|Despite all the talk I heard about how great Costa Rica was, ranked 5th in the world as one of thegreenest countries, I had a hard time breathing the air in San José.Here's a picture I took from my hotel in Escazú, which overlooks the city. |
I have been to the [Top 5 smogiest cities in the world] --Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Cairo, New Dehli, and Shanghai-- and can say that San Jose,Costa Rica is nowhere near as bad as any of those, and more on par with cities in the United States, like Pittsburgh or Los Angeles.
Having a single government official in charge of both energy and environment means they can set pricesand provide incentives in one to benefit the other. Here are two examples:
Only 5 percent of the energy consumption of this county comes from oil. Despite having their own oilrepositories off-shore, the Costa Ricans have decided not to drill and ruin their pristine shoreline,but rather import from foreign sources.Gasoline prices are set high to include some of the environmental costs, about four dollars per gallon(800 Costa Rican Colones per liter). Cars can be converted to run on less expensive Propane orsugar cane Ethanol, but the conversions are cost-prohibitive for many.
Did it help? No, Traffic was like a parking lot. Part of this was the result of the main highway beingunder construction, forcing many people to take side streets.
Electricity is 13 US cents per KWh. My hotel in Escazu wanted an extra $8.50 US dollars per day to run theAir Conditioner. By comparison, my house in Tucson, Arizona is 1167 square feet, roughly five to six times the size of my hotel room, and my electricity bill is a flat 27 US dollars per month year round.
Did it help? No, most tourists just pay the extra cost. I tried one day with A/C, and the second day without, for scientific comparison, and decided to go without the rest of the time I was there. Perhaps being from Tucson, Arizona I can tolerate the 85-degree heat better than others.
So if incentives to conserve like high prices don't work, what will? I interviewed Alexandra,a local 24-year-old studying law at a nearby college:
- Once you get your law degree, will you move to another country, such as the United States? --There are already too many lawyers in your country.
- What about Japan or Asia, there is a shortage of lawyers there?-- No, I plan to stay here in my country. Costa Rica is beautiful, my friends and family are here, why would I leave?
- So why do you think the incentives don't work to help people conserve gasoline and electricity? --People have to earn a living, and are focused on getting things done. If it can be done in a way that helps the environment, great, but otherwise life continues.
- So will you specialize in "environmental" law? -- Not sure yet. Too early to say. Costa Rica is certainly leading the world in environmental protection, and much of this is through laws and tax schemes.
High prices don't serve well as incentives to reduce consumption, but perhaps national pride and working in an industry like agriculture or eco-tourism might.