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Environmental Problems of Panama

March 4, 2008

Fulbright scholar and environmental Graduate Student Andres Tart will give a presentation on the envoronmental problems of Panama.

If the Isthmus of Panama did not exist, neither would you, me, or anyone else for that matter. The emergence of the Isthmus of Panama, some 4 million years ago, had planetary consequences: as the North and South American land masses became connected, the Central American Seaway between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans was interrupted, thus changing global climate and triggering the evolution of homo sapiens. The species exchange that resulted between North and South turned Panama into a biological diversity hotspot, with arguably the highest number of species per area of land in the world.

Since humans first arrived at this tiny strip of land, its commercial relevance has been undeniable: indigenous peoples traveled and traded across it, the Spaniards moved the loot from the Inca Empire through it on the way to Spain, entrepreneurs from the US East coast crossed it to get to California’s gold, and a canal was dug to pass boats from Atlantic to Pacific and back (polarizing its society in the process), thus shaping the ‘transitory’ culture of its inhabitants.

Today, after hundreds of years of migration related these and other events, Panama is a complex cultural/ethnical melting pot. Its metropolitan area - essentially a two-ocean port city – has evolved into a commercial, telecommunications, and transportation hub, and the country is being advertised by the real estate business as a ‘retirement paradise’. However, all this has come at a high cost: Panama is plagued with extreme social inequalities, and the pressure on its precious natural resources is rapidly increasing.