Recent articles in various news sources say that Costa Rica is ranked by the Economist as the 8th most stable country on the planet, it is rated the 5th cleanest place in the world by the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) at Yale, and it is the first country ever to be designated a ‘BioGem’ according to the Natural Resource Defense Counsel.
Now the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international organization representing thirty of the world’s most advanced countries has revealed a picture of the relative wealth and progress of nations. It places Costa Rica the top country on its Happy Planet Index 2.0. Costa Ricans apparently enjoy the highest life satisfaction of anyone in the world, they have the 2nd highest life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere (only behind Canada) and Costa Rica has an ecological footprint meaning that the country narrowly fails to achieve the goal of ‘one-planet living’, consuming only its fair share of planet Earth’s natural resources. 82% (soon over 90%) of it’s electricity is produced by renewable resources, and its extensive natural parks consume carbon dioxide and emit oxygen more than offsetting its oil and gas consumption.
Costa Rica is an ecological paradise if there ever was one, green and blue Kodak moments around every winding corner, waterfalls jumping out and hundreds of jungle-backed beaches. 27 percent of Costa Rica’s land is now designated national parks and wildlife preserves. Many unrecorded species of life can be found on any original growth acre you choose.
But my question is, should the Ticos take credit for beautiful Costa Rica, or is Costa Rica nearly paradise in spite of the Ticos. After living here fourteen years, I tend to support the latter.
How green are Ticos?
Costa Rica government still has no sewage treatment plants in the country, and not counting the coastal inhabitants, effluent from about two million people living in the Central Valley flushes its way to the Pacific via the Rio Tarcoles. Fortunately new homes require septic tanks and / or tile beds, but anything built that hooks up to the city sewerage system will make its way into the ocean, chucks of whatever bobbing in the light brown water.
Traffic congestion in and around San Jose is a problem that should be looked at from an environmental point of view. Reducing running car motor time would be nice. True, the rolling and irregular landscape makes it a challenge. But the government should encourage people to car pool, make pull off lanes for buses, time lights better, put in a few bridges that will prevent traffic from bottle-necking, streamline getting from A to B, and give heavy fines to people who needlessly hold up traffic, or park partially blocking major routes.
Regarding getting your drivers license, let me put it this way. A moderately attractive female friend of mine was offered her driver’s license by a license bureau inspector in exchange for sex. No problem how bad she drives or if she kills someone, as long as his personal needs are met for the day, and no, she shouldn’t be driving.
The population from all economic classes needs the government to educate them to understand that litter and strewn garbage hurts everyone. Easily said I guess, when beggars and dogs rip open garbage left at the side of road for pick up. And you can not put your garbage in a garbage can because someone will quickly steal the can, and dump your garbage all over the road in the process.
The first very faint glimmers are starting to appear regarding recycling and composting, though finding drop off places is extremely difficult, a concept that is still trying to make its way to the top floors of bureaucracy.
I believe you can tell a lot about a person by how they treat animals, and with so many dogs on short leashes in someone’s backyard their whole life, the dogs go mad and become viscous. If you suggest spaying or neutering a dog, they look at you like “How cruel could you be!” Yet every day I see packs or individual dogs roaming the city streets looking for something to eat, maybe dragging a broken leg. When a female goes into heat, she is tormented relentlessly by the males. They have no home, no food, no love, just a hard, generally short life. Once again, the government could take the lead in educating people.
There is a high incidence of stomach cancer among Ticos, and this being blamed on the harsh chemicals used in the agricultural industry. Many chemicals outlawed in the USA are unregulated here.
National parks are numerous, but largely unregulated and understaffed, thus pillaged by loggers, poachers and miners.
I place the greatest blame on the government for just about everything. They need to point these largely uneducated people in the right direction. The politicians seem to only pay lip service to their trusting constituents, all the while trying to line their own pockets. Case in point, three of the last five presidents have been indicted for corruption. If there was ever a government where the Peter Principle applied, it is here. Though many of the politicians have received higher education, and are quite wealthy, they are still Ticos, a people who do little planning for the future. As I have said in other writings, for hundreds of years Ticos have been able to pick and banana or kill a chicken when hungry, or look for a roof when it rains, why plan for the future? Politicians and government officials mindlessly regulate without understanding, or caring about the repercussions of their actions. Instead of taking an altruistic approach, most prefer to increase their personal wealth, not that they will ever spend it.
To catch their attention, the government needs to educate during, for example, time out in fotbol (soccer) games on TV about littering and garbage, about the sewage clean up, about animal welfare and about how to drive safely and in an organized fashion.
Though I have admittedly seen some improvement in the last few years, such as hundreds new tourist police officers on bicycles, and street crime is coming down across Costa Rica as criminals are being arrested. But being successfully prosecuted and punished is another story.
The son of a black friend of mine was shot to death in a disco in Siquirres with dozens of witnesses, about the seventh time this person has murdered, yet he still walks free awaiting trial, if he shows up. And now, unfortunately, Colombia-style organized crime is just starting to move in and flex its political will with untold amounts of money. I fear the Costa Rica government may not be up to the challenge, time will tell. The concept that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is outside normal Tico thought, even at the highest, most powerful levels.
Happiness? I guess, maybe, ignorance is bliss.