I have just returned from leading a study abroad in Costa Rica, which is such a beautiful country. The rain forest is so lush with life. I wanted to learn more about this country’s conservation efforts.
There was a trend of deforestation throughout the 1900’s, but in the mid 1980’s things began to change. Costa Rica succeeded in reversing the deforestation trend due to recognition by policymakers of the value of the country’s ecosystem. A new set of ethics guided the country to amend its constitution in 1994 to enshrine the right of every person to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment.
How did Costa Rica achieve such an astonishing reversal of trends? And how is it that over this same timeframe, Costa Rica has shown such impressive gains in social indicators like education level and poverty reduction? The answer seems to lie in a combination of ethics, environmentalism and effective policy-making. These policies demonstrate an understanding that economic well-being is inextricably linked with healthy ecosystems. The readiness of key decision makers in Costa Rica to think outside the box may be seen in their decision to disband the country’s standing army in 1948. They invest in their children and conservation.
Success can also be attributed to a decision to use payments for environmental services (PES) as a tool for poverty reduction, particularly in rural areas. At the core of Costa Rica’s PES program is an understanding that healthy ecosystems provide a wide range of services, including carbon sequestration, water filtration and the provision of habitat for genetic resources that can potentially be used in pharmaceuticals and natural medicines. By providing financial incentives to landowners, the so-called Tragedy of the Commons — the danger that free resources shared by all gradually degrade over time — can be averted.
During the rainy season, this country produces 100% sustainable energy using hydroelectric, wind, solar and geothermal sources. Poverty is down and educational acheivement is up. Currently, 50% of Costa Rica’s economy comes from adventure and ecotourism. The investment in the environment has proved fruitful.
The policymakers in Costa Rica are long-term thinkers that invest in their future. This is evident in their investment in education and conservation. Their ethics and perspective remind me of the Native American idea of Seven Generations which I blogged about several weeks ago. And it’s WORKING. Economically, educationally and environmentally, the country, its people and their communities, are thriving. They are a very happy people living in a beautiful country whose politicians place value on quality of life and quality of life of future generations. Pura Vida!