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Backpacker Magazine – April 2008

Carbon-Neutral Costa Rica: How I Lost 5,400 lbs While Packing for the Trip of a Lifetime

In search of a guilt-free adventure in the tropics, Jason Daley discovers the line between saving the world–and seeing it.

by: Jason Daley, Illustrations by Marcos Chin

Illustration by Marcos Chin
Illustration by Marcos Chin

One evening, heading into the dark basement to fetch a jar of green beans, I missed a step and tumbled down the last two stairs, landing hard on the cold concrete floor. I lay there nursing my foot. I worried that I would have to drive 24 miles roundtrip to the nearest emergency room if my ankle was broken, and then make several more trips for follow-up exams. And that's not counting the cast, the crutches, the painkillers. Lying in my frigid, air-raid-dark basement, I estimated that a broken ankle would cost me upwards of 200 pounds.

Then I heard something on the stairs in the blackness. A shivering Oscar padded over and licked my stubbly chin, bringing me back to my senses. It occurred to me that my simple mission had become a twisted obsession, as if I could reverse climate change on my own if I just got rank enough. Did I really think that living in the dark would get me a ride in George Clooney's Tesla? I can't say for certain if my final two-week freakout put me over the top or not. But even after making necessary adjustments to save my marriage–like goosing the thermostat and taking longer showers–I had cut our annual emissions by 32 percent, an impressive figure by any measure. So I carpooled it to the airport and got on my flight to Costa Rica, and felt no remorse as I sipped my ginger ale over the Gulf.

Nor do I feel any guilt here in the Monteverde jungle. My ankle has healed, my conscience is clear, and that howler might reveal itself yet. More importantly, I'll really know what people are talking about when they say "Save the Rainforest." I could try to justify my flight by reciting the old chestnuts–travel raises awareness, which ultimately outweighs the damage done by flying–but there's no way to prove that. What I do know is that environmental commitment needs to be based on dreams, not sacrifices. Lying on a cold floor wondering how to stop cows from farting? Not gonna cut it. Chasing monkeys through the cloud forest? Occasionally, an experience like that is worth its weight in jet fuel.

Jason Daley swears he took a short shower and enjoyed a grilled-cheese dinner when he returned from Costa Rica.

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