A pioneer in the "guerrilla"

01-12-2019

It was a sunny September morning, when Mauricio received me with cordial expression at the entrance of the Curi-Cancha reserve. Without spending much time in introductions, he invited me to take a seat in his office, just by reception. The weather was perfect, and birds were singing outside. Once inside, we talked during several minutes before getting started with the interview. The chat was light and fluent. Mauricio was interested in knowing how long I have been working in Costa Rica, and what am I planning once I get back to Spain. “Well, actually going back to Spain is not in my plans for now”, I explained. “During the following months, I will be riding a bicycle to the South of Argentina to film a movie which could help more people understand climate change and face its impacts”. “And once you are done with your journey, will you go back to Spain?”. His expression did not change even a tiny bit. I did not know what to answer. “The truth is, I don´t know yet”, I admitted. I also do not know if his question was mere curiosity, or it was because he was able to empathise with my family, which I am likely not to see again until the end of 2020. Or it might have been due to a lack of trust on a too ambitious project that might never have the desired impact. The truth is, I do not know.

I have always thought that a good interview is like a good conversation. Because of this, I like to start finding out a little bit about how the interviewee´s life has been until the day. In my view, it is important to empathise with the interviewed person so the interview can provide something meaningful. I believe that getting to know some details of the person´s childhood, youth and values, helps to better understand what he or she wants to express. But, more importantly, listening is key. I took a seat, and I prepared pen and paper.

Q.- Could you tell me a little bit about your childhood and family?

A.- I am original from San Luis. My family arrived at the area in the year 1942, when there was almost nobody living there. I grew up during the sixties and seventies, and at that time there was no electricity in the houses.

Q.-When did you start to become aware of the nature around you?

A.- The truth is that since I was a kid, perhaps since I was 3 or 4 years-old. My childhood was very different from nowadays kids. My games consisted on playing with ants, climbing trees… Since the very first moment I felt connected with nature, and as time passed, I learned to value it even more. It was no longer just a source of fun, I also learned that nature is also a source of food, among other things.

Q.- Where did you use to work before starting with the Curi-Cancha Reserve project?

A.- Initially, I studied to become an environmental educator with the Tropical Science Centre (CCT) and I worked in many schools in the area. Additionally, for 16 years I worked as a naturalist tour guide and I also worked with milk and meat production during some time.

Q.- Could you tell me what does climate change mean to you?

A.- I am going to answer you with an example. When I was a kid, there used to be plenty of killed-billed toucans in the area of San Luis where I used to live, at an elevation of around 1100 metres above sea level. Over time, toucans shifted their range, to the extent that nowadays it is possible to find them at an altitude of 1400 metres above sea level. In fact, there are killed-billed toucans breeding and nesting in Curi-Cancha. But we hardly ever see them in the same area of San Luis again. I could give you dozens of examples just like this one. There are multitude of other animals and plants which have experienced changes in their distribution due to a temperature rise. Monteverde had always been a cold area, no one wanted to come and live here because Monteverde was cold. But nowadays, no one says that Monteverde is cold. In fact, many people are moving to Monteverde because of its climate.

Q.- Which other climate change related impacts have you observed in the area, besides a raise in temperature?

A.- My father is 92 years-old. He has always known exactly when to sow to take advantage of the upcoming rainfall. He always knew when it was going to rain. However, for the last few years, he keeps telling me: “Son, I don´t know what is happening to the weather. It should be raining, but it doesn´t”. In fact, for the first time many farmers in San Luis are not going to plant beans in the month of September, due to the lack of rainfall. This is something that never happened before. Additionally, I have been able to observe changes in rainfall distribution patterns, at the same time as changes in trade winds and monsoons.

Q.- Do you consider that water scarcity could represent a problem for Costa Rica?

A.- No, at least not for now. Our country still has water. The main problem is the great loss of captured water. The Costa Rican Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers (AyA) needs a modernization of its infrastructure. More than 50% of captured water gets lost in escapes, mainly in the areas of San José, Heredia and Alajuela.

Q.- What climate change adaptation measures are you implementing in Curi-Cancha?

A.- “Do you see that light?”, he asked me, pointing at the lamp in the ceiling. It comes from clean energy. In Curi-Cancha, we have been pioneers at the installation of solar panels. A lot of people do not understand it, they see it as a useless waste of money because Costa Rica already produces 99% of its energy demand from renewable sources. But for me, this means preparing for the future. Most of the renewable energy production in the country comes from hydropower plants, which will be directly affected by changes in rainfall. We also have our own drinkable water, and we are currently developing a solar energy powered dwell, so we can access water through the energy of the sun. We owe a 25,000L tank which distributes clean water to many houses in the area. Curi-Cancha currently produces 10% of the total amount of water used in Monteverde. In terms of reserve management measures, we have a limit of visitors per day in order to reduce stress and fatigue on our animals, and trail overuse. Simultaneously, our trails are not labyrinthic, but they have been designed to create large “islands” of natural forested area, which could allow animals to inhabit without being observed all the time. We also have a reforestation plot, where more than 3000 native trees have been planted since 2009 (from 1996 to 2011, Curi-Cancha was considered as a “Wildlife Refuge” by the Government), and we are using more recycled paper than ever before. I have always considered myself a “guerrillero” for the environment.

Q.- Does responsibility for climate change exist?

A.- The main responsible agent are human beings, we have accelerated the process. However, there are countries and companies with more accountability than others. Countries such as the United States have a larger impact than most. In the case of Costa Rica, the main agricultural companies have a bigger environmental impact than the average small-scale farmer.

Q.- Do you think that environmental awareness has increased during recent years?

A.- That might be true in the area of Monteverde, but I don´t believe that a substantial change has happened across the rest of the country.

Q.- Why do you think that a large portion of the population is still not actively involved in combating the current environmental issues, despite their importance?

A.- We need more environmental education at schools, but also at the family level. We need people conscious about how to love the planet and the life. Nowadays, it seems that many people are lacking will for living. A change in our lifestyle is necessary, which could flee from mass consumerism and could promote ideas to live in harmony with the planet. On my view, it is of special concern the case of people who live absorbed by technology, particularly the younger generations.

Q.- Do you consider that capitalism is a sustainable socioeconomic model to deal with the current environmental issues?

A.- I believe that, in the end, it will depend on the people. But it seems that currently, it is not a suitable model.

Q.- Are you familiar with the “Fridays for Future” movement?

A.- I´m afraid I´m not.

Q.- It is a social movement which has emerged in Europe, where youngsters around the world go on strike every Friday to demand more political action on the face of the current climate crisis. The movement began after a teenage girl, Greta Thunberg, of 16 years-old, decided to protest with a sign in front of the Swedish parliament in Stockholm, and has slowly been gaining supporters. What do you think about this type of movements?

A.- I think it´s perfect, we need more people like them.

After more than one hour of conversation, I thanked Mauricio and we went outside. We enjoyed the cheerful song of a Rufous-browed Peppershrike. It is a highly musical bird which usually inhabits forest edges and gardens of high-altitude regions, such as Monteverde. It seemed that it was also enjoying the good weather. However, as Mauricio mentioned, species ranges´ shifts are among some of the most visible climate change related impacts nowadays. In fact, this observation is widely supported by scientific research. According to Feeley et al., changes in tree species composition in some Costa Rican forests have been led by an increase in temperature. This entails interspecific competition phenomena between species which were not originally exposed to them, while also incrementing the transmission likelihood of vector-borne diseases which coexist better with higher temperatures. Without even mentioning that some amphibian species are not able to breed effectively above certain ranges of temperature (Blaustein et al., 2010).

Which is the future that awaits to the exuberant biodiversity of Monteverde? Where will all the species which are no longer able to cope with temperature increases go? And not least important, what will people do for a living in Monteverde, as most of their income comes from an ecotourism industry attracted by its species of animals and plants?

References:

Feeley, K., Hurtado, J., Saatchi, S., Silman, M. and Clark, D. (2013). Compositional shifts in Costa Rican forests due to climate-driven species migrations. Global Change Biology, 19(11).

Blaustein, A., Walls, S., Bancroft, B., Lawler, J., Searle, C. and Gervasi, S. (2010). Direct and Indirect Effects of Climate Change on Amphibian Populations. Diversity, 2(2), pp.281-313.