image of Alvaro Ugalde climbing hill

In Alvaro’s Words

Draft acceptance speech for the 2010 Latin Trade Bravo Business Award for Environmentalist of the Year

On Behalf of the Natural Environment

I accept the honor of this recognition on behalf of the natural environment, which, in general terms, has few voices in business.

It isn’t very often that I have the chance to speak to folks in business. I suspect the feeling is mutual. My training and career has been devoted entirely to environmental preservation and ecology. My life passion is and has been the natural world of Costa Rica, a tiny country with unbelievable richness in fauna and flora. The closest I have come to be in business is to figure out whether and how much to charge entrance fees at the Costa Rican National Parks. As a business novice, why am I here?

I would like to take this opportunity to tell you a little of my personal history, so that you may appreciate how my work led me to be recognized by the business world. My start, my connection with business or anything to do with the economy has been serendipitous, totally unplanned and certainly counterintuitive for my work to have the ripple effects in the Costa Rican business community that has taken place in the last two decades. In that sense, it is a story worth telling.

I was a beginning college Junior in Biology when my government decided to have its first National Park. Costa Rica, a country of ___ M population and 50K sq km in size, has none at the time. Through my professors, I was sent to the US to be trained by the US Park Services for several months. ...

I devoted all my energy to the the national parks. While I was personally neutral to profits and business. In fact, many of my directives could have been considered anti-business. (List them)

VERY brief description of the state of nation between years 1980-2010, ie. population, economy (export, import), education, forest coverage etc.

What was happening, of course, is that Costa Rica, a nation based on an agricultural economy found itself slowly having to adapt to the world economy, tourism trickled in at first. Now it has taken over as first money maker in the national economy. As an indirect t consequence, Costa Rica’s natural wealth has earned the recognition of the rest of the world. Think, however, if the nation has squandered that wealth, how much worst off things could have been.

If I may have two messages to impart tonight, it would be:

Conservationists and businessmen are often polarized in priorities and their dialogues. The very reasons we are pitted against one another is because we recognized that our earthly resources have limits. If they were truly unlimited, there would no need to compete for them. If we need to share, then are we better off working together or working against one another? Rationally, there is no going around the fact that we must care for, share and conserve our natural heritage. We must all become stewards of our biosphere. Our natural wealth IS our only real and long-term wealth. As businessmen, I am certain that you would be the first to point out the importance of long-term assets. Then, you and I are on the same side of the fence and don’t let anyone convince you differently. So let’s work together to find the balance.

My second message is to counter the economist’s mantra that “growth is good, more growth is better”. From a biologist point of view, uncontrolled growth is the characteristic of a cancer. As you know, the growing list of tumors that we humans have to live with is becoming the number one killer, next to food related diseases (heart diseases, obesity, diabetes etc). I am sure you would also agree with me that growing waste dumps and toxic materials, the enormous contaminated food recalls, the growing burden on healthcare, the growing environmental contamination, are undesirable. Until we deal with the roots of those problems, until we confront the reasons for the diminishing carrying capacity of our earth, Earth will survive, but we humans we lose our place on earth.