Costa Rica: Geography of Bliss
The Central American country of Costa Rica, well-known as a haven for eco-tourism and peaceful, tropical living, is proving to the world that being a small nation in the developing world is no barrier to sustainability, happiness and ecological consciousness.
Despite being one of the smallest countries on the planet, has been announced as the highest-rankingnation in the Happy Planet Index (HPI), showing the rest of the world what it really means to live sustainably and happily.
The Happy Planet Index 2.0, released earlier this year ranks countries according to the triple goals of long life, high well-being, and a sustainable ecological footprint. Costa Rica, long known for being a peaceful haven in a troubled region, tops the HPI for producing over 99percent of its electricity from renewable resources as well as maintaining great living standards for its population, which reports the highest life-satisfaction in the world and the second-longest life-expectancy in North America.
According to the New Economic Foundation , Costa Rica’s impressive achievement of 99.2 percent renewable energy is made up of around 50 percent sustainable energy,compared to many other nations in the region who use primarily hydroelectric dams or wood-burning as a source of energy that is, while renewable, not sustainable.
The sustainable energy matrix in Costa Rica is made up largely by geothermal energy, sugarcane waste and biomass generation.
Costa Rica also comes closest to achieving the “holy grail” of sustainability – a concept popularly knownas One-Planet Living: the tiny nation has an ecological footprint of only 2.3 hectares per person, which is only slightly above the goal of 2.1 hectares per person worldwide in order to live with the Earth sustainably.
A significant portion of electricity in Costa Rica is generated by geothermal energy, with the country currently investigating plans to increase its current capacity of 152megawatts in four geothermal plants. A new volcano-power generation plant is due to come on line in early 2011, with two more planned for the near future.
Despite requiring a significant investment to establish, geothermal electricity generation plants are generally considered to be one of the most sustainable sources of energy and can provide a reliable, long-term power source without doingsignificant damage to the region’s ecosystem.
The Costa Rican government is also aiming to be the first nation to be completely carbon neutral, with recently-announced plans to reduce the country’s net greenhouse gas emissions and offset all carbon by the year 2030.
This is in sharp contrast to other leading countries such as Norway, which plans to become carbon neutral by 2050. According toCosta Rican Environment Minister Roberto Dobles, the plans include not only reducing emissions by cleaning up fossil fuel power plants and switching to more sustainable energy, but also by promoting hybrid vehicles and tree-planting to offset emissions.
The program, which is being funded by a 3.5 percent tax on gasoline, which is hoped to provide an extra benefit of discouraging gasoline usethough extra costs, is so successful, the UN has called for other countries to follow Costa Rica’s example.
Costa Rica is also well-known for its lush forests and beautiful topical landscapes, which happen to be some of the most important wildlife areas in the world in terms of biodiversity. It is estimated that the small nation, which accounts for only 51,000 square kilometers is also host toaround five percent of the world’s biodiversity .
Home to a vast array of endangered, protected and rare animal and plant species including exotic birds and frogs, the Costa Rican government works closely with conservation groups to ensure a sustainable future for the flora and fauna found in the country. Around one quarter of the nation is National Park reserve land where animals and plants...
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