Earlier last year it was made official that in the 136 years of record keeping, 2015 was the hottest recorded year, beating 2014 by the widest margin. Then, January 2016 broke the record by claiming the title of ‘the most anomalously warm month’. The month that followed destroyed all records. Not only were Arctic regions 16°C warmer than normal, but the Earth north of the equator was 2°C warmer than pre-industrial temperatures. It is expected that 2017 will soon beat this record and with every passing day it is becoming increasingly difficult to deny that the costs and consequences of climate change in our world will soon define life in the coming years.
Nations across the world have been talking about taking steps to dealing with climate change, but how far these plans have developed into something tangible is questionable. And, as far as studies suggest, even if these projects were executed, a warmer climate across the world is inevitable. While many dismiss the far-reaching effects of climate change, several experts have repeatedly claimed that it would bring the world to its knees. Nations that lack the resources, good governance, and the resilience needed to face the many adverse consequences of climate change will lose stability forcing people from these regions to flee for refuge, which will result in conflicts. This is where the concept of sustainability comes in.
The What, Why and How of Sustainable Living
What is sustainable lifestyle?
Essentially, “sustainable living” defines a lifestyle that attempts to cut an individual’s and on a larger scale, the society’s dependence on the earth’s natural resources. A huge part of this type of living involves understanding how natural systems function, and the need for the ecology to stay in balance. Jared Diamond, in his book, Collapse: How Complex Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, talks about how several civilizations have fallen as an aftermath of damaging its environment. It is estimated that currently we use about 40% more resources every year than we can put back. This needs to change, but how?
The crux of sustainability lies in accepting that our modern way of life puts a strain on natural resources and that we must figure out ways in which we can progress while ensuring that our actions and consumption habits do not jeopardize the needs of the future generations.
Why do we need sustainability?
It is simple, really. Of the thousands of benefits that sustainable development and living offer, the most important one is that is the only way we can maintain quality of life in the long run. In 2005, the World Summit on Social Development revealed what the three pillars of sustainable development are, to help us understand the areas where we need to make changes.
The three pillars of sustainable development
• Environmental Protection, which stands for doing our part to protect the environment, starting from the basics such as recycling and reducing our carbon footprint. A large part of this involves understanding the impact our actions have on the environment, and thereby taking educated steps to minimise the negative effects.
• Social Development, which could easily be considered as the most important pillar, as it stands for educating the masses on the need for sustainability. Only an informed person would be able to make the needed changes at a personal level. Furthermore, education and awareness is what would push governments to make stronger laws, businesses to clean up their acts, and creators and entrepreneurs to find solutions to this pressing problem.
• Economic Development, which is one of the more controversial pillars as economic success is a subjective concept. However, the need for sustainability goes hand-in-hand with economic development lies in the fact that if people, communities, and organizations were to invest their resources in sustainability, there must be incentives beyond the long-term advantages. Economic development is about giving people what they want without compromising quality of life, and reducing the financial burden and red tape that comes along. It is time that we came together to build a system that will balance out economic growth and sustainability.
It might seem like a lot, but there are a few simple tips and practices you can start adopting in your daily life to keep up a sustainable lifestyle. Remember, every big change starts at home.
How to lead a sustainable life
1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
This is one that almost everyone would be familiar with and it is one of the most basic steps you could take to move towards a sustainable lifestyle. The mantra simply asks for you to cut your wastage by making smarter choices, reusing items and recycling them. Every time you make a purchase, take a minute to think about materials used in it, and if there are alternatives to them. You could switch tissues with cloth towels and drink filtered water instead of bottled water. Before you decide to throw away something, take a minute to think if there are ways in which you could repurpose the item. An old cereal box could easily be made into a file organiser, and an old tire could be used as a planter for a raised garden. If the said item is beyond use, then resort to recycling than just having them dumped in the landfill.
2. Make wise purchasing choices
Every single product you buy can either contribute to or detract from the movement towards a sustainable lifestyle. Everytime you make a purchase, think about whether the production of the particular item has any negative impact on the environment. If they do, look out for alternatives. For example, you could replace the chemicals you use to clean with baking soda, vinegar or lemon. Or when you buy coffee, you can look for one that is shade-grown, which means that the beans are grown while keeping forest habitats intact for migratory birds and other species. Buy organic food because while it may cost a little more, it keeps harmful pesticides out of our land and water. You could shop at a local farmer’s market, because the meat and the produce you would get here would be fresh and chemical-free. When you are making a big purchase, such a car, take a minute to find out if the model you are looking at is fuel-efficient.
3. Grow your own food
Gardens are green spaces, so they add to the aesthetics of the place, while playing their role in offsetting the carbon emissions in the surrounding areas. You could either grow your own garden in your backyard, or come together with your community to grow one together. Of course, for this to be effective, you will have to carefully choose the practices you wish to adopt for landscaping. Choosing to grow food and herbs, instead of ornamental plants is only one step. It is also important that you keep in mind the soil of the region, and the ecosystem around it while choosing. Choose plants that are native to your area that have evolved to thrive under the naturally present conditions instead of opting for exotic plants. Stay away from the chemicals and opt for safer, organic alternatives.
4. Go local
Become aware of where your food comes from. You could either start growing your own fruits and vegetables, or you could buy your meats and milk from local farmers who pasture their animals. You can go to a farm, and pick out fresh produce of your choice. Support local farms, markets and restaurants that carry sustainably raised food and buy less food that has to be trucked from distant locations. It is also a great way to support your local economy.
5. Become more efficient
This part would come easily to you as soon as you start being more careful in terms of your consumption. You can reduce the amount of natural resources you consume by walking, or even carpooling to work. You can switch the traditional light bulbs in your home to CFL. Using skylights is another way you can cut your demand on energy resources. Start unplugging the device when not in use as most of the electronic devices keep drawing electricity as long as they are plugged in. While you are at it, ditch the plastic. It takes millions of years for plastic to decompose. The plastic that finds its way into the ocean adversely affects the marine life. Every year large numbers of mammals, seals and seabirds are killed after ingesting plastic or getting tangled up in it. As you become more conscious about your consumption patterns, and the impact they have on the environment, making these changes will come to you more easily.
6. Practice minimalism
Minimalism simply means living with only the things you need. Minimalism has multifold effects. It frees you from the overwhelming desire to own material goods that may not add any value to your life and from the hysteria of the fast-paced modern life. However, most importantly, it reduces your consumption, by helping you understand what you need and what you don’t. With a minimalist liefstyle you will recycle more, be more mindful of the items you purchase, thereby ensuring sustainability is a part of your daily life.
7. Go offline
This point is quite self-explanatory. Use the time you spend scrolling through Facebook to read a book or play some games, thereby reducing your reliance on entertainment forms that require energy and natural resources. While you are at it, try to stop streaming all those series on Netflix at night and get yourself on a more natural sleep schedule: This will get you more attuned to the natural light, which is not only better for your health, but will help lessen the amount of power that you use while you are up. Sunlight is free–use it up all you want.
8. Buy right-sized house:
A smaller house means lesser energy consumed. Of course, that doesn’t mean you live someplace where you are cramped for space. It only means that you choose a house that is the right size for you. A smaller house also means you can spend less on lighting, furniture and overall furnishing.
9. Choose renewable energy
The term renewable energy speaks for itself. It will help reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, which is an important step towards stopping climate change. You could install a solar panel over your house or pick a Green-e certified company to supply electricity to your home. Reducing fossil fuel consumption will go a long way in saving wildlife, slowing climate change and protecting our lands and waters. So, talk to your neighbours and get them to install solar panels over their house as well. Make going green a community goal.
10. Save water
This is one of the most important steps you should take up. It starts with simple things like making it a point to not leave the water running while brushing your teeth, or taking shorter showers. Wash the plates as they get dirty instead of letting them pile up and wash your clothes only when they are absolutely dirty.
Ultimately, the decision to move towards a sustainable lifestyle lies on you. However, remember that the way we choose to live today will determine what kind of lives the next generation will lead. The opportunities we enjoy today are a result of the countless efforts of those who inhabited this earth before us, and this is our chance to give back to the world that holds us every single day.