My name is Alan Ruiz Berman and I hail from the world’s largest metropolis, Mexico DF, where I was born to a large and culturally eclectic family. I am proud of my roots and enjoy thinking that, not so long-ago, my ciudad de nacimiento – Mexico City was Tenochtitlan – the Mexica capital of the Aztec Empire, a city that floated atop a huge volcanic lake; Diego Rivera’s epic mural rendering of the pre-Colombian city and its sustaining Chinampas, or floating gardens, remains among my favorite works of art.
On my life’s rich and immersive journey, which includes having lived and worked in five dissimilar nations in the developed and developing world, and being so fortunate to have traveled wide, I’ve come to realize that all systems of knowledge are like symphonies – composed from unique areas of study and by individuals with different strengths, cultures, and perspectives. In science, conservation, and indeed in general, I believe in striving towards a more cooperative Modus Operandi where more people actively share and trade in knowledge, goods and services.
By being more wise and efficient with our resources, and precautionary with our ecosystem, we can also be less impactful and create a society that is more just. This includes making all government agencies and corporations legally bound fiduciaries clearly working for the common good of all citizens, especially those on the lowest rungs of our economic hierarchy – also those most severely impacted by disasters. Just imagine the civic willpower it will require to protect people, biodiversity, and natural environments at scales ten times greater than we have ever achieved and to transition rapidly from fossil fuels to nuclear and renewable energy! Only collaboration at scales never before achieved can we meet challenges at scales never before faced, and collaboration comes out of a culture not a culture war or an actual war for that matter.
I consider my capacity to learn from people of different cultures and backgrounds than my own to be an invaluable life skill, and one that I enjoy developing as an integral part of who I am – both as a person and professional. I have a keen interest in learning about belief and knowledge systems pertaining to traditional and Indigenous cultures around the world, and am grateful for amazing opportunities I have had to have learn directly from the Māori in New Zealand, Quandamooka in Australia, Afro-Taíno islanders in the Dominican Republic, Comcaac in Sonora, Mexico, and Tohono O’odham in Tucson and on their sizable Nation in Southern Arizona, among many other other fascinating peoples. When considering these diverse cultures, each with lasting and sustainable world views, I question our nation and global society’s culture of consumerist driven capitalism, which in addition to improving the quality of life for many, rich and poor, also enslaves workers and is casually destroying what little left there is of our biosphere and life support system – It is a way of life, for those in the developed world mostly, that is currently causing millions of people and other animals to suffer in countless ways and for coming generations to face a potentially bleak future. Recent history reminds us that human life is precious, and time-honored cultures remind us of the intrinsic value of the natural world. I have learned from local Kaitiaki or stewards that appreciation, active guardianship, and wise-management regionally can have major ripple-effects nationally and on society at large.
Working among unique people and cultures has inspired me to want to be at the interface of ecology and community, integrating science, adventure, and the humanities. I began my conservation career in a year long outdoor leadership course on New Zealand’s North Island in 2002. It was here that my (legendary) instructor, Richard Venimore, first made me conscious of the word “Conservation.” I will admit with some shame that he used it in peeved reference to my contaminating a perfect stream with mayonnaise from the lunching knife I had begun rinsing – something I had often done when camping as a youth. Richard however was worried about the added substance’s impact on a delicately balanced food web and did not need to mention the stream’s sacredness to him as Taonga – a natural treasure with Maui, or life force. Thanks to many such early experiences and teachers, I naturally migrated towards studies in cultural learning, conservation biology, and science education.
In my working and personal life, I strive to open doors to more accessible information and better public services, to more sustainable livelihoods, and to the restoration and protection of healthy and productive habitats in which coming generations can thrive together with their in-tact natural heritage. But before our ecosystems and biodiversity are culturally, legally, and economically established as humanity’s most valued assets, we first need to inspire Curiosity, Connection, and Kinship to the natural world. I believe that a well-rounded, nature-based education is necessary to both individual-fulfillment and to the achievement of a universal, humanitarian code of ethics – one in which every individual and organism is treated with appreciation, reciprocity, and respect.
Speaking of family, I will mention, with not a little pride, my mother, Estela Ruiz, who is a dedicated chemistry professor at Norwalk Community College, and my father, Jeffrey Neil, who is a leading heart doctor in Bridgeport, Connecticut – one of our nation’s poorest cities. Thanks to their example, I strive to be a compassionate and progressive member of my community and to work across social, economic, and physical borders. My older brother, Christian, still the family bird-nerd, is a professional painter in northern New York, often tackling environmental themes with his brush. Art and art-appreciation, like science, has always been a part of growing up, bringing our family together around nature and the creative spirit. Mt dad liked to take us out to National Parks to camp, hike, and later in life to dive too, so in all I was destined to love conservation related fieldwork and environmental education.
I am most interested in helping solve cultural challenges at the interface of climate change and society, including through a current project writing and illustrating books and curricula surrounding natural climate solutions. I have a strong belief in the power of multi-media technology to raise awareness about science and the natural world, and feel that scientists, experts, artists, and laypeople alike can collaborate more closely and effectively – and that indeed we must if we are to achieve a future worthy of our greatest human achievements and the many other precious life forms with whom we share our one and our only home.
It’s very nice to meet you.
Alan Ruiz Berman