Why Environmental Education?

This past weekend we were invited by Osa Conservation to to a training session for instructors of Detective de Aves in Rancho Quemado on the Osa Peninsula. The participants came from several communities in the zone; Rancho Quemado, Puerto Jiménez and Drake Bay. There were many river crossings along the way.

It was a real privilege to be able to work with people who have shown a real commitment to developing responsible tourism and businesses for decades, while protecting and improving the abundant plants and wildlife in the area. Carla and Marco did an impressive job, as always, teaching how to teach the course. We learned a lot from the attendees as well, especially the really impressive story about how in Rancho Quemado they have managed to completely turn around the drastic drop in the Chancho de Monte (White-lipped Peccary) population through a long-term, community effort. I hope we can emulate their example here in Coto Brus.

I originally intended to only write a simple post about this training, but I decided to take advantage of this platform, and of Independence Day number 200, to share some of my thoughts on why these activities are important. I shared these with the group over the weekend and they seemed to resonate, so I thought I would try here as well.

Although there are many excellent reasons to teach kids to value and care for the Natural World, and provide them with opportunities to know it better, and, hopefully, come to love it, for me there is one simple and profoundly terrifying reason to do so. The path we are on as a species is leading us towards a final showdown with the Natural World in which our demands for food, water, land and less obvious “necessities” will lead us to use every resource until there are none left. If it comes to a choice between clearing the last forest so we can feed our families today, even if we know that tomorrow we will have nothing, we will clear the forest. This has and is happening on increasingly large scales throughout the world: from Borneo to Madagascar, vast swaths of India, to Honduras and the Amazon. In my opinion there is no new “green” technology that will save us — that will allow us to continue more or less as we are without utterly depleting the resources we depend on. Believing there is is simply partying while the City burns. So, what are we to do?

There are many who believe that finally there is nothing we can do because that is simply the way Homo sapiens is wired — that we will always, inevitably choose our own immediate interests over the future, collective good. Perhaps they are right. There is ample historical evidence to show that when push-comes-to-shove we’ll almost always shove the the other guy in front of the train to save our own skin, if only for the briefest instant.

However, we also must be honest with ourselves and admit that this fatalistic perspective is very convenient for the privileged, since it preserves a system that gives us advantages and relieves us of the obligation to act. It is a comfortable despair, especially for those of us like me who will most likely have lived out our due before the worst happens. In my opinion, we must demand more of ourselves.

This “comfortable despair” also ignores two very obvious of facts. First of all that we do, every single day, choose the common good over our own selfish interest in small, yet critical ways. I don’t think I really need to give examples because they are obvious. This quotidian virtue is often dismissed as unimportant or facile, but that completely misses the point. We are wired for cooperation as well as for selfishness, and perhaps more so. That is obvious. Why we ignore it and often act as if it isn’t the case may be less obvious and worth more than a few minutes of quiet thought.

Second of all, we can change and we have: as a species, as societies and as individuals. The way we imagine our Human Nature to be now, and how we see our relationship as individuals to the communities we inhabit and how these communities envision their relationships to other communities and the World that sustains us has changed countless times throughout the millennia. It is time for us to change again, but this time by will and hope, and very hard work, and not by necessity and desperation. If we wait for the latter, I fear it will be too late.

I do not believe that one person, or one people, can save the World. I believe that all we can do is love our neighbors as best we can, and receive love in return with an open heart — and even that most basic thing is often incredibly hard. The simple fact is that when Carla, Marco, Paula, Randall, Yadira, Yolanda, Emily, Kelly, and Ronnie have gotten in front of a classroom full of kids to teach Detectives de Aves it was and is an act of love first and foremost — an attempt to grow the hope that we will all need to look beyond our own selves and towards our neighbors and the Natural World. We work with the kids and the adults so that somehow together we can figure out how to become better here and now in this small place, and then share what we learn with others, who share with us in turn so that, somehow, we will learn to turn away from the precipice and avoid cutting the last forest to feed our families today, even if tomorrow they will surely starve.

I don’t have a clue how to avoid disaster, and if I think about it in those terms in my day to day life I despair, but thankfully there are many smarter, wiser, more compassionate, courageous, hard-working, creative and loving people than I. So I/we do what we can to help each other out of love and hope for future generations, and for our own peace of mind and joy for the time we we have left. That’s all we can do, and we have to do it in the best way each one of us knows how.

May this Bicentennial find each one of you and your families well and happy.

Peter. Coto Brus September 15, 2021