Last month, I was lucky enough to visit Costa Rica to attend a friend’s wedding. Costa Rica is wonderfully progressive environmentally. In 2007, the Costa Rican government announced plans to become the first carbon neutral country by 2021, and the New Economics Foundation considers it the greenest country in the world! I witnessed this environmentalism stemming from three things: constant warm climate, bountiful water, and low-income.
With a consistently warm climate, buildings were more of a convenience than a necessity. (I noticed this with just a touch of bitterness having come mid-winder from icy cold West Virginia.) In the rainforest, where we spent most of our time, roofs were necessary, but living spaces, offices, and shops — where possessions needed to be protected — were basically the only structures with four walls. I don’t think I went to a single restaurant that was more than a fancy pavilion. No storm windows, no insulation, no radiators…it was remarkable to think of how much weather affects how we live.
One scene that I remember that combined all three causes was in a shack on the side of a road. There were a few shacks, each with three walls and open in the front, that vendors had set up to sell goods. I saw one vendor take a plastic grocery bag to the ditch beside the road that was flowing with water. She scooped some up, and I saw it dribbling out of holes worn in the bottom. She took it up the embankment and splashed the water on the floor of her shop. I watched the dust clear out and the water trickle back down to the ditch. I was struck with how completely reasonable that was and yet how foreign! I feel wealthy societies get to the point where they feel they can afford to be wasteful, but environmentally speaking, of course, no one can afford to be wasteful.
I spent most of the time at the foot of Volcano Arenal, at a ridiculously cool resort. What made it great: more than a dozen hot spring pools, beautiful landscaping, and wonderful architecture. I admit that the architecture that tied together the pools, the gardens, and the structures was due only to visionary designers and execution, but the hot springs and vegetation would be there, resort or not. It felt luxurious to be in a beautiful and warm outdoor pool, but if there’s one thing a rainforest has plenty of, it’s water…and if there are two things it has, another would surely be an abundance of plant life. So even a resort, which just the word generally smacks of excess, was ecologically sound. One morning there was a strange noise from behind my family’s room. It was the sound of the outdoor sink, and I saw a staff member washing something plastic. I realized at once that this was their solution to something I had noticed earlier. Out front of each room were waste, organic waste, and recycling bins, lined with plastic bags. I’d been delighted to see the bins but thought the plastic bags were a bad system. However, the staff member was washing out the bags to reuse them. What are the chances that would happen in the US?