From the classroom to the reefs: Daniel’s journey to a climate career
This month’s staff spotlight is focused on Daniel Ulloa, our Projects Coordinator based out of Costa Rica. A talented engineer and passionate environmentalist, Daniel – or Dani as we like to call him – tells us about the road he traveled to joining the Tradewater team.
What led you to this work?
I was studying chemical engineering when I started liking environmental stuff. I took a course on wastewater treatment, and thought, “Maybe I can use my career to do something environmentally good.”
Later, I started scuba diving and learned that because of climate change, the coral reefs were dying because the oceans are getting warmer, and CO2 in water makes it more acidic. I’ve been diving for 5-6 years, and when you are diving you can actually see the bleaching. You can see the underwater impact more easily than you can see these kinds of things on land. When Tradewater sent me to the Philippines to work, I dove there, and saw it happening to their reefs, too. There was one place there that was hit by a huge storm, one like they had never seen before. It destroyed so much of the reef in just one day. You could see where everything was dead on the top layer, and that only the part underneath had survived. This big storm, and the reef destruction—it was all related to climate change as well.
How did you come to Tradewater?
I was searching for environmental jobs, so I told all my friends and colleagues. One day I got a message from one of my best friends from university, who said, “I found this, and think you will like it.” They sent me the job description at Tradewater. I was skeptical at first, so I called Katherine Chavarría, Finance and Administrative Coordinator at Tradewater, and we spoke for an hour. I was convinced.
I like having this international job and working with international colleagues in America, Africa, Asia—I like the multicultural environment. I’ve been grateful to travel and watch the work happening right in front of me, to see it in action. Seeing that the cylinders are rusting and in bad condition, and neglected in general, gave me perspective on how important it is to destroy these chemicals, especially since nobody else is going to do it.
What do you hope the next generation sees, in addition to or differently than we did? Is there an approach you hope they take or don’t take, or a mindset you hope they embrace?
I think people are starting to understand that the substances that damage the environment are not only in water or pesticides, or CO2. There are other types of substances we need to focus on, which could help us reach our goals faster, but they aren’t the ones you typically hear about. People don’t yet understand the urgency of it.
Also, many people everywhere are just trying to make a living. If you could have economic stability, you could go beyond just thinking about saving your family and keeping them healthy. But being able to understand this situation the world is in is a privilege. I can’t ask someone who works all day for their daily wages to worry about which type of soap they are buying. I can’t ask them to stop eating meat because the world is ending, if that’s what they are able to buy on a daily basis. We cannot blame the final consumer for everything: it comes from higher than that.
If possible, I think we should share environmental messages from the educational perspective. With recycling for example (although recycling is not the best solution for the plastics problem, reduction is), my grandmother’s generation doesn’t recycle. She just doesn’t understand why people would need to do it. My parents started recycling when I was in high school because I bothered them about it a lot, because I was learning about it in school. That was what moved them. Young people are the future. We should start educating them about these ideas very early.
Is there an aspect of this job that sets it apart from others?
I am working with one project in Chile, where Tradewater is working to get the material out of there. We go and find the material, and then we need to export it in order to destroy it, which is an interesting logistical challenge. After we confirm it is what we are looking for, we work through Basel Convention protocol, which lets you move hazardous material from one country to another. It’s a complicated process. Even government officials of the countries sometimes don’t know the process because so few people do this work. Tradewater is now one of the experts in the Basel Convention process. We are the only real solution (for refrigerant gases, at least).
We are in exploratory phases to do projects in several other countries, too. For me, whenever we go to a place and meet or e-meet people, I try to not talk to them only about work, but also ask them about how their country is and what they do, to get a bit of the culture of the place. I think it’s important to have a good relationship with them. I found this very important when talking with governments. They have been dealing with the Montreal Protocol for a long time, and sometimes they are hesitant. They are proud of the work they have done and don’t want help from outside. For them, it has become personal, so you need to get to know them to have these conversations. Others really want us to help: it just takes that personal approach.
What is your hope/vision for the future of Tradewater’s work?
My hope for the future of Tradewater’s work is multifaceted. Firstly, I envision a shift towards working with new substances beyond CFCs and HCFC gases, such as SF6, which has a staggering GWP (Global Warming Potential) of 23,500. This expansion would allow us to address a wider range of greenhouse gases and contribute significantly to climate mitigation efforts. Moreover, I’d like to see us invest in cutting-edge technologies for carbon capture, emphasizing not only emissions avoidance but also the active removal of carbon from the atmosphere. This dual approach can be instrumental in combating climate change.
I also hope our work gains more recognition and attention, as it deals with pressing environmental issues and demands immediate action. Last (but not least!), my vision extends to the methane department evolving into an influential player on the international stage, where our expertise can make a substantial impact in reducing methane emissions globally.