By Hani R. Eskander
“On this finite planet, defining success and happiness through how much a person consumes is not sustainable” states Erik Assadourian, a Senior Fellow in the Worldwatch Institute. In this article, Community Times introduces the concept of sustainability, why it has become in vogue today, and how we can start to design our lives to be more sustainable
Why would actor ‘Leonardo Di Caprio,’ who long-awaited his award for Best Actor, in both his acceptance speeches during the Golden Globes and the Oscars, address an issue such as ‘Global Warming’ with such fervor?
“Making The Revenant was about man’s relationship to the natural world; a world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating,” he said at his Oscars’ acceptance speech.
Why would he waste such an opportunity to talk about such an issue? It’s probably because it’s an important urgent matter that needs collective attending and cannot be ignored. Many scientific researches out there discuss how the planet’s ecology is changing at an unprecedented rate “…climate change is just one of many symptoms of excessive consumption levels” said Assadourian. Buying and throwing away have driven the planet into faster depletion rates than its ability to naturally recover. Yet we collectively continue to pursue the lifestyle we know.
Some communities that co-exist with nature are still around. For instance, the Bedouins inhabiting the many deserts live a self-sufficient life co-existing with nature, despite the hardships. On the other side of the planet, Native Americans still exist in the midst of what’s left of the Amazonian rainforests, while most others have been forced to comply with modern life as we know it. One of the basic codes of ethics that Native Americans, or Indians, went, and still go by, is called the ‘Ten Commandments’, which are:
Remain close to the Great Spirit
Show Great Respect for your Fellow Beings
Give Assistance and Kindness wherever needed
Be Truthful and Honest at all times
Do what you know to be right
Look After the Wellbeing of Mind and Body
Treat Earth and all that dwell thereon with respect
Take Full Responsibility for your Actions
Dedicate your efforts to the Greater Good
Work Together for the Benefit of All Mankind
Almost no one could argue that such moral codes capture the essence of how such cultures endured years of survival on this planet, while coexisting with nature. Their close relationship to nature kept their cultures alive, integrated, progressive and adaptable to the natural cycles of life. However, these cycles are rapidly changing, as is the planet’s ecology. There’s enough scientific evidence to show that our consumption habits and level of consumerism, if left to continue, could have devastating consequences on the whole human race… a global crisis that’s going to force us all to act collectively for the better of all. This doesn’t mean that we should abandon our lives as we know it and go live in the forests. At least we should learn from cultures that have long embraced nature as their friend, guide, healer, a source of wealth, a capital they shared, gave back to, and treated with respect.
To give a simple analogy… If there’s a 10-litre water tank that has 1 litre of water, and everyday it is being naturally replenished with 100ml of water. Now, if everyday, 100ml of water is extracted… then the outcome becomes ‘sustainable’… one would never run out of water and the 1 litre would always be there. While if the replenishing rate remains the same and 300ml were drawn out daily… The water will run dry in less than 5 days!
Our planet is able to replenish its resources; but sometimes over months, years, decades or even millennia, depending on the resource in question. There’s also the added elements: humans over-extract resources–beyond the Earth’s natural capacity to regenerate, produce pollution, and are slowly destroying the quality of these finite resources due to bad design and policy. Eventually, the Earth’s resources, that our collective lives depend on, are going to dwindle beyond the point of repair and eventually perish. Such a relationship is called ‘unsustainable’ or ‘degenerative’. Now, if policies and design aimed to help give back to the Earth, helping replenish its resources at a faster rate than the consumption of those resources, this would be called ‘regenerative’.
Our daily lives, despite the different activities within the days, seem pretty cyclic. Getting up in the morning, having breakfast (hopefully… it’s the most important meal of the day), driving our kids to and from school, driving back and forth to and from our jobs, sending that email, preparing that presentation, making it to that meeting on time, delivering that package, sowing this field, collecting that yield, dropping our kids to their classes/trainings again back and forth, maintaining and nurturing relationships with friends and loved ones (which is time-consuming… and sometimes distracting), commuting, buying, shopping, cooking, eating, sleeping and waking up to start it all over again. And somehow it always revolves around making money to spend money.
Reading an article (as you are doing now), taking a short vacation away from your boisterous cities, spending some time alone reading or reflecting, exercising, practicing yoga, sitting around a fire, socializing around family gatherings hearing stories from the elders or watching a film or a documentary might feel like luxuries and rewards that balance out the stressful hours spent alive. And we call this life.
Now let’s pause for a moment… Take a step back… Observe. This is not necessary natural… We collectively created this kind of life.
There is no time for long family table dinners or lunches anymore… We tend to have no patience for slow cooked food. Fast food, take-outs, junk food and quick meals in chain restaurants became part of our daily lives and that’s that. The three-year old smart phone is now obsolete and must be replaced with the latest edition, toss away and buy anew and that’s that. It’s a culture where it becomes easy to replace items in your life by simply tossing away and replacing with the new, without a thought about the waste created or the irreplaceable energy consumed to produce that gadget. The car is now eight-years old and it still works; yet its time to sell… buy the latest one and that’s that. Why have we become such consumers? Why have we allowed the things we buy and the lifestyle we consume, consume us?
Living completely sustainably is possible, yet not all of a sudden.
Here are some of the things we could do to contribute in our own way to the planet’s well-being:
– Be more conscious of what it is you’re buying and how it’s packaged. Where is it coming from? How many miles did it have to cross to reach you?
– All the meat we’re eating isn’t good for us. Meat is one of many energy intensive and ecologically damaging industries. Not all meat comes from a free grazing healthy cow. Being conscious of what we eat and the soil it has grown out of. The saying goes: ‘You are what you eat’. Well its more like… we are what we eat, eats.
– Do not base purchases on the price tag alone. Support local initiatives and local agriculture. Be a part of a weekly farmers’ market in your area and favor that over big supermarket chains.
– Maybe start a compost pile at home with food scraps and old paper. There’s loads of links online for simple ways of doing so. The soil we could create from our waste is 100 times more healthy than most conventional chemical fertilizers used by most farming industries.
– Grow some vegetables in that soil created and witness the miracle of nature unfold.
– Be proud of your ‘old faithful’ instead of parading around with the latest car. Most products are designed today with both planned and perceived obsolescence designed within to force us to buy again… and again.
– Car-pool when possible and commute with public transits more. Walk more. Cycle more.
Our choices today will impact government policies and industry production strategies in the future. The most important thing is to be conscious of our choices.
These are only some of a wide array of numerous initiatives and practices. Nowadays it’s easy to find whatever it is you’re looking for. You just have to want to find it. The willingness to learn and to do what’s right is paramount. This will towards a more sustainable future starts by being conscious, by acknowledging the problem, learning about how one can change/adapt a life style to make life more sustainable and less costly on the ecology of the planet. Little by little we can collectively bridge from being degenerative, to sustainable, to regenerative.
There’s nothing more worth preserving than Mother Nature. We just take it for granted.
As Michael Maniates, professor of Social Sciences and Environmental Studies at Yale-NUS states in his article Editing Out Unsustainable Behavior: “As prize-winning historian Lizabeth Cohen writes in Consumer’s Republic, ‘a strategy… emerged after the Second World War for reconstructing the [U.S.] economy and reaffirming its democratic values through promoting the expansion of mass consumption.’ A central plank of this strategy was to make energy-intensive, resource-depleting, mass consuming choices appear natural and inevitable.” We are still somehow dealing with a strategy that was set at a different time for different reasons… its about time for a new strategy to emerge knowing what we know today, else we won’t even exist and be here to discuss.