If you were to close your eyes and develop a mental picture of Costa Rica, you’d probably imagine an expansive, serene beach with vibrant blue water and tropical flora. Maybe, instead, you’d picture yourself zip-lining through a forest canopy or hiking down near its roots. Whatever you were to imagine, there would likely be a common theme: trees.
Today, June 15, Costa Rica celebrates Arbor Day. Because of this special occasion, we’ve decided to compile a bit of information about Costa Rica’s efforts to maintain a strong, prosperous ecosystem, much of which is due to the country’s lush landscape of trees. However, it wasn’t always a strong symbol of environmentalism…
Prior to disbanding the military and redrafting the constitution in the mid-20th Century, Costa Rica was headed down the path of industrialization and deforestation. The environment was strained by the growing demand for exported products (namely coffee and bananas), which was a huge portion of the country’s GDP. It appeared as though Costa Rica was being “harvested” with little concern for the country’s future.
In correlation with the strain felt by the environment, the citizens of Costa Rica felt abused as well, and, in 1949, overthrew the government and installed a new democratic system. This new system abolished the military and put an emphasis on social and environmental programs. In fact, the constitution protects the right of “every person […] to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment.”
As of writing, Costa Rica ranks fifth in Yale’s global Environmental Performance Index–truly a testament to the country’s constitutional objective. A quarter of the country’s land is under protection and, in 2008, approximately 99% of its primary energy supply came from renewable sources (wind, biomass, solar, geothermal, etc.). Furthermore, it is the first country to set a goal for achieving carbon neutrality, which it aims to accomplish by 2021.
Hadn’t it been for Costa Rica’s ongoing efforts to establish realistic, effective environmental policies, the country may have become fraught with corporations concerned only with exporting profits, indifferent about the lasting impact. Instead, Costa Rica chose to become a shining symbol of environmental responsibility, and its citizens, along with its visitors, are enjoying the benefits.