Green with Envy
By Toh Hsien Min
I was slicing through the papaya at breakfast when there was a flutter at the porch railing. An urraca had dropped by to say hello, its ornamental crest feathers quivering as it bobbed its head this way and that in curiosity. It was so close that I barely had to set any digital zoom on the mobile camera to capture the velveteen lustre of its twilight-coloured feathers contrasting with the foliage lit up by the morning sun behind it.
It was just another morning in Costa Rica, one of the more remarkable countries on earth. I say this because I've never seen another country for which ecological considerations are so much at the forefront of how the country governs itself. Take energy, for instance. Three-quarters of Costa Rica's electricity generation comes from hydroelectric power, supplemented by other renewables such as wind power. Only a shade over 6% of the electricity comes from polluting thermal sources such as hydrocarbons, and it is well on the way to its goal of becoming the world's first carbon-neutral country by 2020.
Along the way, Costa Rica officially conserves over a quarter of its land, operates a system of development that requires property developers to prevent, mitigate or compensate for environmental effects, and outlaws certain kinds of development altogether, such as building upon riverbanks. If the country's environmental protection agencies sense that a destination is experiencing degradation from visitor numbers, they have no hesitation in closing it altogether to allow nature to regenerate, as this is accepted to be more important than the incremental tourist dollar.
The reward of this stewardship is one of the most biologically rich countries on earth, by some accounts responsible for some 6% of the planet's biodiversity in just 0.03% of its surface area. And it is quite the experience for the visitor, particularly one used to the limited natural interactions of the city. Wild coati walk up to the volcano observatory lodge, sloths hang upon tree branches in open sight, turkey buzzards gaze down on you from their perches, and the venomous eyelash pit viper is allowed to sleep unmolested on a branch scant metres from passing tourists.
I'm not sure leaving the pit viper well alone would have been possible in Singapore, where wild chickens in the Sin Ming area have been put down by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority in response to complaints about noise, but it's something to strive for in spirit if not in that actual instance. We have a limited amount of nature in our city, and we should try to co-exist with it where possible. That's why I have some hope every morning when I walk past Dhoby Ghaut Green and spot the wild chickens probing the grass for worms, or when either of the pair of hornbills nesting somewhere around Mount Emily stop by my balcony to say hello.
This issue of QLRS has some unusual feathers. For a start, we typically publish a few more poems than short stories, but this time round the numbers have come out even. Among the former, we have a poem paired with an artwork by a Singapore artist, and as for the latter the pairing is between two short stories written from two alternate perspectives. For a third change, we've decided to pause on 'For the record' (although feel free to write in if you'd rather we didn't), but our other regular feature, the Proust Questionnaire, continues in rude health, with a bunch of questions for Tash Aw that are quite different from Sumiko's. All the better, we hope, for Singapore's literary biodiversity.QLRS Vol. 17 No. 1 Jan 2018