The rally cry came loud and clear during World Environment Day events held countrywide Tuesday: Costa Rica needs to act now to save its natural resources – and time is running out.
Established and promoted by the United Nations as a method for raising worldwide awareness of environmental issues, World Environment Day has been celebrated June 5 since 1972.
In Costa Rica, politicians and environmentalists opposed to the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) were the first to take advantage of the opportunity: The day opened with the politically-inspired words of Broad Front legislator José Merino ringing out in San José’s Parque Central.
“There’s no environment for CAFTA, and there’s no environment for pirates and thieves who want to steal our resources,” said Merino, one of the featured speakers at a rally organized by his party, the anti-CAFTA Citizen Action Party (PAC) and the Costa Rican Federation for Environmental Conservation (FECON), an umbrella group of more than 30 environmental organizations from around the country.
PAC also submitted a letter to President Oscar Arias and Environment and Energy Minister Roberto Dobles urging them to declare a “National Environmental Emergency.”
“The moment has arrived to confront the multiple problems we’ve provoked,” says the letter, which spells out several actions PAC hopes the Arias administration will support, including creation of a national board to coordinate environmental matters, prioritizing proposed Forestry and Water Laws that would better regulate public resources, and placing a moratorium on concessions for development of mega-projects in the north-western Guanacaste province.
Development in Guanacaste’s coastal regions has run rampant in recent years, with an estimated one in four developments in the area lacking proper permits (TT, March 16).
Residents from the Caribbean-slope town of Guácimo joined the rally, toting signs and calling for no further expansion of pineapple farming – criticized by some as environmentally disastrous.
“When pineapples move in, the land becomes a dessert,” said Guácimo resident Brunilda Aguilar.
North across the Central Valley in Heredia, Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias and Dobles held a ceremony of their own during which Dobles announced a new treeplanting campaign.
The administration plans to plant 50,000 new trees throughout the province of Heredia as part of a campaign developed by the United Nations to plant one billion trees worldwide.
The announcement sparked criticism from Merino, who said, “planting trees is not enough.”
Since the outset of President Arias’ term, environmentalists have been skeptical of his administration’s commitment to nature, saying it is more likely to lean toward promoting development than conservation (TT, May 19, 2006).
Politicians weren’t the only one demanding attention Tuesday.Various lectures, charlas and debates took place, including a daylong educational series of nearly two dozen 20-minute seminars at the NationalMuseum in San José.
Some of the country’s leading experts on issues ranging from coral reefs to jaguars, green macaws and national parks called upon the mostly university students that packed the museum’s sultry conference center to “act now to save Costa Rica’s ecosystems.”
Dr. Jorge Jiménez, an expert on wetlands from the National University (UNA), decried the lack of protection of the country’s rapidly disappearing wetlands, and said that in the absence of a system to “identify and protect our wetlands, the devastation will continue.”
Other lectures highlighted the need for better management of national parks and a closer look at deforestation, water resources and endangered species.
World Environment Day also marked the kick off of the four-day “ExpoAmbiente,” at the NationalUniversity in Heredia, which featured more than 40 stands, presentations on recent ecological studies and cultural activities.
The University of Costa Rica (UCR) in San Pedro, east of San José, banned vehicles from campus Tuesday in “A Day Without Smoke.”
Two days prior, on Sunday, the Environment and Energy Ministry (MINAE) and the Municipality of San José did the same, closing Paseo Colón to vehicular traffic and hosting various events to raise awareness of the importance of cutting emissions believed to contribute to global warming.
Streets were crowded with bike riders –an unusual sight along the typically jampacked western entrance to San José. Booths, games for children, a comprehensive insect and butterfly display, free potted plants and a parade rounded out the celebrations.
Elsewhere in the country, beach cleanups and local festivals dotted small towns on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.