A Season of Change
A change in the weather is known to be extreme, But what’s the sense of changing horses in mid-stream. -Bob Dylan
Like most things in life, people who haven’t lived through it have a hard time believing it. I’m talking about the nearly overnight changes from seasonal Sahara to rumble through the jungle. Last year a friend shot pictures of the road to Hotel Playa Negra. With a week or so of rainfall the scenery morphed from Death Valley to the Garden of Eden. Underfoot the texture changed from dust to drywall mud and the air from blast furnace to sauna. Pronto it’ll be time to deploy the razor sharp-machetes to keep your real estate investment from being swallowed by exuberant vegetation. Just like any number of lost civilizations or Mayan Temples.
Exhausted by weeks of oppressive heat, most of us are eagerly observing the colors at dawn and dusk or looking towards the southern skies for any sign at all of the onset of the life-giving rains.
Ironically, as the seasonal slowdown begins to hit the tourism related industries, there’s a flurry of activity for those who draw their life from the land. Just as pizza parlors are pruning their payrolls, farmers are repairing their fences, stocking up on seeds and arguing at fiestas over which varieties of corn or rice or pasture grass will provide the best results on a given parcel of land.
For home gardeners and orchardists, this is the perfect time of year to stock up on cow patties for compost, turn brush piles into “bio-char” (See: Char Don’t Burn, Howler ?????), and prepare planting holes for perennials like fruit trees and bananas. Many species of wildflowers and trees are dropping seeds and can be introduced into your landscape by simply tossing handfuls around and thinning as needed. It’s also a perfect moment to try to remember just how things looked during the heavy rains of the past, both to prepare for the worst and locate your plantings according to the lay of the land and the different zones of humidity. Given the predictions of another dry year, having the option of supplemental irrigation is like an insurance policy for the time and effort invested in your landscape.
Just as farmers and gardeners await the rain, likewise, those who are dependent on the flow of tourist dollars keep a wary eye on the ‘weather’, in this case, the global economy. According to a recent article in La Nación, tourism was ‘up’, according to the various parameters used in the cited study. They expressed a somewhat cautious optimism that tourism had weathered the storm of the global economic downturn and was headed for sunny skies and calmer conditions. A few quick phone calls confirmed my hunch that the deluge of tourist dollars was less than evenly distributed.
Perhaps stretching the analogy with weather a bit, in a year of somewhat ‘spotty’ rainfall, some fields and pastures simply green up faster, and stay green longer, than others less than a mile away. Friends with small hotels in Playa Junquillal reported a really good year while several people I spoke with in Tamarindo said just the opposite.
In a follow-up editorial to the report on the national tourism study, La Nación reviewed the findings, noting, among other things, which parts of the world were still stagnating economically, and warning of the various challenges to continued growth in the tourism sector. Ironically they apparently missed the fact that China is now the country that disgorges the largest number of overseas tourists per year. In the same vein, they conveniently overlooked the apparent contradiction that a country which brags about achieving ‘carbon neutrality’ by the year 2020, should be so avid in boosting an industry that depends in its entirety on millions of miles per annum of carbon rich contrails crisscrossing the overheating atmosphere of the planet while gliding in towards a smooth landing in the land of Pura Vida.
In the case of the intelligencia of La Nación—or the honchos and honchas of the political elite–we encounter a textbook example of the capacity of the human brain to comfortably sequester information that is upsetting to the ‘master narrative’ upon which we subconsciously operate.
As Upton Sinclair succinctly put it:
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
The master narrative upon which these folks’ salaries, and positions in power ultimately depends is the underlying belief—the civil religion as some have called it—in progress. Call it “economic growth”, “development” or whatever you want, there’s an innate belief—a paradigm as it’s called, that the path towards the earthly nirvana is in fact paved with greenbacks, now that the gold standard is a thing of the past.
Current political leaders of all stripes and ideological persuasions strive to convince the unruly masses that they alone have the magic, the Midas touch, the miracle mix of incomprehensible policies, plans and personal attributes to appease the appropriate powers and cause the economic rainfall to bring back the bountiful harvests of yore. The parallels–religious rites and mystical incantations conducted by an anointed elite–with any number of long disappeared civilizations could not be more disturbing.
What’s unsettling is the simple fact that when the times are a-changin’ you’ve got to change to keep up with the times. And there is beyond a reasonable doubt that we are changing fast enough.
More than 80% of all economic activity on the planet is driven by fossil fuels—in transportation it’s 95%. Therefore, any increase in activity—production, transport, sales, consumption–leads to an increase in fossil fuel consumption, which leads to increased CO2, which leads to more climate change. And this holds true even in a country like Costa Rica, which preens its proverbial feathers to the lullaby of carbon neutrality as it pursues an export and tourism based model of development, both inextricably interwoven with the world wide web of increasing global emissions. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln:
“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool Nature, ever.”
When globalization became all the rage with the book “The World is Flat”, Costa Rica savants in the political, economic and intellectual elite were falling all over themselves with analysis, adulation and suggestions for how to position this little eco-paradise to make the most of the latest trend on the world scene. Somehow however, this assortment of intellectual heavyweights seems to have collectively pulled the plug to their CPU’s—or possibly their frontal lobes–when it came to the carbon footprint of the new global game in town. As surely as the radiation from the Fukushima reactor meltdown affected the thyroids of almost a third of newborn babies on the West Coast of the US, the massive increase in carbon emissions from China, Cost Rica’s newfound amigo in world trade, don’t simply stay put in the skies over the Middle Kingdom. Duh! Ditto with the carbon rich contrails floating in the slipstream of the millions of frequent flier miles that underpin the economy upon which so many of us depend.
Turning a blind eye to the portents of looming changes does precious little to deter their arrival. Wending one’s way out of one economy and into another is not quite so simple as Henry David Thoreau’s decision to move into a cabin in the woods for a year. It’s more like straddling a widening crevasse on an Alpine glacier. Both sides offer unstable footing and in the middle it’s a long way down.
At the risk of “playing it again, Sam”, I would argue that the future is likely to incorporate more elements of the past than we can currently imagine. As an example, take the 5-7 thousand year success of the corn-based cultures of Mesoamerica. In my own work, I’ve noticed a substantial uptick in the number of people who are interested in producing more of their own food. It may be because of high food prices, or an intuitive sense that “something’s happenin’ in here.” Whatever the motive it’s a positive step in a promising direction. That said, I’m stepping out the door and headed for the garden.
When the tone of the music changes
the walls of the city shake.
– Plato, The Republic
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard..
It’s a hard rain, a’ gonna’ fall. Dylan, Bob
Tom Peifer is an ecological land use consultant with 18 years experience in Guanacaste. 2658-8018. firstname.lastname@example.org
El Centro Verde is dedicated to researching and promoting sustainable land use, permaculture and environmentally sound development www.elcentroverde.org/