31 March, 2012

The Environment / El Medio Ambiente

As mentioned in my previous post, Colombia has a lot of impressive stuff. One of the most spectacular things here is its natural beauty - and this from someone who's only been to two sites outside Bogotá! I can't wait to explore the rest of this country.

Sadly, part of my desire to 'escape' Bogotá is to literally escape the pollution here in the capital. All kinds of vehicles, public and private, zoom by spewing out clouds of black smoke as they go. The buses and lories are the worst offenders:

(I wish I had been brave enough to take a photo like this myself, but instead I thank this blog)

In a city where more people are killed or injured every year in traffic accidents than in street crimes (I have no links in English to back that up, sorry) I understand that there are more urgent priorities. Similarly, as I have felt the frustration of the trancones myself I know that on a day to day basis reducing the number of vehicles on the road feels more important than what's coming out the back of said vehicles (and there are indeed various schemes to reduce traffic: an annual car free day (world's largest!) and pico y placa, for example).

It just seems so strange to compare the UK and Colombia in this way. In London everything is grey all the time (unless you have the fortune to be in one of the many wonderful parks on a sunny day). We don't really have much 'environment' (of the world-famous variety) around to protect. In Bogotá, however, there are so many grassy embankments in the middle of roads and so many flowering bushes by the sides of the pavements that even when it's pouring with rain you are surrounded by vibrant hues.  Yet it is in London that you find mandatory recycling schemes in houses (with up to 5 separate categories no less!), in London you find organic food, in London if you drive an eco-friendly vehicle you pay less tax, in London if a car produces too much pollution then it fails its MOT and can't be used until it's fixed, in London you often have to pay to receive a plastic carrier bag.... We have nothing compared to Colombia yet we protect it so fiercely, or is it better to say 'publicly'?

The Andes, covered with jungle and sunshine. Not a view I think we have in the UK.

For there is a lot of protection going on here, just not on quite as obvious (bureaucratic?) a scale:
The metal bins in the Simon Bolivar are compartmentalised and colour coded, and can even be swung down by children so that they can put their own waste in the correct place, and they look a lot older than the similar (plastic! = fail) bins in Oxford Street.
In houses and flats all over Bogotá the desire to save electricity and water borders on the obsessive (I do, however, suspect it is more about the money than the environment, but as noone admits that I must give them points for being green). In fact last year's "Earth Hour" was one of the more enthusiastic.
In Colombia, thanks to the 'eternal spring' there are always fresh fruit and vegetables available in season, so not as much of it has to be grown in greenhouses/imported from the other side of the world (added bonus: it tastes so much better too!), and almost every street has a greengrocers where the selection changes pretty much daily.
The Ciclovía was not only invented in Bogotá, but is one of the worlds largest. It's also a lot of fun :D
In primary schools children are not just able to draw you a reasonable map of Colombia, but tell you which parts are hot or cold and why, why they don't really have four seasons, what they have instead and how it works, and why Europe does have seasons. It may be that I just don't remember that part of my childhood (without cheating, do you know what the 'Coriolis effect' is and how it affects the weather here?), but the majority of adults here can also explain all of the above with labelled diagrams, so even if I was taught it, the Colombians were obviously taught 'better.'
In short, it looks like everyone here is aware of the problems the environment faces, and everyone wants to do what they can.

So, I will leave you with a picture of the "lungs of the Earth," something that everyone (except the darn bus drivers and plastic-bag-givers!) is trying to protect:

Confession: not the real Amazon. 
This photo was actually taken in the Botanical Gardens in Bogotá :D


  1. Good one, I am chilean and still haven´t visited Colombia, have fun.

  2. Just done a massive post and the power went as I clicked 'publish'. It was really good too. Doh!