Costa Rica Sustains


By Svitlana Hrabovsky

Photo courtesy of Mike Gonzalez.

On Apr 1, 2015, news outlets worldwide ran a specific story regarding a small nation’s feat in the use of renewable energy to power its electric plants.

The nation is Costa Rica, a small country of roughly 4.5 million that is located toward the southern end of Central America. By the month of April, this nation had been running solely off the use of renewable energy for 75 days straight, as reported the nation’s state-run electrical company, Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE).

Costa Rica is centered between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and is home to many natural resources–environmental factors that make it easier to retain sustainability.

However, Costa Rica wasn’t always so environmentally conscious. Though estimates vary, some sources state that during the 1940s through the 1950s, forests covered more than 70 percent of the country’s territory. Over the ensuing decades, a large portion of these woodlands was torn down in efforts made to gain cash profits.

By 1983, the bulk of rainforest coverage had drastically depleted–some estimate it was only 26 percent. However, thanks to reforestation efforts, woodland coverage has steadied out to about 52 percent today.

This reversal in trends, however, begs to question: How exactly did Costa Rica make such a quick environmental turnaround?

Part of the answer comes from their decision to eradicate their military in 1948, which channeled additional funds into the nation’s social and environmental programs. In addition, in 1994, Costa Rica amended its constitution, adding the right of “every person… to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment.”

Today, Costa Rica is competing with three other nations (Iceland, New Zealand, and Norway) to become fully carbon neutral. Costa Rica plans to complete this goal by 2021. The multi-national competition only goes to show the rise in the global awareness of sustainability.

BTR got the chance to speak with Alexandra Fylypovych, a photojournalist at the University of Georgia in Costa Rica, whose campus is fully devoted to sustainability. Fylypovych explained some of the practices that her campus adopted to stay in tune with the country’s pursuit towards environmentalism.

“The entirety of the campus was once coffee plantations,” Fylypovych tells BTR.

Lush forests were demolished to farm coffee, which in turn greatly affected the wildlife and biodiversity of the area.

“Now, the campus and surrounding area are being reforested and the secondary forest is making a wonderful comeback,” she says.

Another method that the university employs in order to maintain sustainability is cultivating its own organic farm, which, according to Fylypovych, accounts for about 15 percent the school’s food. The university also utilizes solar heat to attain warm water, repurposes extra food for compost or to feed the “campus pigs,” and employs “sustainably harvested teak wood” as materials for campus buildings.

Each of the university’s methods is plausible and certainly aid in justifying Costa Rica’s place in the worldwide race towards sustainability. Yet, when it comes to the nation’s most recent 75-day accomplishment, their success need be attributed to the most holy resource of all: mother nature.

Costa Rica was able to attain this mark through its unprecedented spur of heavy rainfall this season that kept its hydroelectric plants running. In addition, winds, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy played a significant role in the nation’s sustainability efforts.

What happens when the rainfall stops? Climate change seems to be one of the biggest factors affecting Costa Rica’s goal of becoming fully carbon neutral. Prior to their 75-day streak, Costa Rica was experiencing an intense drought.

“I think that as the global climate continues to shift, we can expect to see more extreme fluctuations in weather–like more severe droughts,” Fylopovych tells BTR. “Costa Rica has recently received a grant to build geothermal facilities, likely in Guanacaste. This would also create jobs, which has the potential to stimulate the economy as well.”

Although Costa Rica recently received the most fame for its efforts in environmentalism, other nations are following suit and are not too far behind. Iceland, for instance, has tapped the Earth’s natural warmth to supply approximately 85 percent of the country’s housing with heat. In addition, their electricity is powered completely by renewable energy.

Costa Rica still faces some challenges, but it is safe to say that the nation’s environmental approach has advanced greatly in the past two decades. The nation has proven successful in overcoming issues.

As other nations continue to join Costa Rica in the race towards creating a more environmentally stable earth, only time will reveal who will come out on top. The global competition represents an ongoing conflict that even the most peaceful parties won’t oppose.