COSTA RICAN CONSERVATION
The UN declared 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity and Costa Rican conservation policies and achievements were rewarded with its top award: the prestigious Future Policy Award.
It's a really big deal. “Business as usual is no longer an option if we are to avoid irreversible damage to the life support systems of our planet.” Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary, UN Convention on Biological Diversity
Our planet is under attack--by us. For centuries, in the name of progress, economics, getting ahead, we've waged war and. . . the plants and animals, their ecosystems, the biodiversity of life itself, are on the cusp of defeat. Literally.
And, should that happen, we all lose.
This page is about the stand a little country has taken to reverse course, to act with responsibility to future generations, to preserve the diversity of life.
It's about Costa Rican conservation and how its policies towards biodiversity can change the world.
Making Peace With Nature
When the first Puritan came ashore in 1620, America's forests stretched halfway across the continent, from Maine to Minnesota and Texas to Florida and remained that way for nearly two and a quarter centuries (1850).
The next seven decades were far different and unrequited logging and burning reduced American timberlands so quickly that by 1920, 90% of its original primary forest was gone.
"If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen." Henry David Thoreau
Left to their own devices, these "industrious and enterprising" folks---described by Theodore Roosevelt in 1913 as "land grabbers and. . .the representatives of the great special interests [that were intent upon exploitation], at the expense of the public interest"---would have denuded the remaining 10% of America's forests but for President Roosevelt who set aside 150 National Forests, and single-handedly increased America's forest preserves from 43,000,000 acres to 194,000,000 acres!
Not to mention creating 16 National Monuments (one of which is the 800,000 acre Grand Canyon National Monument), 51 wildlife refuges, and five National Parks.
This massive achievement was done over rigorous opposition that, of course, trotted out all the reasons why it'd be better if government kept its hands off which, history shows, were largely self-interested money-grabbing baloney and sometimes out-and-out lies.
You see, in the first decade of the 20th Century, one fellow---one bold visionary---started making peace with Nature.
I've wondered what his campaign slogan would have been. Surely, he'd have rejected something as pale as "Yes, We Can!" in favor of real audacity: "Yes, We Do!"
Which leads me to Costa Rican conservation and the bold audaciousness of a little country that made peace with Nature eight decades later.
Costa Rican Conservation: What Makes a Man Rich?
Mr. Roosevelt understood that "A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone." Henry David Thoreau
Unfortunately, most of the world hasn't learned that lesson.
Except for Costa Rica.
Costa Rican Conservation & The 2010 Future Policy Award
There's something about Costa Rica that always reminds me of Theodore Roosevelt. Both seem to have shared two traits: audacity and clarity.
Costa Rica's one of the smallest countries on the planet, taking up just 1/10,000 of its surface, yet it has nearly 5% of all the species of plant and animals on the globe.
For nearly five centuries after its discovery by Christopher Columbus, it was just another poor developing country.
Then, in 1948, surrounded by sometimes belligerent, bellicose countries and just coming out of a civil war, it first demonstrated an audacity that marveled the world. It constitutionally abolished its military, preferring to use its money for social purposes (like education) rather than arms from which to make war.
Fifty years later, 1998, it adopted a sweeping series of environmental laws aimed, as some have said, at making "peace with nature."
As deforestation continued unabated in Brazil, Indonesia, and across much of the planet, Costa Rican conservation measures aimed at restoring its forests.
And, with the same clarity of vision exhibited in the decision to rid itself of the military, Costa Rica demonstrated that deforestation could not only be mitigated, it could be reversed. Indeed, from its nadir of 21% of forested land, today 46% of this Latin American country has been reforested.
But, the law went further, declaring that all living things have the right to live, independently of actual and potential economic value. That decision is profound in both its audaciousness and clarity, unheard of elsewhere, and so important in its implications and design that it forms the basis for the
UN Future Policy Award 2010 Just as Teddy Roosevelt demonstrated that one bold, audacious man of vision could bring a mighty nation to the brink of peace with nature, one tiny nation has demonstrated to the world that we are not predestined for failure, that plants and animals on earth are not predestined for extinction, and that if we stop waging war with nature and instead concentrate our efforts to make peace, it will reward us and our children.
The countries of the United Nations awarded the Future Policy prize to Costa Rica for its audacity, clarity of vision, and demonstration that biodiversity can be preserved.
Teddy Roosevelt would applaud and Henry David Thoreau might observe: "I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor."
Thoreau's words are as pertinent today as they were 160 years ago and Costa Rican conservation policies have demonstrated that mankind still retains the ability to elevate life by conscious endeavor.
So, the next time somebody declares "Yes, we can!", shout back, "Yes, we do!"
And pray for another Teddy Roosevelt.