What were you doing while the forests were burning and the city was drowning?


What were you doing while the forests were burning and the city was drowning?


John Goedschalk is the Nature Based Solutions pioneer with over a decade of experience in climate finance, carbon credit development and climate and conservation program design

 Amsterdam, June 2, 2024 –In march of 2011, I learnt that climate change was going to make the city of Paramaribo I loved virtually uninhabitable due to increased temperatures and rising sea levels. 

I was deeply saddened, scared and angry…all at the same time.  It just felt so unfair! Suriname, my country is now, and has always has been carbon negative…but we are still going to have our capital become virtually unlivable by the end of this century.  I was sad, and confused, but honestly….mostly angry!

Once I knew… there was no way for me to unknow.

I decided that I was not going to look away. I decided that when my children ask me, fifty years from now..”Hey dad, what were you doing when the forests were burning and our city was drowning”, I was not going to be the guy that says…. “nothing”…, I was making a dollar, which is what I had been focused on up until that moment.

I decided that I was going to dedicate my life to fighting climate change (a battle since lost) and to more importantly, build the economic resiliency of my country to enable us to maintain a semblance of the quality of life that I experienced growing up. To do this, it meant that I had to find a way to save our forests. I so wanted my children and their children to swim in the black creeks of our wonderful savannah….to sit in our Soelas (rapids) and I just couldn’t bear the thought that our beautiful forests would burn…and our rivers would dry up. I wanted to do everything I could to preserve our way of life and our forests.

This decision set me on a path that has afforded me the privilege to serve as lead negotiator for Suriname at the UN climate convention. To meet world leaders, movie stars and to see incredibly beautiful natural vistas. Not to mention meet and spend time with amazing forest communities. It has also made for a very lonely path, one that has meant spending hundreds of days alone in hotel rooms, traveling thousands of kilometers by road, airplane, boat and train a year and regularly feeling the weight of failure upon failure, as humanity continues to spew ever greater amounts of CO2 in the air. And as we continue to destroy millions of hectares of forests a year, while exterminating record numbers of species.

I distinctly remember this one day in 2012. I was negotiating at the UN climate convention in Durban, South Africa, and I had just suffered one of many embarrassing moments at the hand of the minister of Environment of my own country. I had set up a meeting with the german minister of environment to set up a technology transfer and resource sharing program between Suriname and Germany. And the minister simply….didn’t show up for the meeting. It was yet another proof point that not only was I unable to garner the necessary political support necessary to make a difference, but the government I was representing was simply not interested. So there I was, sitting in my hotel room, wondering what the hell I was doing there. Why did I leave my family back home to come here and waste my time. I felt like not only was I wasting my time, I was losing precious time with my family.  I was pretty much ready to quit. By this time, I had spent over a year, trying to make deal after deal, only to run into wall after wall of political lack of will. I had lost all my consultancy clients by serving as climate negotiator for the country and I had not received the promised government salary for longer than a year…. I was done. I was clearly not cut out for this, I didn’t have the political backing and I didn’t have any idea on how to get to where I needed to be from where I was. I sat down to write my letter of resignation to the office of the President.

A few minutes into writing the letter, I got a call from Karin, one of my fellow delegates to the UN climate talks in Durban. And as I shared my frustration and plans to resign with her. She laughed. She said….John… you need to let go of these ideas you have on how things SHOULD be. You need to allow things to be as they are. If you know what you want,… just hold on to that and keep working on it, and know that when the time is right, your dreams will manifest. Maybe not in the way you thought they would, or in the time you thought…but if you just keep at it, and be alert to opportunities…it will happen.

She suggested that I read Deepak Chopra’s “Seven spiritual laws of success”.  Being in a pretty desperate state of mind, I immediately downloaded the audiobook. And I started listening….. my life has never been the same.

The wisdoms shared with me in that book, like learning to bend like a reed with the storm, to put my attention on the object of intention, while inviting the universe to orchestrate an infinity of time space events while at the same time letting go of attachment to the outcome…. Well, it has been one of the wisdoms that has not only enabled me to keep my sanity, but has led me to achievements beyond my wildest dreams at the service of nature and forest based communities. Learning to embrace uncertainty, learning to trust the universe instead of forcing events to occur as I want them to…. This has been learning that has allowed me to live a life of impact..and one of service. While also allowing me to enjoy the journey.

This is however only one of many wisdoms that I have had the privilege of being exposed to on this 13 year journey of serving as a conservationist and climate advocate …. I have learnt so much and of late, I have been moved to share some of these wisdoms as I work to integrate them into my way of being.

As I have given in to the urge to share some of the wisdoms that have been shared with me, I have started to notice that when I share any of these wisdoms… it just really feels good. I drop into what Deepak has referred to as “Dharma”, I lose any sense of time and am filled with just “tingly energy and joy”. For a lack of better word, it just really, really makes me happy to talk about these lessons and share them with others.

So, I invite you all, if you will indulge me, as I try and share with you, my understanding of a number of these curated wisdoms that have been shared with me on my journey so far. I have worked to consolidate these into what I currently call the “11 curated wisdoms”. None of these wisdoms are mine, nor can I say that I practice them consistently, but all have been instrumental  at one time or another in keeping me sane, happy and allowing me to live a life of impact and service.

The first one of these wisdoms that I would like to share is “the practice of gratitude”. I will take a bit of time to think about how best to share this practice with all of you and write it down as soon as I find the words.



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