At the Chilamate Rainforest Ecological Retreat, Howler monkeys awoke us each morning with the sound of their cries, Blue-Jean frogs playfully leapt off the trunks of trees with names far outside my vernacular, sunlight sparkled on the rapids of the nearby Sarapiqi River, and constant rainstorms gave new life to the air. It was a place of beauty, but also a place filled with lessons to be understood.
We were surrounded by knowledge. Quotes peppered the walls, doors, and countertops of our house in the Chilamate Rainforest. As I entered the bunkroom, I was reminded that “A savage is not the one who lives in the forest, but the one who destroys it.” While brushing my teeth, I pondered the wise words of Martin Luther King, Jr; “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.” Only four days into the three-week adventure, my mind was filled with new ideas: my perspective permanently altered for the better.
I underwent many personal shifts while in Costa Rica, but the most important was my changed perception of humankind’s relationship with the future.
[pl_blockquote cite=”John James Audubon”]A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers but borrowed from his children.[/pl_blockquote]
Right next to the seldom-used light switch, this quote rested: a small square of paper, laminated as protection against the rainforest’s 100% humidity. Its message, however, was much more magnanimous than its humble presentation implied. The quote resonated with me, and I began to reflect on its importance as we, as a species, begin define our relationship with the future as less of a hierarchy and more of a partnership.
We are taught that certain things are undeniably ours because of a forefather who acquired them for us: indicating that ownership and possession are our rights. In our materialistic minds, this idea is not far-fetched; “this land is mine because I bought it, and because I own it, I can choose its fate.” Audubon’s quote, however, rejects this mindset, and replaces it with a more valid thought.
Audubon tells us that the earth cannot be possessed. The earth is not a right bestowed upon us by some grand predecessor, nor by the progression of evolution that gave us our complex minds and opposable thumbs. The earth is not a right at all; it is instead, as Audubon so clearly put, a privilege, generously lent to us by the future. When something is borrowed, it must be returned in equal or better condition. By holding the viewpoint that our world is simply borrowed from those unborn, it becomes our responsibility, as Earth’s current tenants, to care for the earth and ensure it is returned the way we borrowed it.
If Earth was equated to a loaned book, perhaps a dusty but well-read classic, then our society has been ripping out pages at an incredible rate. Each mountain top that is removed, each rainforest leveled and converted to pastureland, is a chapter that the book’s next owner will never read. With every newly discovered, even more destructive, way to source oil, we are re-writing entire paragraphs of the book; replacing the classic rhetoric with short, choppy sentences that obscure the writing’s message. As a society, we have forgotten that we do not own this book; Earth is not ours. If action is not taken, an unrecognizable novel will be returned to the future generations; a novel with few remaining pages, that will likely crumble after a couple more reads.
I continued to reflect on this idea for the rest of the trip. As we moved on to Rancho Mastatal and learned about low impact building processes, I thought about how each inch of soil disturbed today is an inch the future will never recover. As my friends and I enjoyed our favorite cookies, Chikys, sourced from the local Super, I pondered the fate of the everlasting plastic wrapper it came in. And though I thoroughly enjoyed the thrice-daily portions of rice and beans, and the fresh pineapple I was served each morning, as I rode past the rice fields and pineapple plantations on the way to Playa Esterillo, I was reminded that my consumerism is being paid for by the earth: and I am creating a debt that future generations may not be able to repay.
This personal paradigm shift, however, did not make me feel hopeless: instead, I left Costa Rica with a sense of empowerment. I left with a plan to make changes in my home, community, school, and maybe eventually, world. Sustainable Summer gave me the awakening I needed along with the tools I’ll use as I revolutionize my life to better suit the lives of the future.