Sunday, March 13, 2016

Balance in consservation and education

I made an enormous naïve error at the start of this program, I believed an ideal society was present in Costa Rica. I have since learned that not only does Costa Rica have an alarming history of deforestation in the second have of the 1900s, but it also had disastrous economic depressions between 1970 and 1982. In 1981 Costa Rica had the largest amount of debt per citizen in the world! What we know as a model for environmental policies was created as recently as the 1990s, around the time of the Kyoto protocols. In addition, my perception of the individual Costa Rican had me believing that every national was a good natured socialist who enjoyed walks in the primary forest and smelling the flowers. No perception of a people or place can be accurate until one truly visits the place and meets the people.
            Our nature hike and fireside chat with Don Carlos of Biological Station Cuerici was another crack to my perception. Don Carlos introduced an honest rural culture; the culture consists of raising your family, being involved in your community, and doing whatever it takes to achieve these goals. There is a historical view of the forests as “Baldios Nacionales” or National wastelands, useful only for how they could be converted to useful land. Up to 30% of Costa Rica’s rainforests were removed for cattle pasture or for timber between 1970 and 1985. Don Carlos himself began as a hunter and charcoal maker and only later, upon meeting mountaineers from San Jose, changed his views towards mountaineering, conservation, and ecology education. Currently, Cuerici consists of the biological station, a trout farm, some gardens and cattle pasture, and the reserve. I admire his efforts, which I consider to be largely successful, in creating a balance between conservation and land use. To Don Carlos, the ultimate state of living is to have a balance between living and conserving.
            However, Don Carlos is of an older generation that considers peace of mind and body before wealth and globalization. This is quite different from how institutions like the World Bank view progress and different from how new generations view what living is. Giving an education to your children is a great success for many families in general  but there is often a different end goal of the family versus what actually becomes the end goal.  There is, in my opinion, a shift in the end goal of higher education here and throughout the world. For example, many youth are able to study in San Jose or another large city, where they are exposed to a large world and modern technologies and styles of living. The outcome was revealed to us by Don Roberto, a subsistence farmer and coffee plantation owner, who works to interest his grandchildren in the forest on his property and the farming that he does. Many others are drawn indefinitely to the cities and follow the lifestyle of fast living and forget to take walks in the park, or the forest.
            The balance at this point appears to me to be in favor of the cities and globalization. Yet the solutions to conservation and balanced living and even climate change are not in throwing away technology and ignoring the world at large. Don Carlos’s primary source of advertisement was always word of mouth, yet now he is working to develop a website for Cuerici to reach out to new groups of students and scientists and even “mountain therapy” programs. He is certainly making use of the technology that is stealing the youth from these mountain communities. Don Roberto of the coffee plantation has a picture of a satellite photo of his finca, or farm, and could benefit from various weather analysis devices to assist in his coffee process. Even as ecologists interested in environmental health and teaching about the forest to inspire love and desire to preserve, we use statistical analysis programs for our research and social groups to communicate abroad and even store our works on servers to preserve paper.
            At this point I feel that I have clouded the issue of what is actually causing the decline of forests worldwide and why Don Carlos struggles to maintain interested parties in his station. Technology only has the potential to assist in our struggles across the globe. It is a defining feature in our species and the reason we have enough free-time to even discuss such issues across the planet . A real problem we have is our definition of success and a successful life. How many children can you send to school? How many followers do you have on social media? How much money will you make this year? Rarely is a successful day described as, “I walked around the forest all day and saw birds.” Such outlandish activities are reserved for Buddhist monks and Don Carlos. My best solution is social change. Society evolves much faster than organisms, sometimes within a single human generation, and current grassroots and social organizations are involved in creating social change through government policy. I wish them luck, but the best effort I believe in is Don Carlos’s education “on the sly” straight at the source. To Don Carlos, education is the greatest weapon and balance is life’s greatest success story.
Ace Spitzer
University of Northern Colorado

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