Law 792:  Protecting Tropical Treasures: Environmental Policy in Costa Rica

Professors Heidi M. Hurd and Ralph Brubaker (Illinois College of Law)

In this two-credit graded course, students will learn about the impacts of climate change on tropical ecosystems and hydrological cycles; the effects of agri-business on local people, indigenous species, critical habitat, and migratory corridors; sustainable forest management practices; the pros and cons of eco-tourism; the effects of invasive species on both land and coral reef systems; and the legal tools that have succeeded and failed at inducing sustainable practices within a rapidly developing nation.

The course will expose students to three distinct regions of Costa Rica, each with their own lessons about the regulatory means by which sustainable choices can be encouraged or discouraged. The course will begin in the legendary tropical "cloud forests" of the Monteverde region in north-western Costa Rica. There students will learn how tropical forests function, explore the effects of climate change on these planetary “lungs,” master how sustainable management practices can protect life-saving biodiversity, investigate how coffee (a major global agri-export) is grown and what its costs are on the local ecosystem, and tackle the challenges of reforestation and water management in the region.

Students will then travel across the continental divide to the eastern Sarapiqui region of the country to learn about the environmental impacts of large export agriculture. There students will learn about cacao farms and chocolate production and visit industrial banana and pineapple plantations that raise serious concerns about the local impacts of the global market for products that are produced with large amounts of water, fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides and that rely on cheap labor by local people who have few alternative means of subsistence. From Sarapiqui students will venture on to Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, where they will critically investigate the promise of eco-tourism as an effective tool for conservation, learn about the devastating impacts of saltwater invasive species, and snorkel through the Caribbean coral reef to witness first hand both its spectacular biodiversity and the impacts of climate change-induced acidification on its sensitive coral species.

Prerequisites: Enrollment in this course is by application only. There are no pre-requisites for this course. But priority will be given to students who have provable interests in environmental/sustainability issues, social justice issues, and/or international development/trade issues, all broadly conceived. Such interests can be demonstrated through past course work (in high school, undergraduate studies, and law/graduate work), by enrollment in Fall 2022 courses at the College of Law or within other University of Illinois colleges/departments that address these kinds of issues, as well as by past employment, volunteerism, and travel experiences. If you do not have relevant school, work, volunteer, or travel experience, you may write an essay that explains your desire to enroll in the course and that provides a basis for believing that you will be an active, engaged, committed student whose involvement will be based on course-related interests rather than a desire for mere tourism.

Evaluation: Course requirements will include a Fall 2022 semester group research project that will involve compiling reading materials on topics relevant to the central lessons of the course and preparing for and then playing a central in a group-led discussion/activity during the January 2023 Costa Rica study abroad trip. Students will return from the January trip to write a research paper on a topic relevant to and inspired by the course that will be due one month later, on February 15, 2023.

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