Sunday, August 1, 2010

Colombia's Carbonized Future

Historically, Colombia hasn't pumped a tremendous amount of carbon into our atmosphere - two of the nation's traditional exports, coffee and emeralds, are relatively benign. Recently, Yale and Columbia universities even ranked Colombia tenth in the world for environmental sustainability. In 2007, Colombia's carbon output was only 1.4 tons per-capita, much less than Ecuador's 2.4 tons and only a fraction of Venezuela's 2006 output of 6.4 tons.

But, thanks to increased security across the country, Colombia plans to dramatically increase its coal and petroleum production over the next few years. And, even if Colombia exports nearly all of that oil and coal, just the getting it out of the ground will mean lots of destroyed jungle - and even more when campesinos use those oil company-built roads and pipeline routes to invade and deforest more areas.

Once Colombia's oil and coal money start flowing, will politicians yield to short-term temptation and buy votes by subsidizing gasoline prices, as Ecuador and Venezuela have done, with disastrous environmental and social effects? Or, will it store the money away, as Norway has done, and use it to finance long-term needs like education, infrastructure and environmental protection, which really build a country?

Colombia will also have to take care to avoid the pernicous effects of raw material exports on its economy and delicate democracy. To see the alternative, all Colombians need to do is look east, where oil-rich Venezuela suffers high poverty and inflation and is sliding deeper and deeper into authoritarianism.

Written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours and Rentals

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