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Ecology and Society in CostaRica

Modern Languages Program

ESCUELA DE LA TIERRA (School of the Earth)
International Programs

Code Number: CN5000
Level: Undergraduate
Nature: Theoretical with field work
Type: Intensive summer session
Credit Hours: 4
Modality: 3 intensive weeks
Weekly hours: 20/3 weeks
Attending hours: mon-tues: 6 hrs each; wed-thurs: 4hrs each 
Independent study: 19 hours
Prerequisite: None

Jiri Spendlingwimmer
Jason Gearhardt
Detlev Quintern

Luis Diego Arias

1. Course description:

This class introduces the student to the relationships between the natural environment as a whole (ecology) and the society inhabiting and transforming Costa Rica’s geography, focusing on the large valley along the Pacific coast and the General and Terraba rivers’ basins. The class studies and characterizes the Mesoamerican and Costa Rican neo-tropics and societies; the crucial and growing issues emerging from the control and use of water resources; and the logic and consequences of industrialized agriculture, its use of agrochemicals, peasants displacement, local and international migrations, and threats to the indigenous societies and territories. Discussions in class emphasize practical examples that help understand conflict and cooperation between environmental and social actors.

2. General Educational Goals:

At the end of this class, the student will be able:
  • To characterize Costa Rica’s Neotropical environments and society, with an emphasis on the South Pacific Region;
  • To know the relevance and current trends on water control and use;
  • To describe how modern or industrial agriculture impacts on the natural environments and society; and
  • To experience and internalize the lives of people and landscapes where the class takes place.
3. Evaluation:

 Participation (classroom, chats and field trips)  25
 Readings & video reports and discussions  15
  Individual researches and group presentations  20
 Two short week review exams  20
  Final Exam  20

4. Methodology:

Education for peace strategies are used to promote communication, knowledge development, and the capabilities to organize successful groups and work teams. These include cooperative games and human rights in the class spaces. IT are used intensively to enhance individual and collective learning and communication. The class uses a blog to socialize and collect information and data from the participants. Teachers and groups of students introduce each class topic, followed by a general discussion. Readings and video reports are discussed separately. The field trips allow the students directly to experience the theoretical and methodological learning acquired in the classroom and the blog; these include visits to protected areas, agricultural lands, and the rural societies of Longo Mai and surrounding villages.

5. Educational Resources:

Faculty and assistants provide extra-class support to the students. Universidad Castro Carazo and ET have additional faculty and officials willing to help our students. Computing and library resources specialized in Costa Rica, Central America and Latin America are also available. Longo Mai and ET have a computer lab, library, experimental alternative agriculture projects, and an official Biological Reserve of about 450 Ha (about 1.300 acres). Universidad Castro Carazo has two regional centers nearby, one located in San Isidro and the other in Paso Canoas, by the border with Panama. These centers allow the use of university resources centered on San Jose and covering all Costa Rica, including the Registrar, library, and an also large natural reserve located on the Caribbean region.

Students read selections from:
  • Anderson, E., Pringle, C., & Rojas, C. (2006) Transforming tropical rivers: An environmental perspective on hydropower development in Costa Rica. Aquatic Conservation and Marine Fresh Water Ecosystems, N.16: 679-693.
  • Cuadrado Quesada, G. & Castro Vargas, S. (2009) The expansion of pineapple monoculture in Costa Rica in detriment of Human Rights. In Jonsen, J. (2009) Red Sugar, Green Deserts. Halmstad: FIAN International, FIAN Sweden, HIC-AL & SAL, pp:191-200.
  • Diepens, N. et al. (2014) Effects of Pesticides used in bananas and pineapple plantations on aquatic ecosystems in Costa Rica. Journal of Environmental Biology, Vol. 35, N.1: 73-84.
  • Holmgren, David (2017) Future Scenarios. Mapping the cultural implications of peak oil and climate change. 
  • Lyra, A. et al. (2016) Projections of climatic change impacts on Central America’s tropical forests. Springer Verlag, pp.1/13.
  • Mussio Vargas, M. Urban Development and its Impact on the Ecological Systems in Costa Rica. Available: https://goo.gl7XfuB4 1/14.
  • Veltmeyer, H. (2011) Us Imperialism in Latin America: Then and Now, Here and There. Estudios Criticos del Desarrollo, N.1, pp.89-123.
  • Vold, T. & Buffett D. (Eds.) Ecological Concept: Principles and Applications to Conservation. British Columbia: Biodiversity BC, pp.1/36.
  • Vorosmarty, C. et al (2010) Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity. Nature 467 (7315).

Students watch and report on the following films/videos:

6. Schedule of Activities:

 Week  Activities and topics (general description)
WEEK 1 Costa Rica: Between oceans, between continents: People and landscape
  •  Introductions and Syllabus presentation
  • History  and geography of CR
  • The South Pacific Region of Costa Rica
  • Anthropogenic ecological collapse and emerging responses
  • Approaching the local peasant culture
  • Field trips to Campo Grande Farm and to the Longo Mai Biological Reserve
 WEEK 2 Water: The Blue Gold conditioning peace and conflict  
  • World, regional and local hydric cycles
  • Why is water relevant to all, to everyone?
  • From perennial resource to expensive commodity and geopolitical tool
  • The Mesoamerican Project and the World Bank
  • Conflicts and death related to water issues: A growing threat
  • Field trips to rivers and springs, and to the local community water system.
 WEEK 3 Contamination and Agrochemicals  
  • Human consumption and population as contaminating agents
  • Privatization and the management of natural resources
  • Monocultures and ecological degradation
  • Human rights, poverty, disease and death resulting from monocultures and agrochemicals
  • Final discussion, summary of things learned, suggestions and proposals
  • Field trips to sugar cane, pineapple, and coffee plantations.