This week we spoke with Rodrigo Samayoa for our #myclimateplan feature. Along with being the new chair of My Climate Plan’s Board of Directors, Rodrigo is an accomplished software engineer with a focus on social impact, and a lifelong climate activist. He lives with his wife and son in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Rodrigo Samayoa first remembers becoming aware of climate change in his teenage years, and it’s been a guiding force in his life ever since. He recalls, “I could never understand how people could learn about climate change and choose to look away. That was never an option for me.”
He became active in politics, putting his support behind candidates who committed to addressing climate change. He also made changes to his life to limit his carbon footprint like choosing to walk or bike as often as possible. But all of this took on new meaning when he and his wife had their son in 2020.
“My son was born with a rare medical condition. He requires life saving medication and that, along with climate change, has completely directed the kinds of decisions we make as a family.”
A big part of this decision-making revolved around where they would live. They knew they needed to live somewhere with access to a good children’s hospital, and somewhere they could have steady access to their son’s medication. They also knew they needed to find somewhere where they would be the most protected from the impacts of climate change.
“My wife is from Mexico and I’m from Guatemala originally. We considered moving to one of those places, but neither met our criteria for being climate safe, or consistent access to our son’s medicine and care. We ended up choosing Vancouver in part because the temperatures are fairly moderate here most of the time, so even with climate change we were hoping the impacts here wouldn’t be as extreme. And compared to the surrounding areas it’s not as prone to wildfires.”
Then came the deadly western heat dome in 2021. His son was only 8 months old at the time and he initially remembers thinking, “Well, this is just how it is now. We will find a way to get through it.” But as he lay next to his sleeping son one night while the temperature inside his apartment soared, he could hear his son struggling to breathe.
In the face of every parent’s worst nightmare, Rodrigo and his wife were lucky enough to find a nearby hotel that had vacancy and air conditioning to safely ride out the worst of it. But they couldn’t help but think of all the other people in the city who weren’t so lucky. Who didn’t have the means to find safe refuge for themselves or their children.
And for Rodrigo, it’s not just about the local impacts. He cautions that we can’t lose sight of the fact that the global impacts of climate change require global solutions, and that the choices being made by governments in the global North are having devastating impacts around the world.
He reflects on his family who are still living back home in Guatemala, an area facing worsening climate impacts like multi-year droughts, and also increased political destabilization. Both of which are largely driven by the actions of politicians thousands of miles away.
He says, “The combination of these factors is a driving force behind the incredible numbers of climate refugees currently fleeing their homes in Central America and heading to places like the U.S., only to be turned away – with deadly consequences. The actions of the U.S. and Canada play such a huge role in creating these climate refugees. We should be welcoming them with open arms, but that’s not what’s happening. This needs to change.”
These experiences further strengthened Rodrigo’s resolve to work towards a climate safe future. Part of that work has included joining the board of My Climate Plan. And he is seeing signs of change that are giving him reason to hope.
We asked Rodrigo to think about what a climate safe future could look like – both for his son and for the communities around the globe for which this is the only option. He reflects, “I envision a future in which we don’t constantly need to live in fear of natural disasters. Not that they don’t happen, but cities and towns have taken the necessary steps to keep their communities safe from the worst of the impacts.
Where we don’t build on flood plains or areas prone to wildfires just because it’s cheap. Where governments invest in green spaces to keep their cities cool and protected from deadly heat waves.
I envision a future in which we take care of each other, and where we prioritize keeping each other safe over making a dollar. That’s the future we need, and it’s the one I’ve been working towards my whole life.”
At My Climate Plan we’re exploring the desire to confront the reality of what our lives will be like as climate impacts worsen, and to prepare ourselves to be part of collective communities that rise to that challenge and build a better world.
If Rodrigo’s story resonates with you, we invite you to join My Climate Plan as a founding member to take action towards a climate safe future.