Wednesday, May 6, 2009

For the last month, my students and I have been discussing sustainability, both here in Costa Rica as well as in the US.  I asked them to list things they do already, things they plan to do, and general observations about sustainability in Costa Rica and in their Tico families.  Below are excerpts from three of their journals (with some minor editing):

Written by Heidi Lewis:

Things I already do: conserve water when brushing my teeth, recycle, use my own herbs from our herb garden back home in VA, I conserve water by not flushing the toilet every time I use it, I usually bring my own bags to grocery stores, I buy organic produce even though it tends to be more costly (but it tastes better too!), I have 2 reusable water bottles, I never press ‘yes’ for receipts at gas stations or at ATM machines, and I recycle newspapers.

Things I want to do: plant my own garden at Elon with vegetables and herbs, get a barrel for reusing rain water, take shorter showers, ask about sustainability when staying at hotels/resorts, buy power strips for my townhouse at Elon, buy from local vendors and make my housing greener, buy eco-friendly toilet paper/paper towels/light bulbs, buy eco-friendly cleaning supplies, turn my computer off when I am not using it for an extended period of time, and carpool/walk/use my bicycle more.

Written by Eric Hale: 

Being in Costa Rica has also greatly changed the way I live my daily life. The Tico lifestyle is not one of excess. They never leave a room without turning off the light, and in general use as much natural light as possible to lower energy use. Dishwashers really don’t exist here, so everything is hand dried, cutting down on the amount of water used. Costa Ricans don’t have food disposals so no food goes to waste, and culturally, if it isn’t eaten it is a sign of disrespect. However, all of the banana peels, mango cores, watermelon skin, etc. are not reused and just thrown away. 

In addition, my Tico family only has enough plates and cups for about 6 people, when in contrast my family at home has enough for 20. Costa Ricans also don’t have dryers so they dry everything on clothes lines. Due to the over abundance of vehicles and congestion of traffic in the city, San Jose permits drivers to only drive their cars on certain days of the week. My family does not even have a car, so they have to rely on public transportation to do everything.  These simple daily things have made a huge impact on the way I now live my daily life. I am no longer dependent on television, computers, or air-conditioning. I have much larger faith in public transportation and plan on using this summer to get to and from work.

I have committed to lowering my water use, by taking quicker, less hot, showers and hand washing dishes that are not that dirty. I have also become a fan of buying from local markets. If only Elon had bakeries and side fruit venders at every corner, then I would never need to go to a supermarket again.

Written by Ellen Boyle 

The idea of sustainability and conservation has been a constant theme throughout my time spent studying and living in San Jose. Before coming to Costa Rica I expected a country full of greenery, animals, and environmentally conscious citizens. Perhaps I was a bit naïve. I can distinctly remember my dad asking me “Do you ever see monkeys when walking down the street?” and I replied with laughter and an “of course not…I’m in the city!” However, even while saying this, I felt a little guilty because for some reason I kind of expected this type of scene as well. While San Jose was not what I anticipated as far as plentiful amounts of greenery and wildlife, there are certain aspects of sustainability that its citizens rightfully so take pride in. 

My host family is the model example of how to live without excess amounts of waste. She does not own a car and regularly walks in order to complete daily errands. Water is limited and always conserved. I would feel horrible for wasting food and I know that leftovers are always reused in a different form. There are many lessons I have taken away from my time spent in Costa Rica, the most important lesson probably being that it is ok to live out of my comfort zone. Perhaps the greatest reason we have problems with sustaining the environment around the world is because people are simply afraid to change their lifestyles that have become so second-nature to them. It is easy and habit forming to rely on the convenience of driving anywhere on a moment’s notice without thought of public transportation. It is easy and convenient to buy prepackaged food, slit the plastic top, heat in the microwave, and throw away the remaining packaging and food. It is easy and relaxing to enjoy long, hot showers. However, Costa Rica ripped me away from my normal comforts and routines and has slowly transformed me to not only being ok with change, but embracing this new approach to living.

When hit with the question of what I will do upon my return to the United States in terms of continuing and increasing my environmental efforts, I was initially at a loss of how to respond to the question. But as I looked through pictures, read my journal entries, and reflected on the spectacular views I have seen in nature here in Costa Rica, the answers began to flood over me. I know for a fact that I will commit to shelling out the extra money to buy more organic and healthy foods. I know the benefits extend far beyond increasing the longevity of my own body and extend to sustaining the very earth and air of the planet as well. I am committed to creating less waste. I will not buy as many products that do not come in recyclable containers. I will also continue to try and keep up with energy saving appliances and energy sources. While I have already replaced my traditional light bulbs with the energy saving kind, I know there are many other adaptations I can make and intend on gradually making the switch to “greenify” my house and environment. 

We have only one earth, and while the planet seems to be so big and containing unlimited amounts of resources, these assumptions are horribly false. It is ok to think in terms of small changes, but I hope to dream big when it comes to modifying my life in order to help sustain the environment. It is nice to think that if everyone in the world just made small changes that we could severely slow down the harm that seems destined to chip away at earth, but I also recognize that at this point in time it is not realistic that everyone in the world will makes these small changes that create inconveniences to their comfortable lifestyles. Because of this realization, I believe it is the responsibility of those who have been educated on the need for sustainability of our planet to not just think small adjustments. For we have learned that we can handle more than minor changes and inconveniences. We are capable of altering our previous lifestyles in ways that can not only help make up for the lack of world-wide commitment to sustaining the planet, but also for creating an increased passion and demand for healthier practices in our communities. The success and health of our planet can only be as big as the sacrifices we are willing to make.

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