Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name



Political Science

Degree Program

College of Arts and Sciences

Committee Member

Merry, Melissa

Committee Member

Kolers, Avery

Committee Member

Clukey, Amy

Author's Keywords

payment for environmental services; environmental ethics; access; Costa Rica


This paper examines the effectiveness of Costa Rica’s Payments for Environmental Services, or PSA program, which provides government subsidies to participants who protect forested lands or reforest their land. Effectiveness is determined in terms of the program’s progress in reversing deforestation and generating reforestation efforts, with particular attention paid to the success and failings of the program in reaching small landowners. The claim that the PSA program can act as a tool for human development is evaluated through its accessibility to small landowners. Finally, the ethical costs and benefits of the market based scheme underlying the PSA program as a process of commodifying nature is examined, looking to existing literature to determine if market based solutions negatively or positively change the values small landowners hold about the environment. This paper fills a unique gap in the existing research on Costa Rica’s PSA program as it combines practical concerns about the effectiveness of an environmental policy with questions of equity and ethics. Methodologies of policy analysis, a sociological approach, and philosophical examination of the PSA program are synthesized to conclude that the program is somewhat effective in curbing deforestation and regenerating reforestation, institutional and financial barriers still restrict small landowner access to the program, and ethical concerns about the nature of the program have remained unrealized. Answering these questions supports the conclusion that the PSA program should continue to be implemented, but understood as only one small part of the fight in addressing the climate crisis.

Lay Summary

In 1997, Costa Rica enacted the first Payment for Environmental Services program, in which landowners receive subsidies from the government for preserving forest lands or reforesting their lands. This thesis answers three questions about the effects of the program, combining work from political scientists, sociologists, and philosophers to determine if the program is effective in its goals of protecting the environment, fair in its accessibility to small or poor landowners, and ethical in its impacts on human-nature relationships.