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April 10, 2009

Costa Rica: how an entire country went green. [Thomas Friedman, New York Times, Eco Tourism, Enlightened Government]

Great editorial in the New York Times today by Thomas Friedman about how Costa Rica, a poor country with little reason or history to care for it’s seemingly endless natural biodiversity, turned it’s governance and people’s habits toward sustainability back in the 1990s. Inspiring, because I want to get involved in politics someday (soon), and generally it seems impossible, that a nation could run itself so responsibly, with an eye toward our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren. Excerpt, via nytimes.com:

…More than any nation I’ve ever visited, Costa Rica is insisting that economic growth and environmentalism work together. It has created a holistic strategy to think about growth, one that demands that everything gets counted. So if a chemical factory sells tons of fertilizer but pollutes a river — or a farm sells bananas but destroys a carbon-absorbing and species-preserving forest — this is not honest growth. You have to pay for using nature. It is called “payment for environmental services” — nobody gets to treat climate, water, coral, fish and forests as free anymore.

The process began in the 1990s when Costa Rica, which sits at the intersection of two continents and two oceans, came to fully appreciate its incredible bounty of biodiversity — and that its economic future lay in protecting it. So it did something no country has ever done: It put energy, environment, mines and water all under one minister.

“In Costa Rica, the minister of environment sets the policy for energy, mines, water and natural resources,” explained Carlos M. Rodríguez, who served in that post from 2002 to 2006. In most countries, he noted, “ministers of environment are marginalized.” They are viewed as people who try to lock things away, not as people who create value. Their job is to fight energy ministers who just want to drill for cheap oil.

But when Costa Rica put one minister in charge of energy and environment, “it created a very different way of thinking about how to solve problems,” said Rodríguez, now a regional vice president for Conservation International. “The environment sector was able to influence the energy choices by saying: ‘Look, if you want cheap energy, the cheapest energy in the long-run is renewable energy. So let’s not think just about the next six months; let’s think out 25 years.’ ”

As a result, Costa Rica hugely invested in hydro-electric power, wind and geo-thermal, and today it gets more than 95 percent of its energy from these renewables. In 1985, it was 50 percent hydro, 50 percent oil. More interesting, Costa Rica discovered its own oil five years ago but decided to ban drilling…

 …for the rest, go to the Times. It’s a great article.


Bonus, a video I found relating to Costa Rica going green:

Another, with plenty of interesting facts:

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