As Steven Hawking predicts we have 100 years left, we’re looking to Costa Rica for sustainability done right

This article was created for The Travel Project by Ginny Copestake, six-two's Global editor.

In case you missed the most depressing news since that US election bombshell of 2016, renowned theoretical physicist and all round genius Stephen Hawking predicted last week that at the rate we are going, we have 100 years of survival left on Earth.

100 years. You read that right.

Any guesses as to why? You got it – climate change (and AI, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish). And whilst there are some who still swear blind that climate change is a myth, I think for the most part people get it. We need to change, and we need to change fast. Our population is growing at an exponential rate (we’re set to hit 10 billion by 2050), and our policy makers and global decision makers simply can’t keep up.

Or can they?

Well, let’s cast our eyes for a moment to a tiny country in Central America, where sustainability isn’t just a nice to have, it’s a way of life.

A country that is smaller than the size of Lake Michigan, and yet is home to over 500,000 species of animals, birds and insects (that’s nearly 4% of all species on earth).

Of course, we are talking about Costa Rica, where the facts do the talking:

1 – Costa Rica consistently tops the Happy Planet Index

How are sustainability and happiness linked? Simple – by policies. Unlike pretty much every other country in the world, Costa Rica has built its entire governance model around its ability to face major environmental and health challenges. Costa Rica doesn’t just put good practices in place, it actually uses these practices to grow its economy, meaning more opportunities for its people. Genius, huh?

2 – It’s the only tropical nation ever to have reversed deforestation

After decades of aggressive tree clearing for agriculture and livestock production, Costa Rica implemented policies in the 1980s that allowed forests to be re-grown in a major way. Today, over half of the country is covered in forest, as opposed to just 26% in 1983.

3 – 99% of the county’s electricity is produced from renewable sources

The country is powered by a mix of hydro, geothermal (volcanoes), wind, solar and hydro power. Incredibly, Costa Rica harnesses the power of its (very active) volcanoes to produce roughly 10% of the entire countries electricity.

4 – More than 5% of the world’s bio-diversity can be found in the country, despite a landmass that covers just 0.03% of the planet

You ready for the numbers?

750,000 species of insects, 20,000 species of spider, 10% of the world’s butterflies, 52 species of hummingbirds and ALL the sloths live within the county’s borders.

5 – 25% of the land is protected

Consider this to, say, America, where just 12% of the land is protected, and it’s pretty impressive. Costa Rica has over 100 protected areas, 801 miles of coastline, and 121 volcanic formations. GET ME THERE NOW.

6 – Costa Rican’s have a life expectancy of 79, one of the highest in the world

The country is one of the world’s few blue zones, where many people live for over 100 years. Sure this has a lot to do with the fact that the healthcare system is pretty stellar, but it also has a HUGE amount to do with the fact that the air is clean, people live a life predominantly outdoors, and people are happy, pure and simple.

7 – There is a 96% literacy rate

Not necessarily to do with sustainability, but just proves how friggin’ awesome this place is, and how committed they are to their future. Even in rural areas where people are poor, classes are taught on air over national radio.

8 – Costa Rica is intending to be completely carbon neutral by 2020

And you know what? They are 100% going to get there.

Want to know how this green idyll of a county uses tourism (aka you guys) to reach its sustainability goals. We sent Seth Maxwell, CEO of the Thirst Project, to Costa Rica, to discover just that. Trust me, this is worth a read.

  • Richard Morris

    Theft and burglary is rampant in Costa Rica. In the middle of Banana Republic, narco nations, it’s a matter of time before CR goes under….and it’s not cheap where it’s safe.

    • Allan Cantillo

      Yea, it is very sad to be in the transit area to USA and all the drug consumers over there. That’s why we are doomed. We try, but it not easy to be in a drug war with such powerful money magnet.

  • Eugenia Rodríguez

    If Costa Rica is an example,the world is doomed. I have lived here all my life and I don’t like what I see. There are some environmental efforts but far from being enough.

    • Yesenia Gonzalez

      Imagine the other countries in the world!, by the way, were you part of any of the several groups doing all these efforts? If not, then I understand why you are doing this comment.

    • Ana Carolina Rodriguez-Kilby

      That’s exactly the point, imagine how much more developed countries could accomplish if they set their minds to it.

  • Arthur Mitchell

    After almost 5 years of living in CR, rarely saw a home or apartment without iron bars on every window and door; and for good reason of course, thieves rule, are rarely caught, and will break into any home or auto if unsecured, police are useless. Pick pocketing is a way of life too.These are the most dangerous of parasites, along with the numerous bloodsucking insects. You take your life in your hands walking with the green light in all the cities, taxi’s are in swarms, and since cars have the right of way, will be happy to run you over. Unless you eat in the best restaurants, meals are 80% carb, and any meat is expensive and rarely tasty. RFeal estate agents and lawyers for the most part are crooked.

    • Ana Carolina Rodriguez-Kilby

      Sounds like you need to take action and move to a country where “everything is perfect” and “just” the President is an embarrassment…

  • Jesse Blenn

    I am Costa Rican. Sadly, even though the noble goal of Carbon Neutral 2020 was promoted several years ago, NOTHING was done to control the growth and pollition of motor vehicles (other than emission tests to stop those with bad engines). Last year they admitted that IT WONT HAPPEN. There is an electric vehicle promotion law in the legislature but we have been waiting many months to see if it will be for real. Meanwhile the pollution vehicle fleet grows 7% per year meaning that with 40% more cars in 5 years traffic around San Jose will be impossible compared to the ugly it is now. COSTA RICA IS AN EXAMPLE OF GOVERNMENT INCOMPETENCE.