Along with environmental protection, economic and social development are other integral components of sustainability…writes Dr Saudabi Valapil
Sustainable living is a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual’s or society’s use of the earth’s natural resources. In simple words, it’s following a lifestyle to keep our planet safe and resourceful, so that our future generations can enjoy quality life too. It’s about creating a balance between our ecosystem, economic system and social system. Along with environmental protection, economic and social development are other integral components of sustainability. This is not a new concept. Following the industrial revolution in the 20th century and the exponential increase in consumption of energy resources, the need for sustainable living has become a necessity. The environmental damage caused by human behavior is a hard truth and we must adopt a lifestyle that accommodates the future.
Why is it important?
Currently most of the world’s energy needs are met with non-renewable energy resources such as fossil fuels. There is a limit to these resources and we must address alternative renewable energy sources. Also, carbon emission from the use of these resources and other human activities is constantly harming the environment leading to the greenhouse effect & global warming. The global climate change and repeated natural disasters that we have been witnessing are clear indications that we must address sustainability now or we will damage the nature beyond repair.
What are fossil fuels?
Fossil Fuels including coal, oil and natural gas are currently the world’s primary source of energy. These are formed by natural processes such as anaerobic decomposition of dead organisms aged millions of years. Together these contribute to 80% of the world’s energy consumption currently due to easy availability and the cheaper cost compared to renewable energy sources. Use of fossil fuels pose a serious threat to our environment due to the release of greenhouse gases when burnt, leading to global warming and climate change. Harvesting, processing and distribution of fossil fuels can also result in serious negative environmental impacts including air& water pollution and damage to aquatic animals.
Fossil fuels are considered as non-renewable energy resources although they are continuously produced via natural processes. It takes millions of years to be produced and the existing resources are depleted much faster compared to their natural production. It is predicted that given the current level of consumption and predicted discovery of new resources, the world will run out of fossil fuels in the next 100-200 years. If the consumption increases further, these may last only 100 years.
What is the Greenhouse effect?
It is a natural process that warms up the earth’s surface. Part of the Sun’s energy is absorbed by the Earth’s surface and reradiated by the greenhouse gases. The absorbed energy warms our atmosphere and maintains the temperature warm enough to sustain life. But large amounts of greenhouse gases especially carbon dioxide produced from human activities such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation cause the enhanced greenhouse effect which is harmful to the environment leading to global warming and climate change. Methane is another potent & harmful green house gas released to the atmosphere from decomposition of food waste, rotting vegetation, animal farming & industrial emissions.
Use of much cleaner renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal energy will reduce the greenhouse gas emission from fossil fuel use. Planting more trees and preserving the existing greenery is important as plants absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen helping to reduce the greenhouse effect. Proper waste management to reduce the amount of waste especially organic waste going into landfill may help to reduce methane emission.
What about plastic?
Plastic is an epidemic of the modern world. This has become an indispensable part of human life over the last century; it’s everywhere around us and is difficult to get rid of! About 50% of the plastic we use are single use only and contributes to a major portion of the waste that ends up in landfill.
Some plastic is recyclable and some biodegrade very slowly, but most are non-biodegradable. About 97% of the plastic ever made in the world still exists!
Plastic contributes to 90% of the waste thrown into our oceans and is consumed by aquatic life, animals and gets into human body causing various health hazards.
By reducing the use of single use plastic such as carry bags, packaging, plastic bottles, cutlery etc. we can significantly reduce the amount of plastic waste. By appropriately recycling, we can reduce it further.
How can we make a change?
The initial step is to understand and strive for sustainability—in our own homes, in our communities, in our ecosystems, and around the world.
By doing simple things to start with, we can slowly build a cultural change towards greener living. It should start with individuals at home, work place and in the community. It is important to get all the family members involved especially kids who can be given the ownership to lead it through.
10 steps for a guilt free lifestyle towards sustainability:
Think How to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle:
- Reduce household energy use. This not only saves money but reduce the carbon footprint too. Switch off when you don’t use: lights, AC, TV, Computers, heater and so on … Make wiser choices with lighting by swapping to more energy efficient choices such as LED or CFL which last longer too.
Buy energy efficient equipment which consume less electricity.
- Reduce Consumption of water – Again money saving and sustainability too
- Reduce the use of non-biodegradable materials – plastic, thermocol etc. Minimising the use of single use plastic products will have a significant impact in reducing the amount of plastic waste.
- Reduce the amount of household waste by composting and recycling. Proudly dispose your waste wisely in dedicated areas instead of land or water. Proper disposal of food waste is important too as it’s another source of greenhouse gases.
- Reuse old furniture, clothes and other items. Resell or donate your old furniture and clothes rather than throwing it away & upcycle unwanted house hold items. There are endless possibilities with creativity!
- Recycle. Many household items can be recycled to reduce the amount of waste that goes into the landfill. Glass, metal including aluminum foil, paper and plastic can be recycled which accounts for majority of the household waste.
- Encourage others to live sustainably: Spread the message among your friends and family.
- Plant a tree and preserve our forests: Trees help to reduce carbon emission by absorbing the carbon dioxide and generate Oxygen. It is estimated that a single tree can absorb up to one ton of carbon dioxide in its lifetime.
- Grow your own: Organic gardening and local food production are the other elements of sustainability. Chemical pesticides not only cause harm to human health but can lead to serious environmental hazards too. Home gardening, community gardens and urban gardening etc. are growing in popularity as an opportunity to avail organic produce at a cheaper cost.
- Transport: Reduce use of fossil fuels by walking, biking, car share or use of public transport.
17 Sustainable Development Goals by United nations, 2015
Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, Sustainable City in Dubai and Bedzed in London are real examples of planned sustainable communities. Lessons from these initiatives convey the message that sustainable communities are definitely achievable while maintaining comforts of our current lifestyle. With advancing technology, alternative renewal energy sources are now available and being explored and consumed instead of fossil fuels. In 2015, United Nations addressed sustainability by adopting a set of 17 goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all as part of a sustainable development agenda. Each goal has a set of objectives to be achieved over the next 15 years. Globally, there is increasing awareness among the public about the impending threat to our planet and willingness to change. Although great co-operation is required from governments, international organizations and world leaders to achieve these goals, meaningful changes start from individuals.
Take Home Message:
“We shall either learn the wisdom of how to live together in peace or we shall die together as fools” – Martin Luther King