4 steps to sustainability
Sustainability is about providing for all present and future needs. Ensuring society, the environment and the economy, function simultaneously. Sustainable living reduces individual or community impact on the natural environment, in order to find an equilibrium wherein all life flourishes.
To understand how we can live sustainably, we must first consider why we need to adjust things. Climate change is the earth's response to human activity, namely the burning of fossil fuels and extraction of natural resources. This is a result of our anthropocentric nature, which overlooks the environment's intrinsic value and how it supports human life. Consequently, we disregard the idea that we need to live within the planet’s carrying capacity i.e. living sustainably to prevent changing ecological and climatic systems.
Anthropocentrism originates from ancient Greek, and is the belief that human beings are the most important entity, interpreting the world in terms of human experiences. Anthropocentrism is thought to be embedded in modern human cultures, determining how humans interact with ecosystems and other species. Humans have, through this belief, exploited the earth's resources – in some cases to the point of extinction – for their own empowerment. Although our evolutionary success is palpable, this will be a temporary triumph if humans cannot continue to sustain life. Our appetite for development has polluted the earth’s land, water and atmosphere, and has left us at tipping point. If we cannot begin to alter how we interact with the planet, then we will surpass the earth's carrying capacity and face unprecedented environmental catastrophes. Click here to see how rising sea levels may impact your local area.
So, how can we live sustainably?
We must firstly accept limits to growth and accept that change is coming. It might feel as though your everyday habits and rituals are being attacked, but without immediate changes there will be no environment to provide for our everyday needs. It is important that everyone takes responsibility for their own actions and the environmental consequences. Some key components to achieving a sustainable future lie within individual everyday action, such as avoiding single use items. Other tips can be found here.
2. Reduce your consumption
Capitalism and economic growth demand the extensive production and consumption of goods, which is dependent on the exploitation of natural capital. This linear economic model is not compatible with environmental sustainability, and the continued degradation of our environment will inevitably lead to an economic collapse. To achieve a sustainable future, wherein all human needs are met, we must dramatically reduce our consumption – whether it is food, goods or energy, such changes are possible. Watch the 'Story of Stuff' to understand the damaging effects of consumption.
Furthermore, when we reduce our energy consumption, we also help to protect and conserve natural resources and ecosystems. Most of the world’s energy is produced through fossil fuels which are harmful to the environment when excavated and burned. A significant level of carbon has been stored in fossil fuels over millions of years, releasing this carbon contributes to the ‘greenhouse effect’ and is warming our planet. We also need to use a huge amount of energy to extract, process and of course burn these fossil fuels, to generate electricity and heat our homes. Check out the Energy Saving Trust website for tips to reduce your energy consumption.
3. Consume ethically
Consuming less will make a significant impact on the planet. However, when you do spend your money on necessities, such as food and clothes, it’s important to think about what organisations and businesses you are supporting with your hard-earned cash. Just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of carbon emissions since 1988. If we continue to fund corporations that are willing to jeopardise the planet’s vital ecosystems and follow the status quo, we will unavoidably face the consequences of climate change within the next few decades. Additionally, consuming ethically means you aren’t supporting corporations that mistreat their workers or knowingly pollute areas of land and water, in countries where environmental regulations are less strict. These practices are common because so many of our products come from developing countries, where workers have less rights, and environmental protection is far down the nation’s political agenda. Sustainability is about finding a balance between society and the environment so that we can provide for everyone; therefore, we can’t go forward without tackling stark inequalities and reducing the damaging effects of so many industries on the environment. Read more about the effects here.
4. Get involved
Finally, it’s important to find your voice. Vote for politicians who care about building a secure sustainable future. You have a lot of power to change what happens at a national level, by engaging in politics. Once you start changing your life to combat climate change, make sure your politicians are doing their part by enforcing tighter regulations on big business, to reduce their emissions and support the transition to a service-based and low carbon economy. Use your voice to share the message. Help people understand how climate change affects them and how they can make a difference. You don’t have to become an eco-warrior either, just do your part to be the best you can and remember that it’s not going to look perfect.
'We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly' - Annie Marie Bonneau.