IES Abroad: What brought you into educating students?
Jorge Castro (JC): This is something that grew in me since I was a teenager. I loved natural sciences (since I can remember), and early on, as a child, I started to feel the importance of communicating the need to protect nature. Later, during secondary school, I realized that I liked to explain topics from our courses to my classmates, and that it was amazing to study and discuss things together. Soon I started to teach primary schools kids during the summers to earn some money. I kept up this activity through the years, and finally I became a person totally interested in teaching without even noticing it.
IES Abroad: Can you tell us about the course(s) you teach to IES Abroad Granada students?
JC: The course is named “Mediterranean Ecosystems.” It covers the main topics on basic Ecology such as species interactions, disturbance, succession, diversity, communities, or ecosystems, always in the context of Mediterranean-type ecosystems. But it is not only about Ecology as a discipline. The course seeks to show to the students many of the problems that we, as society and as humanity, are posing for nature and for ourselves, such as overexploitation of resources (land, water), climate change, biodiversity crisis or, in general, global change and the impact of humans on ecosystems at all levels: from the tiny shallow lake that we might visit during the field trips to the whole planet. It is therefore a course where we teach Ecology as a discipline while creating awareness and commitment to our environment and to our society.
IES Abroad: Tell us about what inspired you towards the work you’re committed to with Precision Forest Restoration (PFR)?
JC: It has been a compendium of several things.
- First of all, the need that we really have to restore our ecosystems and reverse land degradation. It is a debt we owe to ourselves, to future generations, and to nature.
- Second, many years of research and observation of what happens with restoration projects, i.e. too many failures.
- Third, many years of teaching a topic that is dynamic, plus the questions and feedback from my students, which inspire me, sometimes with the most unexpected (but clever) points of view.
- Finally, calm and frank conversations with friends from different NGOs and with managers who work every day to conserve and restore the forests.
In short, PFR has emerged in our minds as a necessity to make forest restoration a tangible reality, and to ensure its success in the medium and long term.
IES Abroad: Imagine you could share a word of advice with your past self for your work ahead with the University of Granada. What would you say?
JC: With education there is hope for a better world. The students of today are the future of tomorrow.
IES Abroad: If you were to think of all your work (teaching, research, etc.), what do you find to be most rewarding about your work?
JC: To awaken in students the enthusiasm for knowledge and for making a better world. It is never achieved in everyone, but it is exciting to see how in some of them (sometimes many) an energy grows and it makes them vibrate with the desire to "fix the world."
IES Abroad: We understand that the objective of PFR is to create functional and self-regulating forest ecosystems and to reduce the negative impacts of reforestation. How do you feel this will impact future generations’ experience of the world?
JC: This could have an amazing impact. In the end, PFR is about to halt the destruction of nature and to restore our ecosystems. It would be great if someday we, human beings, get to live in harmony with nature, with the rest of the living organisms and the whole environment. And the truth is that there is no other solution. To restore the ecosystems in the long term is not just an ecological, engineering, or forester challenge. It is a social challenge. To keep and to broaden the existence of restored and healthy ecosystems in the future implies that we have to change our interaction with our planet and even among ourselves. The impact for future generations would be huge and positive.
IES Abroad: How do you bring light and attention to the importance of PFR? What do you feel could be done to emphasize its importance?
JC: Whatever the approach we use to restore any ecosystem, a key issue is to communicate to the public the need to conserve nature. To do this, we must convey to the public (and to our students) that nature is worth conserving and restoring both for ethical reasons and for the multiple benefits it brings us. Today we call these “ecosystem services,” but they have always been there, even if they were not given this name. Healthy ecosystems provide the basic building blocks for our lives and well-being, from the air we breathe to the water we drink. There is nothing positive in destroying ecosystems, and there is much benefit in repairing them. We have to transmit this message to every single citizen.
IES Abroad: Is there anything that the everyday person can do to assist with the efforts of functional ecosystems and positive environmental impact?
JC: Many things. Virtually, everything. Our daily way of life can be everything for a global change. First, we need to be aware of our impact on the planet, from the local to the global scale. This does not mean that we can't use the car, buy new clothes, or use the heating to warm ourselves. But if we are aware of our impact on the planet we will drastically reduce [or negative impact] without realizing it and without any effort. There are many things that need to be done by large-scale policies that the average citizen cannot change, at least not in the short term. For example, having more or less renewable energies or having a more efficient recycling system. But the basic starting point for everything to work is the awareness of each one of us. Once we have this, we will do many small, everyday things that will go a long way toward reducing our impact on nature.
IES Abroad: Can you share with us any plans you have for future publications or work on this topic?
JC: We have to do a lot of work to i) test many of the approaches that we propose in our paper and ii) to implement policies and governance models that ensure that what we plant or seed today will become a forest in the future. We are working in the two directions. As a key issue, we have to engage citizens and stakeholders on restoration projects that aim to maximize success and efficiency in the long term.
IES Abroad: What does being a Global Leader mean to you?
JC: To be honest, I have to say that I do not very much like the concept of a global leader. I would prefer that each person have the conscience and responsibility to act appropriately without the need to follow any leader. The problem with global leaders is that it’s rare that a silly YouTuber (and I send my apologies for many that are great Youtubers), an arrogant pop-star (I also send my apologies for many singers that are great leaders) or a cynical politician (even a dictator and, of course, I similarly send my apologies for many others that are not) may be those that mark the choices of millions of people. To follow a leader is not necessarily good for people, nor for society. But this being said, there are, of course, great leaders, and we really need them. For me, a good leader is the person who works every day to create a more just world, to create awareness in each one of us, and who leads us by example. Leaders may act in a very large scale, but also on a day-to-day basis and in very close environments. Leaders are also those that give us a gentle nudge to redirect our way when needed. Our parents can be the best of the leaders, our teachers, or our friends.
To me, there are many men and women that could be mentioned as being global leaders. But if I have to choose one for this interview, let me recall the amazing work and personality of David Attenborough. I work to reach just 10% of his enthusiasm and energy to communicate the wonders of nature to the rest of the world and the need to conserve nature.
We thank Professor Castro for sharing his insights and inspiring words! Learn more about his course and the Study in Granada Program.