Geek Speak: Raul Pacheco-Vega,

Raul Pacheco-Vega says there are “two facets” to his busy life.

On the one hand, Pacheco-Vega is a well-known blogger and social-media consultant who can often be found live blogging at local technology-related events. In addition to maintaining, he is the organizer of the Vancouver Blogger Meetup Group, and served as the editor of BC Vote, a Web site set up to disseminate information about the provincial election in May. With psychotherapist Isabella Mori, Pacheco-Vega organized Mental Health Camp, a conference about social media and mental health that took place in April.

On the other hand, Pacheco-Vega is an environmental policy and politics researcher who holds a PhD in resource management and environmental studies from the University of British Columbia. He sits on the editorial board of the academic journal Water International. Pacheco-Vega has three books due out this year: one on North American environmental politics, another on industrial and urban restructuring in Mexico, and a third on wastewater governance in Mexico.

The Georgia Straight reached Pacheco-Vega by phone at his home in Mount Pleasant.

Why do you blog?

I blog because I like communicating with people. My personal blog is for myself. I blog because I like to keep a record of what I do and where I’ve gone and the places that I’ve eaten at. But lately I’ve realized that it’s also sort of a place where I can practice my writing, where I can practice my thinking, where I can throw some half-baked ideas.

As an academic, you really can’t just, you know, have an idea, put it in a paper, and submit it. You need to rework it and redraft it and rewrite it and re-create the content. Sometimes what I do is I use my blog—both of my blogs, my personal blog and my research blog—as places where I think an idea out loud and then I get feedback.

So, lately that’s the reason why I blog. I blog to, you know, throw ideas out and try to discover the idea with my readership, my community.

What makes a good live blog?

I think a good live blog captures the ideas of the speaker, on the one hand, but also provides some insight of their own. So, for example, in all of my live blogs, you will see that I make a point of saying, “This is an idea of mine. I think that so-and-so.” I actually think that also a good live blog—you don’t have to capture verbatim what the person is saying. But you should make sure that you capture two or three of the best insights in the talk.

With my live blogs, what I do a lot is integrate the tweets. So, I actually think that enriches a lot the live blog, because it provides instant feedback that people may not be able to include in comments and so on. I think that those are the two main elements: capturing two or three main ideas, and also providing your own thoughts.

How do you think microblogging can be used with regard to mental health?

One of them is building the community, right? Just building a supportive community, when you’re feeling down—and this has happened recently to us. There have been a couple of people that have been really, really depressed. There actually was someone really, really depressed at the time that Mental Health Camp was happening, and we all—all the people who were at Mental Health Camp—started tweeting back and saying, “Things will be good. If you need any help, let us know,” and so on.

So, microblogging actually helps a lot by (a) building community, (b) advising people sometimes. There is a really cool initiative called @unsuicide, and it’s a Twitter account basically providing tips on and encouraging people who are feeling depressed not to take their life. If any of us actually felt that somebody would be putting themselves in danger, we would tweet to @unsuicide and say, “You know what? Somebody seems to be depressed. Let’s see how we can help,” and so on. But, yeah, mostly I think it’s sharing your story and building the community.

How do you think governments should use social media to promote action on climate change?

I actually think that the first thing they need to do is design a smart social-media strategy. The problem with governments is that governments are working only on mitigation of climate change, and they’re just saying, “Well, you know, we should just focus on how we can reduce our greenhouse emissions.” Cool—that’s fine. But climate change is here already. So, do we actually need to know how to adapt? Of course, we do.

Most of the people in British Columbia and most of the scholars that I know—or a great number of the scholars that I know—are focusing a lot on mitigation. I’m not going to say that they’re not focusing on adaptation. But I think my work is looking to focus and to bring attention to adaptation.

I think, governments, the first thing that they need to do is recognize that climate change is here—that there’s nothing we can do to stop it. Now that we have it here, now that we’ve realized that it’s here, then the second step is design strategies to galvanize the public.

In my research, what I have found is that most—I’ve done a lot of research on transnational environmental organizations, like environmental NGOs, and how they pressure governments and how they work—and the most response that an environmental NGO gets is to issues that have to do directly with health, with human health. So, for instance, campaigns on toxics, campaigns on seafood and so on, and seafood like farm aquaculture and farm fishing, the reason why they’re successful—those campaigns—is not because of how well designed they are. It’s because the issue that they’re using is an issue that people are worried about.

So, in social media, what governments should do is take that insight, find an issue that really galvanizes the public, and then use the right mixture. I don’t think they should just use one social-media strategy. They should use a mixture of social-media strategies in platforms to galvanize the public into taking action. That’s what they should do—and educate the public.

Is there anything you think Metro Vancouver should be doing different with its wastewater?

I actually think that one of the things that Metro Vancouver is trying to do and they want to do is to galvanize the public into wasting less water. We do need to inform more.

Metro Vancouver could do a lot of good by informing people that water is being wasted in Canada, that we really don’t know how much water we have, and one time we’re going to find ourselves with a drought. Wasting so much water, as we are right now, is going to be a problem.

Are you addicted to Twitter?

One-hundred-and-fifty percent. I’ve tried. I spend Sunday nights with a very close friend of mine, so I try to disconnect at the very, very least on Sundays from 4 to about 10 p.m. But the rest of the time it’s hard for me. I was in Fort Langley yesterday on a day trip with friends of mine, who actually I met through Twitter. It was hard for me not to say, “Can I borrow your iPhone. I need to tweet. I haven’t seen my at-replies.”

I am a geek who doesn’t have an iPhone. Actually, my phone is not even smart. It’s not enabled for on-line browsing and so on—and I do it purposely, because I know that I’m addicted to Twitter. So, if I had a smartphone—like iPhone, Android, and so on—you would see me all the time tweeting. It’s insane.

That’s what I do. I have created an artificial barrier to being on-line all the time. I used to actually not have a laptop for a long while. So, it was also great, because it forced me to just get out of the house and do stuff but not allow myself to be connect all the time. But, now that I have a laptop, I’m connected all the time.

Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at




Jul 3, 2009 at 11:43am

Dear Stephen,

Thanks so much for a fantastic interview! I am very, very honored. You captured both my worlds (academia/environment and social media/tech) incredibly well. It was an honor and a delight.

Blair Smith @realtorblair

Jul 4, 2009 at 6:05pm

I got the link to this article on Twitter. A lot of what I learned about social media I owe to "listening" to @hummingbird604 and learning how to enjoy and best utilize this medium. I have also met him, and think that you really captured the essence of this fine man. Passionate, intuitive and always challenging. I would recommend "following" him to get a sense of what social media can be. He is connected to some very cool people, and always thought provoking, even if you don't agree! He loves feedback, which is the essence of dialogue, not simply broadcasting/promoting.


Jul 6, 2009 at 1:24pm

Thanks for the article on Raul. (which I too found on Twitter)

He is not only engaged and engaging but is an extremely generous individual who works tirelessly to benefit communities - social media and "in real life".