Why We Need To Talk About Sustainability

This is my first intro article with some thoughts and facts around the relationship between us and our planet — or rather me explaining why we should care at all. It turned out to be quite factual, simply because I think it’s really, really important that next time someone asks you: “Why you are doing that sustainability thing?” you are able to give a confident and comprehensible answer.

What’s the matter?

The fundamental fact underlying the whole topic is this: over the last century the population of the Earth increased from 1.5 to 7 billion people. Thus, building an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future for all people and our planet has become a big challenge for humanity. It was first discussed in 1987, since then we knew that to provide our next generation with the potential for the prosperous living, we need to find harmony between our economic growth, social development and the way we treat the environment.

Yet, for the last 30 years we have chosen to focus on developing our economies and slightly on our people, almost entirely disregarding the environmental part of the sustainability puzzle.

Today our scientists are desperately searching for an Earth alternative, mostly because we are not quite sure if our own planet will be able to handle all of us for much longer. There definitely is hope, but if we want our children to prosper on this planet, we need to make a giant communal effort as humankind. Unfortunately we will not be able to avoid the devastating consequence of the damage we’ve already done. But we can either choose to continue making the situation worse, or to turn to the path of making it better.

“We are the first generation to be able to end poverty and the last generation that can take steps to avoid the worst impact of climate change.” Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations

It’s worth mentioning that since 1987 we have not been entirely ignoring the issue — our leaders have held many conversations and reached many agreements on how to make us exist more sustainably. The progress indisputably did happen, and we now have many examples of countries where sustainability is not just a concept, but rather the way of living. Amongst those countries are Iceland, Sweden, Switzerland, Singapore and a few others. There are also some global achievements to be proud of. We have pretty much eliminated from our lives emissions that deplete ozone layer, provided piped water for about 2 billion more people, and turned large territories into the reservation areas. There have been many other positive changes, which proves: we are capable of taking responsibility for sustainable living.

Where we are now?

Despite all the positive changes, according to the UN, 86% of the world’s population still live in countries where the amount of natural resources is not enough for its people. It is also estimated that if everybody were to live in a developed country like the US, consuming the same amount of water, energy, food, etc., it would take 4 Earths to support the global population. And it is still the fact that Butan is the only country in the world where no activities or businesses do any harm to the environment.

Few other facts:

“In terms of sustainable development all countries are now developing countries.” Dr. Christian Kroll, Bertelsmann Foundation

Because resolving these challenges is now so crucial to our survival, sustainable development and its challenges have been brought back to the international agenda. In November-December 2015 in Paris for the first time in history 195 countries agreed to take a communal effort to “keep the increase in the global average temperature well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels”. The agreement doesn’t specify any particular deadline except for as soon as possible. However, it is supported by the commitment of developed countries to invest 100 billion dollars per year, starting from 2020, to ensure sufficient funds for the changes the world needs to make.

Agreements like that are obviously extremely important. They mean that scientists, economists politicians, and the world’s most influential leaders agree on the direction we need to be taking as a society. However, this is not the first international agreement that has been reached, and there is a reason why all the previous agreements didn’t really make a big difference. That reason is very simple — making a big change and starting to treat the environment better is expensive. Switching to new eco-friendly technologies cost money for corporations, national budgets are not designed to support this process, and non-governmental organisations live on donations and don’t really have the decision-making power of any sort.

Is there anything we can do?

The roots of most of the issues are in the lifestyles of every one of us — it’s people who define how much water, forests and land we use, how much waste we produce, how we treat animals and what goes into our air. We do that by our everyday choices of what we buy, eat, wear and throw away. We also do that by choosing which companies we support with the money we pay for their products and services. And we also do it by choosing what we care and talk about with our friends, family and communities.

“If enough of us stop looking away and decide that climate change is a crisis worthy of what some have called a “Marshall Plan for the Earth,” then it will become one, and the political class will have to respond.” Naomi Klein, Award-winning journalist, author of This Changes Everything. Capitalism vs. Climate

History has proven: when individuals and communities unite around big issues — they can make an unprecedented change. Governments and corporations, and other institutions who hold power can make it too, but not in this case. A voluntary desire to treat the Earth more responsibly for them equals generating less profit and in general, having less. Unfortunately in the world nowadays, no-one is ready to make such a compromise, even when it’s a question of the planet’s survival.

I personally believe that there is no more time to wait until someone else will “protect the planet”. In fact, it’s not exactly the planet, but rather our prosperous future on it that needs protection. To do that we need to start making day-to-day changes in our own lifestyle. We need to learn to consume less, value quality over quantity, stop being ignorant and start asking questions. Learn to care more and make conscious choices, to understand the footprints we leave as a society. We need to re-think the challenge of sustainability, and start the change-making process ourselves.

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.“ Robert Swan