Column: A Costa Rican lesson for Americans

Many people today cannot place Costa Rica on a map. Even more believe that the Central American country is actually a small island that has poor development and lack of a decent infrastructure. (Christian Arballo/Flickr)

Many people today cannot place Costa Rica on a map. Even more believe that the Central American country is actually a small island that has poor development and lack of a decent infrastructure. However, in reality, Costa Rica is a small country located between Nicaragua and Panama, with a population of about 4,813,144, according to CIA estimates.

It is imperative to note Costa Rica is on the same landmass as the U.S., and it is amusing that such a minute country has become more advanced in an environmental sense than a country as large and resourceful as the United States.

This small Central American nation has made immense changes to its infrastructure in order to reduce their global environmental impact. How, then, is it possible that one of the most influential and powerful nations of the world does not focus more on the long-term effects of the usage of fossil fuels?

Costa Rica switched their grid to 100 percent green and renewable energy for a 75-day period—an impressive accomplishment for any nation. Costa Rica was able to switch over to 100 percent renewable energy through a reliance on hydropower. They achieved this due to unusually heavy rains during the start of 2015. Costa Rica also uses geothermal, solar and wind energy sources. It is remarkable that what has been labeled a “third-world country” is able to rise in a sense of environmental awareness and action.

This ability is due to the government implementing laws and projects that enforce environmental awareness and health as a priority; for instance, the government’s new $958 million geothermal project. Due to the fact that the Costa Rica was able to reach 100 percent renewable energy due to abnormally heavy rainfall, the government wants to ensure that rainfall is not a limiting factor. Hence, creating geothermal plants will make the country less dependable on rainfall.

In 2010, it was reported that about 13 percent of the energy came from geothermal resources. According to Teofilo de la Torre, a Costa Rican official, once the geothermal plants are finished, they could generate electricity at about five cents per kilowatt-hour.

Of course, Costa Rica is not the only country that is successfully using renewable energy. Countries in the European Union are adopting a more environmentally aware and balanced mindset, greater than efforts in America. Motiva Services Ltd., a company that offers energy services, claims, “within the EU, Finland is a leading user of renewable energy, together with Sweden and Austria.” Finland obtains energy from wood-based fuels, due to the fact that Finland’s forests have a great supply of renewable resources.

According to the Official Statistics of Finland, the country reduced the consumption of coal by 21 percent and reduced more than five percent of oil in 2011. In the Global Energy Statistical Yearbook, The U.S. was ranked second in the overall consumption of energy for all nations in 2014. It also states that the U.S.’s power grid has 13.7 percent share of renewable resources regarding electricity production, while Finland had a 29.2 percent. Costa Rica and Finland both benefit from the resources they have.

Costa Rica and Finland are lucky because of their topographical and geographical features. It is imperative to note that instead of destroying resources, both countries work towards clean energy. The biggest difference between these countries and the U.S. is a mindset that promotes the conservation of natural resources and the use of green and renewable energy sources.

As we all know, the U.S. is a capitalist society with a consumerist market; in the current, fossil fuel based economy, the environment is not a priority. In order to keep the market flowing, the government has disregarded myriad environmental issues because a capitalist economy thrives on large profits from cheap and unsafe energy. It is all about mass production and profit. In order to achieve goals regarding energy consumption, shocking documentaries reveal the truth about some American energy companies and sources of fossil fuels.

For instance, in the documentary “Gasland,” it is clear that the government is not properly regulating the abrasive and abusive method of energy production known as fracking, which has polluted water supplies and threatened the quality of life for residents. Though energy production is vital to a developed society, gas and energy companies cannot use profit motives as an excuse to continue their environmental pollution. America needs to wake up to the reality and implications of fossil fuel dependency.

The U.S. is one of the most powerful nations; however, it really needs a slap in the face regarding the environment. The depletion of fossil fuels would be catastrophic in the current economy and energy structure. Our natural resources are finite; we are responsible for the future of our beloved Earth.


Alexandra Leon is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alexandra.leon@uconn.edu.