Editor's note: Juan Sostheim is owner and founder of Rancho Margot, an eco-resort, educational facility and sustainable farm in Costa Rica. Sostheim is the subject of Sunday's episode of "The Next List," on CNN at 2 p.m. ET.
By Juan Sostheim, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Almost 40 years have gone by since I graduated from the University of Florida and started my professional career. I remember being relieved that the Vietnam War was nearly over and the threat of someone pushing "the button" and starting a nuclear war was becoming an unlikely scenario.
As terrible as these issues were, we always felt that we could somehow it behind us.
Today, we face a very different problem and it’s one which most people feel powerless to do something about on an individual level. I’m referring to climate change.
There have always been and will always be naysayers, but no one can stay on the sidelines and hope someone else will do the right thing. We all must become eco-literate. We all must participate.
In the scientific community, there is no doubt about where we are heading and what is causing it. There is some legitimate debate about how long the devastation due to climate change will take, how much damage we can expect or where, but the situation as a whole is clear; global warming is real and if we don’t change, life will forever be different. I’m an optimist and I know we can change. We must adapt and mitigate but most important of all we must let everyone know where we stand or it will continue to be business as usual.
When I built Rancho Margot, an eco-resort in Costa Rica, I had to make choices. I wanted to have the smallest possible environmental impact - but at the same time I needed to get tourists to come and support what we were doing. How was I going to sell my vision to people who don't believe in climate change? My mission became to get people to realize that small changes in lifestyle can have a big impact. There is no need to sacrifice.
So what is it that we as individuals can do? First and foremost, we must demand that the true cost of all products and services be visible for all to see. This is only possible if we demand that carbon footprints be measured under strict international norms. At Rancho Margot, we chose the PAS 2060 norms from the British Institute of Standards. We emit 115 tons of carbon dioxide per year and, through our mitigation efforts, sequester 1,375 tons. That means we had a minus-1,260-ton carbon footprint in 2011. As consumers, we need to demand this information.
Forget, for the moment, the global picture. This is about us. I want to know how much carbon we emit. I need to know. If this is not consumer protection, I don’t know what is. In the UK, all public companies are now required to report and certify their carbon footprint. It’s a start. It is a slow process and we have little time. In the absence of this consumer protection we need to make common sense choices. We can buy locally produced fruits and vegetables. We can buy quality that lasts and things that can be locally repaired. We need to stop supporting our own destruction. There is a whole sustainable future out there and it’s up to us.
The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of Juan Sostheim.