Over the years, the movement towards sustainable living has gained traction. Traditional news outlets and social media have also helped to drive awareness. But we are also increasingly coming to see and feel the effects of poorly managed environmental practices in our lives.
When you feel that each summer is becoming hotter than the one before, you don’t need to see images of melting Antarctic icebergs to know that the climate is changing. Along with that, extreme weather is becoming a more frequent occurrence. Record wildfires each year are another indicator of climate change.
These things aren’t happening in some distant region in one of the world’s less-developed countries. They are manifesting right here in America, affecting our fellow citizens. And all of them can be traced to our collective failure to manage carbon emissions.
A big and complicated picture
Carbon emissions, of course, are only one aspect of overall sustainability. Broadly speaking, sustainability refers to any resource consumption.
It could be the cutting down of trees, or harvesting fishes from the ocean, both of which are renewable. Or it could be applied to the extraction of fossil fuels or rare earth elements, which are not being renewed on a timescale that’s compatible with the human lifespan.
Sustainability also considers the impact of consumption in terms of waste products. Thus, even though there might still be a lot of oil left to extract from the earth, people are justifiably concerned about the dangers of emissions. In fact, every human activity has left an indelible impact on nature, leaving no place untouched on the earth.
Stop passing the blame
Despite being highly aware of the problem and its causes, many people remain reluctant to take effective action towards greater sustainability in their lives. Some feel that the developing world, with its massive population, has to shoulder a larger share of the burden.
Certainly, as the likes of China and Brazil begin to grow in affluence, their large populations will also exert considerable pressure on global resources. But countries like Kenya, which have a rapidly growing population, don’t consume as much as those in the developed world.
Overall, the citizens of affluent nations have a per capita consumption factor of 32 compared to the rest of the world. This means that one person from a country like the US, for instance, consumes resources at a rate equivalent to 32 people from a developing country.
Awareness works both ways. People who live in less affluent countries realize that there is a large gap in terms of global economic inequality. They will continue to aspire to higher standards of living. They aren’t likely to respond if rich nations suddenly demand that they operate sustainably, without first leading the way themselves.
Taking action at scale
Thus, we can’t be sincere in our efforts to live more sustainably if we are interested in passing the blame onto someone else. Whether they are our neighbors or people halfway across the world, it’s a shared problem. Simultaneously, people whose lifestyles invoke a higher than average level of resource consumption must take correspondingly greater action.
One way in which the affluent can make a difference is through net-zero housing. These homes offset all the energy consumption involved. This is achieved using many principles in concert. It requires passive solar design, window replacement with energy-efficient versions, and sourcing local materials such as stone or cement for construction needs.
Net-zero homes must also dispose of wastes and generate energy. That means installing a combination of solar panels and wind turbines on the roof while using geothermal energy for heating and cooling. Gray water recovery is also used to minimize waste further.
Behaviors everyone can change
There are other behaviors in which ordinary people engage without realizing their continued negative impact on sustainability. And that includes those who aren’t wealthy enough to afford their own homes.
Driving a car, for instance, can be convenient as well as a symbol of independence. But people can cut down considerably on carbon emissions if they take public transportation or walk or bike on shorter trips.
While limiting overall energy consumption definitely helps, our usage patterns can also be shifted to reduce our impact. Many power companies let renewable energy sources, such as wind, hydroelectric, and solar, ‘go first.’ But their overall capacity can’t sustain an entire grid at peak hours, which means tapping less clean sources of energy. Using less energy during these times is a smart way to save on costs while helping the environment.
Sustainability is a global concern. Everybody has to take some form of action. And while we aren’t accustomed to scaling down our lifestyles, the truth is probably that there’s still a lot more we can do to help out.
Meta title: In the Movement Toward Sustainable Living, We Can Never Settle
Meta description: If you’ve ever wondered whether you’re doing enough to help drive sustainability, the answer is most likely no.