Green Encounters: Shaping and Contesting Environmentalism in Rural Costa Rica

By Carrier, James G. | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, March 2007 | Go to article overview

Green Encounters: Shaping and Contesting Environmentalism in Rural Costa Rica


Carrier, James G., Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute


VIVANCO, LUIS A. Green encounters: shaping and contesting environmentalism in rural Costa Rica. xv, 222 pp., maps, illus., bibliogr. Oxford, New York: Berghahn Books, 2006. [pounds sterling]45.00 (cloth), [pounds sterling]17.95 (paper)

If we are to understand modern conservation of nature, we need to see environmentalism not as a thing, but as a process. That is the approach Vivanco takes in his table of the history of an important environmentalist site, the cloud forest reserves of Monte Verde, in western Costa Rica.

The core of the book is six chapters divided into three sections. The first is concerned with the emergence of Monte Verde as an environmental location, how a particular place came to be seen as worth saving from degradation. The second and longest section is concerned with the social side of environmental conservation, the ways in which environmentalists dealt with and sought to affect the social and economic lives of people living near the protected areas. The third and briefest section is concerned with ecotourism, the ways in which growing nature tourism affects the operation of the protected areas and the people who live nearby. These sections are not comprehensive discussions of the topics that concern them, but revolve around specific incidents that are useful points of entry to the issues that Vivanco wants to discuss.

Those issues are important in seeing how a particular place can come to be seen as especially important environmentally. So, for instance, Costa Rica's cloud forests are not uniquely important environmentally: other places have equal claims. How did these forests come to be the place where a large number of environmental scientists carried out research? How did they come to be the focus of a world-wide campaign to save nature? The answer is, to a large degree, historical accident. The presence of congenial Americans made it an attractive place to do research, and a talk by an American researcher at a Swedish primary school turned into the International Children's Rainforest Network and more than $2 million in donations.

Those issues are important also for seeing the consequences of the elevation of Monte Verde to an exalted status in environmental conservation. Some consequences are expectable, arising from the orientation of environmental science and institutional donors or the publicity of organizations like the International Children's Rainforest Network: people are a threat to the environment and need to be kept out, especially poor, land-hungry Central American peasants. …

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