Who stopped the Rain?

July 4, 2009

Guanacaste Tree

Guanacaste Tree

The Howler Mag
By: Tom Peifer

The truth is that it is not raining much this year in Guanacaste. Depending on your area, perspective or source of data, we may be 80% below last year. Recent national forecasts say we’ll get something substantial in September and October. Maybe corn farmers will have better luck with their late-season planting.

The truth is, we don’t know if this is just a dry year after two wet years, or the beginning of a new pattern. Climate change models show Guanacaste becoming 30% drier but even that misses the point. They have long predicted that rainfall would come in more intense ‘events’. When that happens, more water ends up running off to the ocean, less goes into the ground. Thirty percent less rain may well translate into fifty percent drier. Nobody knows for sure.

Over the years in these columns we have explored ways to adapt your home, your farm or garden, to the realities of a changing world. A well-placed bump here and an infiltration zone there and, bingo, you have an area where your plants could swear they were living in the humid tropics. But, as Mark Twain wryly noted, common sense appears to be a very uncommon thing.

Let that thought hang there while considering that a dry year for Guanacaste may lead to lower levels in Lake Arenal and reduced electricity generation in one of the biggest hydropower installations of the country. Might have been a good idea for someone to ponder that variable before developing a surfeit of energy guzzling, air-conditioned, tourist industry infrastructure. Ditto for the proposed massive diversion of ground water and river flows to keep the lawns and golf courses green.

An ironic fact is that the current weakness of the whole edifice of the tourism-related economy is due to ‘other’ reasons. Inquiring minds can now follow the paper trail and see how the twin towers of tourism and related construction were erected on the less-than-stable subsoil of the expanding US real estate and financial bubble. Both evidence and testimony would appear to demonstrate that that bubble was blown to resuscitate the moribund US economy after the dot.com bubble popped.

Let’s cut to the chase here. What’s the next bubble? Trillions of dollars have been poured into rescue efforts. Many observers are skeptical that the future will rock steady to the tune of “Let the good times roll.” A recent conference in Russia—with US observers politely refused—is seen as a first step away from the dollar-based international monetary system. The truth is that there is a massive historical shift occurring and we are living through it.

The expression “living in a bubble” describes someone protected or isolated from reality. In the financial realm–which for many millions now impacts access to things like jobs, food, and shelter in addition to flights to Costa Rica—we can now observe the collective letdown of a return to stark reality. Let’s run with the analogy a bit.

I recently saw an article with a series of graphs that depict man’s increasing impact on nature. Statistics freaks call the form of the exponential rise of the curve from flat to vertical a “hockey stick.” Pick your favorite area of concern. It was there. Over-fishing of the oceans, depletion of forests, use of groundwater, species extinction, fertilizer consumption, use of fossil fuels, McDonald’s restaurants, air travel, CO2 in the atmosphere, extraction of minerals from the earth’s crust. Hockey sticks galore.

The truth is that the human race has benefited from a series of bubbles conveniently blown by the forces of nature. You can thank your lucky stars that we just happen to enjoy life in an atmosphere that conveniently affords protection from the inhospitable void of space and a nice convenient breathable gas called oxygen that conveniently comes out of plants that conveniently turn solar energy into stuff we can use. All in all, it has been a quite comfy place for the human race to hang its hat for a while—considering the alternatives. But, it would appear that humanity has been busily bursting the bubbles with the hockey stick curve of exponential economic growth and the collateral damage of resource consumption and its consequences.

Now they may not be hockey fans, but mainstream economists want to get back to exponential growth ASAP. Most are wont to entrust our fate to the workings of the invisible guiding hand that is supposedly able to replace anything with something else as long as the price is right.  Like they found the secret force which passes from the hand of God on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel and puts the spark of life into the lifeless clay of a recently moulded Adam. Inquiring minds can mull over the likelihood of market forces solving the shortage of rainfall in time for this year’s corn crop in Guanacaste, or next year’s electrical outages if Lake Arenal doesn’t fill up.

The truth is that even the White House recently released a report saying that localities need to prepare for the inevitable effects of climate change based on what we now know. We’re not talking more research. We’re talking adaptation—concrete action steps around the certainty, as we now know it. No more head in the clouds, head in the sand or pie in the sky. The stuff is comin’ down so people get ready. Like the Guanacaste proverb: hombre prevenido vale por dos (a well-prepared man is worth double…)

There are plenty of ‘baby steps’ you can take to prepare your home, garden or farm for a drier Guanacaste.

As a country, Costa Rica is several giant steps ahead of the pack in terms of coping with the vicissitudes of a future largely defined by climate change and both energy and water issues. Unfortunately the powers that be don’t realize what a comparative advantage they enjoy, or how to make best use of it.

As observed above, “The truth is tough,” but it may not resonate well with those whose power depends on adherence to the norms of yore. One of my favorite songs admonishes us to “tell the children the truth.” They may in fact be more receptive. After all, the ‘sins of their fathers’ are going to be visited unfairly on their heads, leaving them with far fewer bubbles to enjoy.

It bears remembering that most organisms survived by the luck of the genetic draw in the sudden-death casino of natural selection. If your genes moved in the right direction, you evolved fast enough to adapt, to keep up with the changin’ times. Homo sapiens, at least in theory, is a breed apart. We have the ability to see which way the wind is blowing and set the sails accordingly.

You can do your own kids a big favor. Tell them the truth and provide them with the knowledge and the tools to make a difference. Take the time—and effort–to blow some life back into the real bubbles, the natural ones that sustain us all and give us the gift of Pura Vida.

And yes, enjoy the fiesta time wonders that float, drift and rise like glittering spherical rainbows and make the children run, clapping their hands into the future with exuberance and happines.

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