Take action to live sustain-ABLY
What is Sustainability?
The most commonly cited definition of Sustainability is from the Brundtland Report – sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
This ‘measure’ is a lens through which we view how the human species interacts with the planet and each other, and the impact our behaviour has. If we were living in an environmentally sustainable way, humans would live a good quality of life without compromising biodiversity and ecosystem services. This would ensure a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.
So, what is biodiversity? Many people think this term is just about the number of different types of plants and animals on the planet. It is so much more than that! Biodiversity is about the richness of all life on the planet.
A healthy, sustainable environment is associated with rich biodiversity.
People like me, who see life on this earth from a more philosophical point of view, would say that biodiversity has value just because it exists. Therefore, we have a responsibility to protect it. We also have a responsibility to step aside where possible and make changes that allow this rich life freedom to thrive.
Other people value biodiversity for the actual and potential resources it provides humanity in order for them to have a good quality of life.
Either way, it is clear that biodiversity is a good thing to have, and to conserve, and to protect.
For many years it was thought that if we give equal weight to economy, society and environment when making decisions about how humans live on the planet, this would lead to sustainability. This model is sometimes called the 3 Pillars of Sustainability or the Triple Bottom Line.
More recently environmental scientists have come to realise that this model does not really work. There are certain environmental services that are essential to life on earth and the way our society and economy works. People cannot replicate these ecosystem services. If they are damaged or cease as a result of the way we live or the way our economy works, the future does not look good for any form of life on this planet.
Perhaps a better model to use is Strong Sustainability as a way to guide our decisions about how we live and work our economy.
The Strong Sustainability model reflected in the diagram makes nature and the environment the limit. If a society decision or an economic decision will cause damage to nature and the environment then it should not go ahead. As well as damaging nature or the environment it will also negatively affect society and the economy.
Everything on our earth is connected, so we must make decisions that positively impact nature and the environment. This will have positive outcomes for society and the economy in the long run.
The infographic shows the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs. There are 17 of them. You can find out more about each one and how to Take Action on their website.
I am not going to say much more about the SDGs here. Rather, I suggest you find a spare thirty minutes, make a cup of tea and watch the Nations United film. Everything you need to know and understand is beautifully captured in this video.
You will note how many solutions mentioned in the video overlap with the Project Drawdown solutions covered in the next section.
We have everything we need. All we have to decide is what to do with the time given to us.*
*Quote from Gandalf in Lord of the Rings written by JRR Tolkien
Project Drawdown is “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming”. A coalition of scientists and researchers spent some years looking into various potential solutions to climate change. They weighed up potential emission reductions and/or carbon sequestration, as well as the financial considerations. They have compiled a list of 80 solutions that could be put in place now to reverse the impact of climate change globally. Check out Chad Frischman’s TED talk for more detail. It is definitely worth a watch.
I have a well-thumbed copy of the book Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken, which I continue to find insightful and inspiring. As Paul says in the book:
“The buildup of greenhouse gases we experience today occurred in the absence of human understanding; our ancestors were innocent of the damage they were doing. That can tempt us to believe that global warming is something that is happening to us – that we are victims of a fate that was determined by actions that precede us. If we change the preposition and consider that global warming is happening for us – an atmospheric transformation that inspires us to change and reimagine everything we make and do – we begin to live in a different world. We take 100 percent responsibility and stop blaming others. We see global warming not as an inevitability but as an invitation to build, innovate, and effect change, a pathway that awakens creativity, compassion and genius.”
There is so much here for governments, organisations, communities and individuals to consider. The information is presented in an understandable and empowering way.
As well as the book and TED talk, you can visit the Project Drawdown website which will point you in the direction of some useful resources. One example is Drawdown Learn.
But what can We actually do? All these environmental problems can seem so overwhelming! How can you do anything to help? You are just one person trying to live your life. You have family responsibilities and community obligations. Generally, all you have the energy for is what each day puts in front of you to cope with. I understand, I really do.
One thing you could do is to simply be aware. Be aware of how you tread on the planet – how much you personally consume. More importantly care about what happens to your stuff when you don’t need or want it any longer.
You are most likely familiar with the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. In the last couple of years I have come across variations on this idea which include 5Rs or even 7 Rs. This diagram is my adaptation of the 7Rs pyramid – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot, Replant and the Rest.
The pyramid is upside down to show the weighting for each R. We must prioritise refusing what we don’t need, such as simply saying no to a plastic straw.
It may seem too simple, but I believe living mindfully using a waste management tool like this can have a huge impact for good. It is a great jumping off point as it feels manageable and empowering for anyone at any age and stage. Who knows, from here you could be inspired to be a voice in your community advocating for change at government level!
If you live in Aotearoa New Zealand and you are looking for more sustainable action inspiration, you can download my Conservation Action Bingo activity.