Every day we see stories of the destruction of the world’s natural wealth, loss of biodiversity and the negative impacts of climate change. It’s always good, therefore, to come across some positive news about the environment. When we heard the story of what Costa Rica was doing to protect its natural wealth, we felt we needed to make a film about it. Last February, myself and the crew of Oak Alley Productions, spent three weeks in Costa Rica filming for an hour-long documentary. We were also accompanied by Randall Tolpinrud of the Pax Natura Foundation, who has been working on conservation initiatives in Costa Rica since the 1990s.
Back in the 1980s, Costa Rica was on the verge of losing its forests and biodiversity and becoming just another country in a long list that has had its natural resources and wealth ripped out, sold off, and destroyed, with very limited long-term benefits for the country. Corruption and poor governance ensure the benefits of the wealth are enjoyed by only a few and the promised benefits of social and economic development are unrealized, or well below the country’s needs and expectations. It’s a familiar story. So familiar, in fact, it seems like an inevitable story. But this is not the story of Costa Rica. Over the last few decades Costa Rica has restored its natural wealth and biodiversity while providing employment and financial security for its people.
In the film, we show how a combination of good governance, grassroots projects, innovative environmental policies, and a new way of valuing the contribution forests and biodiversity make to the long-term wealth and health of a nation. All these elements come together to radically improve the situation for the environment in the country. As we talked to government ministers, conservation groups, and owners of private forests, we were struck by their clear vision and determination to continually move the country in the direction of a sustainable future. They were also very open about, and engaged with, the areas of the economy that still need a lot of work to become green and sustainable. In the agricultural sector, a lot of pesticides are in use, the transportation system needs greening, and there are pressures on the environment that have come with economic development. Costa Rica’s success at becoming a top destination for ecotourism means excessive numbers pour into some parks and there is pressure for development in sensitive ecological areas, particularly along the coast. Protection of the marine environment is also a relatively new area for positive action. Even with these ongoing issues, if one compares what Costa Rica has achieved for its environment to other countries in the region, the differences are striking. In fact, the week we came back from the shoot, we were looking at the NASA maps of forest fires in Mexico and South America. It was shocking to see how many forest fires there were. The satellite picture of Costa Rica showed there were hardly any forest fires in the country. We made this film with the support and participation of the Pax Natura Foundation. We hope the innovative and forward-thinking policies Costa Rica has adopted will be an inspiration to other nations grappling with the loss of their natural wealth and climate change.