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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.
Backpacker_Magazine_How_I_Lost_5400_lbs_illoIllustration by Marcos Chin

There’s nothing worse than a holier-than-thou greenie who brags about his bamboo floors at cocktail parties. But my quick, easy savings had me feeling like a postmodern John Muir, and I succumbed, briefly, to enviro-hubris. “So, how do you like using cold water in the washing machine?” I smugly asked my wife as she folded a load of laundry.

“You set it to cold? I didn’t even notice the difference.”

I beamed. This was definitely Crystal’s house; she took note of every nick in the wall and splatter in the microwave. If she couldn’t tell the difference, who would? She hadn’t even noticed the change to compact fluorescents throughout the house until I pointed them out to her.

But ignorance is not always bliss. I’d made these changes without fully involving her in our household’s carbon cutting. As with many people, the environment is low on her list of priorities, behind things like the economy, health care, cocktails, pedicures, and making sure Oscar gets his seizure medicine. That’s not to say my wife is anti-environment–she recycles cardboard–but mention Kyoto and she’ll tell you she doesn’t like sushi.

So when the power bill came, she didn’t rush into my arms, rapturous about the 100 kilowatts we’d already saved. Instead, she grimaced. “What’s this $12 for?” she asked, pointing to the Renewable Energy Charge on the bill. I explained how I’d signed us up for Solar! Wind! and Hydro Power! I made the logical argument that the more renewable power people bought, the cheaper and more widely available it would become. Her eyes glazed. I could tell her enthusiasm for the project was waning. As far as she was concerned, I had just dumped a $12 pomegranate martini down the toilet.

In fact, we’d been backsliding all week. The first thing to go was the evil short-shower regimen. After a few days of “accidentally” forgetting to set the alarm, the annoying five-minute timer somehow found its way back into a drawer. “It’s winter in Wisconsin,” I argued to myself. “Sometimes a steamy seven-minute shower is required to restore the will to live.” I took a 150-pound penalty.

Winter had come early, and temperatures were regularly dropping into single digits. When Crystal would return from work, she’d pull on a pair of thick socks, purple sweatpants, and a ratty pink nightgown, along with an oversized stocking cap and a sexy hoodie to complete the hobo-chic ensemble. Both thinly furred animals were constantly shivering under a blanket on her lap. She began bathing every other day so she wouldn’t catch a chill after getting out of the shower. “It’s so cold in here,” she said each night, her nose red and runny. In an act of mercy, I raised the temp to 70°F and left it there, giving up on programming the thermostat until the next warm spell. I felt another 150 pounds of carbon fall back on my shoulders, but at least my wife started bathing again.

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