Environmentalism is a daunting preoccupation:
- Global warming threatens the planet
- Pollution threatens our health
- Dependance on foreign oil threatens our economy and our national security
So we recycle, plant trees, and use public transportation. But we're still discouraged because the world isn't getting greener.
That's when it's time to consider Costa Rica, one of the world's great environmental success stories.
If the "green" revolution has a Cinderella story, it's Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is the only tropical country to have reversed deforestation. It is the first country to have set a goal for achieving carbon neutrality (by 2021). Despite having a population less than Boston, it is a global leader in the effort to curb climate change. Its government is advising dozens of countries, including China, on how to go "green."
But Cinderella stories always begin unpleasantly. In the 1940s, Costa Rica was the poorest country in Central America. The average income was $200/year, infant mortality was 10%, the government was unstable, the population was expanding, and the army accounted for one-fifth of the national budget.
Then things changed.
Inspired by the American example of democracy and free enterprise, the people of Costa Rica peacefully took over the government. They wrote a constitution, abolished the military, built roads, and brought electricity to the countryside. They established social security, comprehensive health care, and universal education. They guaranteed a minimum wage, maximum working hours, and job security.
Forty years later, Costa Rica was the wealthiest country in Central America (Panama excepted). Life expectancy had risen to U.S. levels; infant mortality had plummeted; and literacy, electrification, and clean running water were near-universal.
But a mistake had been made along the way: Costa Rica had allowed 80% of its rainforest to be destroyed. (The rainforest had previously covered almost the entire country.) Ultimately, the economy fell with the trees.
That's when citizens rose to the challenge.
They debunked the old myth that "wild" lands have no value. Instead of exploiting natural resources for economic gain, they established a national park system. The government assigned economic "worth" to forests, freshwater reservoirs, and scenic landscapes. It began paying farmers to preserve forests, plant trees, and use land responsibly. The program was funded mainly by a gasoline tax.
Today tropical forests cover half the country. Forest fires and illegal logging have plummeted. The air is fresher, the water is cleaner, and the economy is booming. Ecotourism, the nation's leading industry, is a billion-dollar-a-year business (in a nation of only four million people).
Costa Ricans are rightfully proud of their success. They have reversed deforestation, which results in more greenhouse gases than all the world's cars, trucks, trains, and planes combined.
Twenty years ago, no one cared about Costa Rica. Now dubbed "the Switzerland of the Americas," Costa Rica has become a must-see destination for serious travelers, especially Americans who like the U.S.-friendly atmosphere.
Thanks to smart public policy spanning decades, Costa Rica has risen from an impoverished Spanish colony to one of the most prosperous nations in the Americas.
So if you're blue about the pace of the global greening, just relax and go on a nice vacation. I've got a great destination for you.