Costa Rica's Sustainable Tourism Conference Begins

Planet People Peace logoOpening ceremonies of the first annual Planet People Peace conference on sustainable tourism took place tonite. The evening was an elegant setting filled with dignitaries, music, dancers and inspiration.

Costa Rica’s growing number of environmental achievements and successes were outlined, including that more than 26 percent of the country is under some sort of protection for conservation.

This country of four million people has a commitment to conserve its natural resources, said Minister of Tourism Flores. And, he added, almost 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity exists in Costa Rica alone!

CANECO logoCosta Rica, said Glen Jampol (President of CANAECO, the National Chamber of Ecotourism), is to be a world  leader in eco-tourism.

“The first thing people recognize about Costa Rica is eco-tourism,” said Dr. Kelly Bricker, Associate Professor at the University of Utah and Chair of the International Ecotourism Society. It’s something “for the rest of the world to live up to,” she said.

The conference, which  begins in full tomorrow morning, is centered around the four elements of Nature- earth, wind, fire and water. These combine the four essential elements of life, said Minister Flores.

The  evening’s entertainment was an exciting display of this.  Dance troup Symbiosis combined interpretive dance, music and video, along with a fire twirling display that held you riveted in your seat, vividly capturing Nature’s four aspects. 

Protecting the environment is a government-wide priority in Costa Rica, which has a goal of becoming a carbon neutral counry by 2021. Now THAT”S the way to become a world leader!

Organic Valley – more than a good brand

Organic Valley 2While attending Bioneers last week, I got to met some of the folks  from Organic Valley Family of Farms, a Bioneers co-sponsor. The “Food and Farming Banquet” they hosted Saturday night featured delicious organic food provided by various local farmers.

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Youth Eco-activists use media to spread their environmental message

Bioneers LogoYesterday, at the Bioneers conference,  a group of teenagers showed that being young doesn’t stop getting the message out about environmental issues.

Five high school students showed how a bit of creativity and using social media can make an impact.

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Speaking for the Rainforest

Surui ChiefAmong the speakers at the opening sessions of this morning’s Bioneers conference, perhaps the one that moved me most was by Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui, chief of the Surui (pronounced suhr’ ye) tribe of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

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Environmental Facts & Possibilities at Bioneers

Bioneers LogoMore from Bioneers 2009

Nina Simon gave tribute to Spokane, Washington, which  has achieved a real environmental transformation from their previous insular status.

“They’ve come a long way in creating an ecological, healthy and socially just world,” Simon said.

Her partner/co-founder Kenny Ausubel commented on the upcoming Copenhagen environmental summit. Even should we be able to reach the rigorous goals of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, he said,  the world would still reach a 7 degree Farenheit (4 degree Celsius) rise in temperature.

He outlined a bleak picture of climate chaos as seen by Mark Linas in his book Six Degrees

For balance, Ausubel spoke of a global “first” – that climate leadership will be a presidential issue in Brazil’s 2010 election. Not just that climate change is an issue, but that real leadership in the face of it is crucial.

He repeated the motto – “2020 or bust!”

Taking a more upbeat stance, Ausubel detailed some environmental “wins”:

  • the US dollar investment in solar and wind creates 50% more jobs than coal
  • California currently attracts 60% of all clean technology
  • that nature is beginning to be legislated its “legal rights” – Ecuador passed this groundbreaking legislation in 2008. Now countries like Peru, Bolivia and Columbia are considering doing the same!

As a Japanese businessman recently noted, it’s “Value change for survival”, Ausubel said.

Every system has to have limits to achieve balance, Nina Simon said later. But leadership can come from any perspective.

A valuable point, to be sure. As the saying goes, many paths  lead to the top of the mountain.

Bioneers 2009 – Messages of Environmental Hope and Reality

Bioneers LogoThe 20th annual Bioneers 2009 is underway in northern California.

Attending this leading-edge environmental conference are an incredibly diverse crowd of several thousand, along wi thousands thmore via media feed at college campuses across the country.

“It’s not a doom and gloom event,” said one participant who’s been coming for years. It’s focusing on what you can do instead, she said.

Like greeting extended family, husband and wife team Kenny Ausubel and Nina Simon (co-founders of Bioneers) opened  the morning, . Greg Sarris, Chairman of the Greater Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, representing the Coastal Miwok and Pomo tribes, then gave tradiional greetings.

Sarris told the sobering history of his people. Where there had once  been a thriving people numbering over 20,000 at “first contact”,  the tribes numbers fell to only 12, from whom the current 1,200 members descended.

He spoke about the importance of “coming home” to a land that’s sustainable once more. We now have to be mindful of the land “to the 7th generation,” Sarris said.

Sarris’ message was heightened by a traditional native blessing -first sung, then played on a movingly deep voiced wooden instrument.

Ausubel and Simon each spoke counterpoint on the various important aspects our cultural and societal environmental awareness. More on this and a comedic-yet-sobering look at our water crisis in my next post.

Border Governors Conference 2008 Part 4

According to Dr. Mario Jose Molina, a Nobel Laureate panelist for “A Conversation on Building Green Economies”, economic studies suggest that the cost of implementing new, more environmentally responsible pathways is 1% of the global GDP (Gross Domestic Product). “It’s something we can afford.”

Yet we aren’t moving forward in those new directions at warp speed. Some blame this on the current administration, and there is definitely responsibility to be laid at its feet. Some still say, however, that the technology we need to move forward isn’t there yet.

“Since Edison and the light bulb, there hasn’t been a good energy innovation,” said K.R. Shrider, CEO of Bloom Energy and former advisor to NASA. “And it’s about time,” he said.

When asked by the moderator what panelists would advise the next U.S. President about dealing with climate change, one panelist quoted Gandhi, saying “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Border Governors Conference 2008 Part 3

“Existing technology today”, said Nancy McFAdden, Senior Vice President of Pacific Gas & Electric, “could help us meet 50% of future needs.” A featured panelist at the “Conversations on Building Green Economies” at the Border Governors conference, McFadden said the problem is we don’t know how to take existing energy and use it efficiently.

It’s also a matter of direction. First world countries, said panelists, are moving along unworkable, unsustainable pathways. “The developed world,” said Pachauri, has to re-develop,” go a different direction.

“You can’t expect developing nations to see what we do and not want to emulate that. We have to set a different example,” he said.

It’s got to be about more than just us – what we want to do or have.

“We have a much bigger responsibility tan just taking care of ourselves,” said Pachauri.

Border Governors Conference 2008 Notable Beginnings 2

The threads of urgency and awareness were strong throughout the “A Conversation on Building Green Economies” panel on August 13th’s precursor to the Border Governors conference in Universal City, California.

Among the 6 esteemed panelists, Dr. Mario Jose Molina, Professor at U.C. San Diego and the first Mexican to receive the Nobel Prize in chemistry (his research led to the worldwide elimination of CFC’s from aerosols & refrigerators), said there’s no “silver bullet” to ending climate change or global warming.”We have to take many avenues – wind, solar, even nuclear – but we must start now,” he said.

Another Nobel Prize recipient, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Director General of Tate Energy Research Institute, offered a positive perspective. “If you reduce emissions, you reduce local pollution and you create jobs,” he said.

We don’t have to wait to make inroads in the right direction. “We don’t have to wait for new solutions to crystallize,” one panelist said.


Border Governors Conference 2008 Notable Beginnings

Governor Schwarzenneger's Initial Opening Remarks

Governor Schwarzenneger

Prior to the official opening of the 26th annual Border Governors conference, a noteworthy forum was held. In keeping with the conference’s theme, the topic of the panel was “A Conversation on Building Green Economies.”

The prestigious panel was comprised of 2 Nobel Peace Prize recipients, a former NASA advisor, several CEO’s of noted alternative energy companies, a top executive of Pacific Gas & Electric, and the leader of the carpenters’ union.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made a surprise appearance. With characteristic charisma and humor, in his opening remarks, he stressed that California has shown “we can have a clean environment and a thriving environment.” He emphasized that you can successfully “stimulate the economy and green technology.”

During his address, the Governor mentioned his recent discussion and commitment to California leading the way in alternative energy usage by powering 5 major government buildings completely with fuel cells, though no target date for this was given.

This announcement was met with excitement and resounding applause from attendees.

Acknowledging the importance and need for border states to “help each other”, the governor then introduced the 6 panelists and turned the discussion over to moderator Terry Tamminen, Director of the North America Foundation’s Climate Policy Program and a former Secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency.