterns because they are in competition. But also you need to help those that are emerging not to develop in the traditional way. But adapting new sources of energy, transforming their platforms. You need also to help those that, let's be clear, that may banish in the years to come. That's why also small states are critical and they are morally entitled to raise their hands and show how outraged they are. Because when when you talk about Marshall Islands, when you talk about the Caribbean, when you talk about Seychelles, you're talking literally about the fact that they might cease to exist if you think about it in a traditional security perspective, which is to protect your territory and your people. Climate change is, for many, the greatest risk of protection of your borders and your people. But then again, you cannot send an army to stop it. You can send an army of diplomats and you can send an army of media people working to stop that.

Paul: [00:20:57] Do you know which is fascinating? It's like you famously, Costa Rica doesn't have an army, but you're actually talking about the defense of the country.

Christiana: [00:21:03] Wait Paul. We are celebrating that tomorrow, the 1st of December.

Paul: [00:21:07] Congratulations on having no army day.

Tom: [00:21:11] This is yesterday for those listening to the podcast, this podcast comes out on Thursday.

Christiana: [00:21:14] Oh, that's right. Yes, that's right. Yes.

Paul: [00:21:16] Happy No Army Day. If I might say so, President, you are talking about national security in the most mature, adult visionary way. It's not your army, it's climate change. Thank you.

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:21:31] Yeah, well, it is. I have said it several times, for example. And for me, this is like, I don't know. It's so a stronger I don't know, truth. But still, when I used to say there's nobody like tells me I'm wrong. Think about it. We have millions of billions of dollars invested in nuclear weapons. Weapons of mass destruction.

Paul: [00:21:59] Mm hmm.

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:22:00] To protect us from. Well, I don't know what.

Christiana: [00:22:05] From each other.

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:22:06] But then we have a lack of finance to the greatest threat of security of the planet. Does that make any sense at all? When we talk about that, we do not have yet enough resources to tackle to tackle climate change. So we have lots of weapons to kill ourselves, but we do not have enough finance to protect ourselves from our greatest threat. So those are the kinds of things that I believe we need to do, to stress more to to hold accountable more and to make a more open debate. Because one thing that at one point I want to raise as well, which is one of my outcomes COP26, is that obviously multilateralism matters. There won't be a solution for this unless there is an agreement such as the one achieved in Paris, which is one of the it's an example of what we can do when we work together. But two outcomes that I bring from COP26. One, national politics matter as well. Yes, I think I mentioned it on one interview. Everybody on the floor is very clear about the problem about the solutions. But what holds actors of going further is not what's happening in Glasgow. It's what's happening back home. So many people are saying, OK, but this is going to slow my growth. I'm going to lose some the jobs. I'm going to lose an election in, perhaps in one state and another. So to to tackle multidimensional climate change. We need to not only look at what's happening in the multilateral arena, but we need to look also what's happening on national politics. And we are talking about regimes that are democratic and different kind of regimes. What happens in national politics should be of interest of citizens, of media, of civil society. Obviously, politicians, we cannot get into what's happening in politics in other countries, but people can. People should ask what they think about this and how they're going.

Tom: [00:24:38] Mr President, I'd love to dig further on that. So, a direction. I'd like to take this which relates very much to what you're saying. You want an Earthshot Prize, an inaugural Earthshot prize for protect and restore nature this year. Congratulations, by the way, it was an amazing achievement. We were there and we were watching you with your family receiving it. It was a wonderful moment and it's a very interesting moment to receive that award and that recognition, obviously, Costa Rican forest cover has gone up from twenty six to fifty three percent and everybody is now focusing on what has been achieved by Costa Rica at a moment when the world is suddenly realizing about the integration of nature with the climate solutions. So one of the outcomes from COP26 was that we realized that we need nature to deal with the climate crisis and weirdly, we haven't been at this level of understanding until now. So as a result, governments around the world, you know, in the context of domestic politics are getting pressure, and they're realizing that they should protect what they still have and restore degraded land and look at the integration with food systems. And I just love to hear you talk a bit from a Costa Rican perspective. Heads of state ministers that are now embarking on this path, what are the main challenges they're going to face in trying to replicate what you've done and what are the rewards of doing so?

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:25:53] Well Tom, several things on that. First, thank you. And it's an award given to the whole country that's very important regardless of political party, all regardless, because it's something that we have built throughout the decades as many of the things that we have done as a country.

Christiana: [00:26:12] And as I have reminded podcast listeners a thousand times.

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:26:19] So that's one thing. Heritage is important, tradition is important. And building on history, it's important to tackle any crisis. But in this case, climate change. Second about conservation. I mean, it's one of the key nature based solutions, and it's one of the perhaps the more intuitive and straightforward. Nature has a way of restoring itself. But then we have to give it a chance, and we have seen it from our own perspective in Costa Rica and for example, we have seen it that with the reappearance of ecosystems, we have seen the biomass that I mean the mammals or or some of the other species increasing their numbers, but also protecting things as well. Biodiversity, water, the quality of air fixing carbon, many benefits. And then there is a third paradigm, which is that perhaps the more the human component, people tend to say, well, but this is not profitable, this is harmful for the economy. What am I going to get out of conservation? If I have areas that are conservation, then by definition you cannot exploit them.

Tom: [00:27:40] That's the thinking right around the world. That's the thinking.

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:27:42] Traditional human thinking. In our conservation has been an engine for development for an industry of ecotourism. Over and over, we get high ratings as a destiny for ecotourism because we have five percent of biodiversity. We have different climates, beaches, volcanoes, national parks and that is a trigger for development that has a, it's what we call an industry we found that is. I lost the word Christiana.

Christiana: [00:28:20] Smoke. Without smoke.

Paul: [00:28:23] Clean, clean.

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:28:24] Yeah. And actually, it's one of the key drivers of our growth with human talent. And so, then we need to shift our thinking. I think that climate change, one of the things with climate change is that it's putting pressure on the traditional thinking of how economics behave. That's why some get so, so complicated.

Paul: [00:28:51] So last question, I just want to push you a little bit more in this exact direction. I mean, you've spoken about the link between climate change and social justice. We were talking earlier about different kinds of development, you know? Can you tell us, you know, you're actually you lead a nation, how do you think about this different model of development? And because we have listeners all over the world who would like to learn from you.

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:29:12] Well, it's not that I will not try to neither preach or teach in this matter, but I do believe that we need a world not only that survives climate change, but to survive social injustice. And I never seen a scenario in which the selfish goals of people and societies are so much aligned with the selfless goals.

Paul: [00:29:47] Ok, that's lovely.

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:29:49] Everybody needs to be on board in order to save us from climate change. Everybody has to be on board. There is no scenario and this is a parallel. For example, with vaccines, all omicron is showing exactly what's happened when you don't have an equitable distribution of vaccines around the world. So as a friend of mine put it, if we're going to be selfish, you can be selfish in a smart way, or you could be selfish in a stupid way. So if we're going to be selfish, let's be selfish in a smart way. In the case of vaccines, being selfish in a smart way is having overall distribution in an equitable way. So everybody is vaccinated and we do not have any meaningful variants that are going to harm the economies of countries around the world and the health of people around the world. So my best interest is to have all human beings around the world vaccinated, not only my population, but my population as well. But then everybody has to be vaccinated, and it's the same with climate change and the climate crisis. We need to be smart selfish. If we want to have a planet and we want to see our families, our country, our our people, let's call it in that sense, thrive. The best way to do it is to have everybody because the solution comes from a global solution. There's not a national solution to this. Whoever thinks there is a national solution to a climate crisis is wrong. So if you have selfless feelings, you will in solidarity and equality in the brotherhood of men and women. You are on the right track. If you don't believe in that and you just want to survive, you have to do exactly the same. So in any case, the roadmap is about the same. Because if you're going to be selfish, just thinking in the short term, which is very driven by capitalism, yes, you can be well off in the short term, but then we're gone. End game. And so that's been stupidly selfish. Yeah. So let's if we want to be selfish, let's at least be selfish in a smart way. With climate change.

Christiana: [00:32:27] Well, President, I have never contemplated the possibility that there is actually a merging of dovetailing between smart selfishness and selflessness. I love that concept. Thank you very much. We're going to adopt that concept here on this podcast. Thank you for that. And president. Before we let you go back to your desk, there's one question that we always ask our distinguished guests at the end. And that is, can you identify from a Costa Rican perspective, looking at the global challenge that we all share? Can you identify one thing that you're still outraged about and one thing that you were very optimistic about?

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:33:14] Well, one of the things that I'm outraged is, I mentioned a few. For example, I'm outraged about how we invest so much in nuclear weapons or in military.

Paul: [00:33:26] It's crazy money, crazy money.

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:33:29] In the past two years, according to the Peace Institute in Stockholm, we have the investment in military has been increasing. And the question I mean, it's nonsense that the world might be coming to an end, but not because of those workers. Perhaps those will help. But how come we are invested in that? I mean, that's outrageous when you need to provide finance to change, how you produce, when you need to recover forests and oceans, when there are people dying with no food? Yeah, there are countries that are asphyxiated by high deaths due to COVID and to the drop of their economies, and they do not have fiscal margin to protect their people or to tackle climate change. So that's why I talk about wealthy and not wealthy, large and small categories, but perhaps it will be easier to do a quadrant with those.

Christiana: [00:34:30] I already have that quadrant in my mind.

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:34:33] It’s easier to see our responsibility in how we should act. So that's a religious or, as I mentioned, how we have failed to distribute vaccination and protect everybody. Omicron is an example of how not protecting some puts in threat everybody. It’s the greatest example. But I'm optimistic when I see young people, they are very clear about it. They I don't see they have those bottlenecks in their heads that some people have because they get stuck about how on the traditional things that the traditional way of thinking. I felt also hope when I met with some of my colleagues in cop, because most of them, they are very clear. There's not necessarily a sense of a doubt or most of them they know exactly what they're doing and why this is important at different levels. But it's not something that we can say. We're not acting out of ignorance. People are striving to move forward so that that provides hope. And in the case of Costa Rica, well, something that I learned is that our example is not necessarily for people to literally copy or emulate our model because that's not perhaps what we are aiming at, we are aiming at showing that change is possible. Even though some people are telling it's not possible that you need to look for the ways to make it happen. We need today to make what people say, it's impossible, make it possible. We need the Mandela thinking, that's the job. And demonstrate that it is possible and consistently humans, we have done that over and over again in the greatest moments of humankind, we have demonstrated that what for decades seems to be impossible. Then somebody comes up with a great idea or with a great development and changes things. So I don't know why we are capable of surprising ourselves with that. We have such a lack of faith that we can make it possible. So that's that's why it's the balance between being optimistic, but sorry to use this word, but getting pissed with reality. So I think that what we should do is do something about it. And that's what one of my professors in Sussex Robert Chamber, he said that development is good change. And at the beginning, I used to challenge a lot that definition. I thought it was too, I don't know, ethereal. But over the years, I have come to realize that that's the best decision. The definition there is good change. Changing things for good.

Christiana: [00:37:46] Yeah, that is development and that allows for everyone to define that the way that is best for them. Bueno. President Carlos Alvarado muchisimas gracias. Thank you so much for joining us on Outrage + Optimism. Always a pleasure to have you. Listeners might remember that we had you on what seems like 50 years ago, but I'm sure it wasn't because you haven't been president for 50 years, although there are some who would want that to happen. Not you. Bueno, thank you very, very much. We really appreciate it. And again, since since we officially are an arm of PR for Costa Rica, then I have to say

Paul: [00:38:32] We welcome sponsorship, actually, if that's what?

Christiana: [00:38:35] Yes. Congratulations to Costa Rica for celebrating one more year of no army. Thank you, President. Thank you very, very much.

Tom: [00:38:45] Thank you so much.

President Carlos Alvarado: [00:38:46] Gracias a ustedes.

Tom: [00:38:53] What a privilege to get to sit down with President Alvarado just a couple of weeks after he came back from COP26 and just the day before the celebration of the abolition of the army yesterday. For you, the listener, that was on Wednesday. What do you both leave that conversation with?

Paul: [00:39:10] What sort of charming genius, it was so funny. He said at the Cop that if the world, you know, if the nations were corporations, we'd all get the sack because we were performing so badly in responding to climate change. So I'm, you know, sort of deeply kind of touched by his ability to sort of see through to the other side of this and his extraordinary notion that, and it's a little bit like a concept of universal ownership, which regular listeners will have heard me talk about before. But it's the logical case for being selfless. That's to say that as a selfish person, you will be selfless because, you know, as they've said about COVID and various other things, you know, none of us are safe until everyone's safe. And how the enlightened, selfish person looks to build alliances that will protect us all from climate change because none of us are safe until all of us are safe. I thought it was very moving the way he spoke of that.

Christiana: [00:40:03] I was really impressed with his concept of selfishness. Actually, if you do it smartly, it actually coincides with selflessness. I had never heard it put that way, but I think we all agree and in different shapes and forms. We've discussed that concept on this podcast, but it just triggered for me the thought that we have grown up never questioning the concept of the tragedy of the Commons. And it's something that we have always regretted that there is such a tragedy of the Commons, but seen from the perspective that he put it out, it's actually the opportunity of the Commons, right? We have to turn that around and understand that that tragedy of the Commons is a personal or much more individual tragedy. But it is the opportunity of the Commons that we're actually being faced with right now. It's not the tragedy. Or maybe it's both right. It's the tragedy of the Commons if we don't stand up to this, but it is the opportunity of the Commons and what that opportunity brings to each of us individually as people, as nations, as corporations, as cities. It is a very different approach to these global issues. And as he says, there is such a mirroring between how we must act on climate and how we must act on the virus, on COVID. It's just amazing to me how lesson rich this COVID thing continues to be. But but I really just want to leave us with, you know, are we not at the point where we need to transmute the tragedy of the Commons to the opportunity of the Commons?

Tom: [00:42:14] We have to be at that point, right, because it's the tragedy of the Commons and that mode of thinking has been part of what has really dragged us down in the last period of time. So we have to be able to now move beyond that into the opportunity. I, like you, was really struck by that coming together of selfish and selflessness. I haven't thought about it in that way before. It was very eloquently explained. This is slightly tongue in cheek point, but listening to him as a senior politician speaking about issues, I had this sort of repeated sense that he was kind of saying the quiet part out loud, you know, whereas like, I mean, most politicians won't say things that we all know to be true, but they won't name them, right, like we can't all have consumption at the level of people in the United States, like military spending doesn't make any sense when the world is heating up we need to protect ourselves from these changes. But he was able because of who he is and the country that he leads to, name those things and call them and actually say, You know, these things are real. We can't all go to that consumptive level without destruction for everybody. We need to move beyond this previous model of thinking around military spending, and it's just so refreshing. It makes you weep for the quality of leadership in most places in the world, to be honest with you, because I mean these are evidently common sense. But we're so used to our leaders not saying these things that when you hear a leader actually say it, it is incredibly refreshing and inspiring and also desperately sad that it's been, with possible exception of Jacinda Ardern and one or two others. But it's a thin list the numbers of heads of state who would speak like that, or do you not agree with that?

Paul: [00:43:47] I think the list might be getting bigger. And I mean, I agree with you, but I think you have to remember that it's not that the problem isn't the leaders will come, you know, they're they're all stupid or they're all kind of whatever they are stuck in systems exactly have a lot of money controlling them in the wrong way. But, you know, just to sort of applaud Costa Rica yet more, the fact that they've formed this Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance that was formed by Costa Rica and Denmark, you know, at COP26, France, Greenland, Iceland, Sweden, Wales in the Canadian province of Quebec all joined it. That's the beginning of a probably a very long wedge. But I tell you something that happened this week that I think speaks to this exactly. Greece has introduced a climate law this week, pledging to cut emissions dramatically, and they've done it because of the terrible fires. So you're actually now a government acting in response to the environment. The Energy Minister said the national climate law is of historic importance in order to deal with the climate crisis and achieve climate neutrality by 2050. But the point being now the public are starting to see the extreme weather that governments are starting to act. And I think that's just incredibly exciting because it turns all of this into a kind of like a hard reality.

Christiana: [00:45:03] That's so exciting about Greece. I wonder, what I mean my heart just goes out, right? Because you want everyone to do that. Why? Well, we know why it's so difficult, but it's just hard to accept that it is still difficult, isn't it? I just want to, like, go out and shake people up.

Tom: [00:45:23] It's a good idea. You should do that. 

Paul: [00:45:27] I think you do, Christiana. And I like to think that this podcast is actually a vehicle for you to ensure that people are shaken, not stirred or whatever the correct James Bond. 

Christiana: [00:45:40] Or both, shaken and stirred. Take it and start.

Paul: [00:45:45] I'm not entirely sure what it is. We're by James Bond can spot the difference between shaken, stirred and spoiler alert, shaken and stirred.

Paul: [00:45:53] Not sure we can tell people on this podcast that James Bond... So that's probably we're going to get arrested by the. I know you probably can say that, can't you? But then we'll spoil it for our listeners.

Tom: [00:46:02] I think you need to believe him bleep him, Clay.

Clay: [00:46:04] So I haven't seen the movie. So did you just ruin the movie for me?

Christiana: [00:46:11] Yes, he did.

Paul: [00:46:14] We might be going off topic here. It's possible.

Christiana: [00:46:18] All right. It's still good to see it. What Paul and I saw the movie twice.

Paul: [00:46:23] Twice that was that was definitely it.

Christiana: [00:46:26] In twenty four hours.

Paul: [00:46:27] Christiana actually wanted to go to Tate Modern to see the Klimt, the Gustav Klimt. But I insisted that we go and see James Brown twice. Now, I think that you might have to really think about doing some clever bleeping here, clay, because I think it kind of is a bit cruel. But anyway, you can think about that now. We're sort of lost in music, as they say in Sister Sledge. Is there a way? Is there more that we wanted to say or?

Tom: [00:46:50] Think the only thing remaining to say is that it's a real shame that President Alvarado cannot run for a second term

Paul: [00:46:50] He can run in the UK. 

Tom: [00:46:57] He can run in the U.K. can he?

Paul: [00:46:59] Yeah, come straight here. Well, we’ll shoehorn him into Green Party, Labour Party is something we'd be prime minister before, you can say, you know, thank god, that's over. You heard it here first, everybody.

Christiana: [00:47:10] Well, what I would like to say as we close off this episode is since we have had a wonderful but a major overdose on Costa Rica today, I promise not to mention the wonderful, wonderful, all the wonderful aspects of Costa Rica for at least one more episode,

Paul: [00:47:30] One more episode. Really? Oh, really? Well, we'll just have to see that Tom and I will be kind of keeping an eye on that. And let's just see if you really can control yourself. Let's just see.

Tom: [00:47:39] All right. Well, thank you very much. This has been a real pleasure and a privilege to have this episode with the president of Costa Rica. And we leave you as ever with some music. So this week, Bobby Pezzini, Under the Weight. He's here to introduce the music as ever. Hope you enjoy it. Thank you for joining us. We will be back next week and look forward to seeing you then. Thanks so much.

Christiana: [00:47:59] Bye bye. Adios.

Paul: [00:48:03] Ciao.

Bobby Bazini [00:48:07] Hey everyone, my name is Bobby Bazini. This song is called Under the Weight, I wrote it a couple of years ago, and it's about feeling under the weight sometimes, and I think it's something everyone can relate to. I was thinking about the world we live in when I wrote that song. And what's crazy is how the song has felt more real than ever lately with everything that's happened. But I think there's a lot of hope in the song and a lot of light and the feeling that things will get better if we hold on and find strength in the things that we love and the people we love. And so here's Under the Weight. Hope you enjoy.

Under the Weight by Bobby Bazini Plays [00:48:45] [Song plays]

Clay: [00:52:21] Hey, I'm back. It's Clay, producer of Outrage + Optimism. That was Bobby Bezani with Under the Weight, which it's a beautiful arrangement and this is a personal opinion, but good a cappella harmonies aren't just reserved for Nashville people. And this was a good example of that. So that was a great song. And don't you just kind of wish you could sing like that? Bobby has more music you should listen to. And he actually has shows in Montreal, Quebec and Toronto coming up in January. So check the show notes for times and dates. And I know we have quite a few listeners in Ontario and Quebec. So I mean, I'm not that far from Toronto, so maybe I'll see you there. Bobby Bezani, everyone. Thank you to our guest this week, President Alvarado Quesada, for making the time on such short notice, actually, and especially right before No Army Day. This was really special to us and just a special shout out to Jorge for the tech setup and for providing me the MP3 of the Costa Rican national anthem. That was fun. So yes, I'm back on the mic thanks to Dan for holding it down while I was away, and we're in the middle of our post-COP series. We've had Elizabeth Wathuti and now the president of Costa Rica on. We have more conversations coming. One with Jennifer Morgan of Greenpeace and one with Alok Sharma. So be sure to hit subscribe because you don't want to miss those. And I think we actually mentioned on an episode a couple of weeks ago that Alok Sharma was coming on this week. Rest assured, that interview is coming.

Clay: [00:53:54] Best thing you can do, said Subscribe. Ok, one last thing before I go, we'll be talking more about this later in detail. But Global Optimism is co-producing a new podcast with our friends at Plum Village, called The Way Out Is In. Co-hosted by Brother Phap Huu, who was Thich Nhat Hanh’s personal attendant for 17 years and now the current abbot of Upper Hamlet at Plum Village, and Jo Confino, former senior editor at HuffPost and the Guardian, who now works in coaching at the intersection of personal transformation and systems change. The Way Out Is In is a weekly podcast aimed at helping us to transcend our fear and anger so that we can be more engaged in the world in a way that develops love and compassion, which Thich Nhat Hanh says, love is the only thing that will save us from climate change. So this week, a great tie. And we also talked about the tragedy of the Commons, how to address our eco anxiety. And this week's guest is Brother Spirit, who you heard during the past might think we did so again. I think in the future, we'll talk more about the podcast, what we're doing over there. Maybe do an official episode on it, but I wanted to bring it up to you because there were a couple great tie-ins with this episode. So there you go. Links in the show notes to click. Super easy go check it out. We're having a lot of fun making it with them. Ok, thank you again for listening, tuning in. It's great to be back. We'll see you next week.


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