Among banana plantations and hydro-power dams, Eli Arbogast is getting some hands-on study of Latin American environmentalism and sustainability during a summer-long internship.
The recent Oberlin High School graduate was sent abroad for an eight-week internship at Earth University in Costa Rica, where he has delved into issues related to global hunger and poverty.
Arbogast has spent time in labs and in rural Costa Rica collecting samples, interviewing farmers, and gathering data for his research project. At the end, he’ll write a 15-page paper and present his findings at a conference in Iowa.
Now in his fifth week, he is “starting to see the problem that exists between Costa Rica’s public perception and the realities in the country,” he said in a blog post, one of three he’s written so far.
Policy and public attitudes in the country heavily favor the environment — but business and capitalism still hold a heavy claim on most of the world, and Costa Rica is no exception, he said.
“No matter how much the people of the country love the natural world, large manufacturers still exploit the natural environment for profit,” Arbogast said. “Large fruit monocultures exist throughout the country that directly harm the environment through deforestation and pollution, and indirectly through reducing biodiversity.”
Costa Rica is an exporter of a variety of crops such as bananas, pineapples, and coffee.
Even farms that were created specifically for the environment face issues, Arbogast wrote. Right on Earth University’s campus is a banana plantation that sells exclusively to Whole Foods stores in the U.S.
Tourism is also hurting the environment, Arbogast said. He’s witnessed plastic strewn on riversides and crocodiles near death from pollution and from being fed unhealthy food “for the sake of tourism,” he said.
On a trip to Isla Tortuga, he passed large patches of garbage, plastic, and red tide, a rapidly-reproducing micro-algae that is deadly to coral reefs and most fish species. It is caused mainly by chemical runoff from farms and industry.
Arbogast said he is confident that Costa Rica can be one of the first countries to reach carbon neutrality, though there are still many problems to confront.
“The country is in no way ‘done’ with its environmentalism,” he said. “…but what I have seen is that unlike much of the world, Costa Ricans are willing to take action.”
A prerequisite for the internship is attending the three-day World Food Prize Global Youth Institute, held each October.
In August, Arbogast will attend Carleton College in Minnesota and study biology or chemistry.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.
A banana plantation is located on Earth University’s campus.