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Weathering the Heat: Reflections on Climate Change in Costa Rica

Is it hot enough for you? Can we blame this blazing heat on the little boy? You know– El Niño? The first year I lived in Costa Rica we had a major El Niño effect. It rained sporadically September through November, and I remember thinking that the long rainy season I had read about before arriving was much milder than expected. Then the next year arrived and the rain fell consistently for months. Rivers overflowed, mountain roads were closed due to landslides.

We are finally on the cusp of what will hopefully be an abundant rainy season. I recently took a photo of the barrio soccer field. After 3 months with no rain, it looks as brown and barren as a Georgia O’Keeffe desert landscape. I look forward to a follow up photo, when the rains begin, and the pitch returns to its natural green. This is the hottest, driest summer I remember, but the rains will come. If there is one given in over three decades here, it is that the rains will come.

That the world is warming is another given. Is it due to the activity of the 8 billion plus humans inhabiting it? The debate rages. Everybody has an opinion.

In the ninth grade, my Physical Science teacher dumbed it down for us blockheads to understand: ‘The more ‘things’ there are in something, the warmer it will be.’ A world with eight billion humans doing their human things– working, playing, eating, with many reliant on resource consuming technology to get through – will generate more heat than a world with one billion humans doing the same things.

But is our activity the driving force, slowly boiling the earth, plunging us toward a day of melting polar caps and rising sea levels? Given the earth’s endless history of dramatic climactic changes, is it a stretch to believe that our activities and only our activities, are going to make an apocalyptic difference?

My own take is that we are nudging it along– but it may be a cycle of warming that could have occurred regardless. I am not an expert, nor are 99.9% of those with opinions on this subject, but even the experts are not always proven correct with time either.

Recorded weather and temperature charts go back less than two centuries, a blip of time in the history of the earth and the universe. If we had accurate temperature charts going back thousands of years, we could likely create more accurate models of future climate. But what do I know. I think It is possible to hold both beliefs at the same time– that the planet is warming, and that human activity, while not helping, may only be one contributing factor to increasing temperatures.

Here in Costa Rica, there are two common practices that contribute to the problem:

Slash and burn agriculture, and burning of garbage. Slash and burn has been around since the indigenous Cabecar people populated parts of the country. It is an approach to agriculture unsustainable in areas of sizeable population. And supposedly illegal, though highly ignored, as the government lacks the resources to enforce the law. The same is true of garbage.

Back in 2010 a law was passed here that outlawed the burning of trash. But it goes on to this day, every garbage fire making a miniscule contribution to the staining of our atmosphere. Yesterday it rained. The stifling heat became tolerable. Another Green season is at our doorstep.

Rejoice! As for me– I am not going to live long enough to see any radical climactic changes. Someday I will take my final breath and this earth will continue floating through space as it has for eons, regardless of the behavior of the humans who inhabit it.

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