Do you spend your time collecting metal straws and lusting after renewable products? It must feel really good to know that you’re #savingtheearth and all―except you might not be.
To start, let me shed some light on what it means to be sustainable. Sustainabilityーcontrary to popular beliefー isn’t exclusively environment-centric. It’s determined by three different parameters: environmental, social and economic. To wit, sustainability is ensuring that the needs of the present are met without compromising those of the future. It promotes doing more, with less for what’s best.
So, if you’ve been drowning yourself in self-praise, stuck in a hive mind of honour and privilege just because you use, you know, reusable cups, here’s what I have to say: Snap out of it. Read on to find out why you’re wrong.
I know, I know. Reusable products cost less long term. But how long is long? You’re probably thinking, “It doesn’t even cost much” or “Aren’t there cheaper reusable alternatives available?” Now, that’s just your privilege talking, and, honey, it is not a good colour on you.
Just because you feel the amount you pay for reusable products doesn’t seem like much, doesn’t mean it’s the same for everyone else too. I don’t deny that reusable products do play a role in saving the earth, but above all else, sustainability involves maintaining your current livelihood too. It’s one thing to ensure that there are sufficient resources for the future but when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, sustaining yourself in the present is natural and should be the priority.
Before you call me out with pitched forks ala the Salem witch trials, this isn’t a selfish mentalityーits a survivalist one. So please, don’t go around calling people out just because all your things are made of bambooーit doesn’t make you a better person.
At the end of the day, if spending less is economically sustainable for others, then we should respect their effort towards self-sustainability. It’s just a matter of making the right choices for yourself. Don’t shame another just because you’re economically uplifted and can afford the luxury of differing options.
The fact is, renewable resources can become unsustainable. What you should instead focus on is the complete lifecycle of the product to truly determine the extent of its sustainability—introduction, growth, maturity, and eventual decline
If the consumption of an item exceeds the rate of its production, then, logically, it’s unsustainable. It’s a fallacy to think that capitalism does not have a hand in the sustainability economy. It does, and in some ways, can be even more damaging than your typical run-of-the-mill household products that aren’t subjected to the follies of trend.
Consider your collection of tote bags lying around at home. Are they saving the earth if you’re not even using them? Reusables will continually be produced as a result of careless consumerism even if the existing amount meets demands. Unfortunately, due to accidental (I use the term very loosely) hoarding, wastage occurs as a result of overproduction.
Furthermore, these reusable items aren’t used enough times to make a meaningful impact on the environment. Yet, ironically people still discard or neglect their ‘reusable items’ and buy new ones, leading to a vicious cycle of wastage.
I mean, do you really need 20 contrasting Starbucks tumblers for different occasions? Are you living out your New York Fashion Week fantasies?
What seems to grace past everybody’s mind is that renewable energy is not guaranteed to save the earth. For one, these alternative energy sources can take up to 1000 times more space than that of fossil fuels. This is unsustainable given the fact that this space could be allocated to the use of other resources such as healthcare buildings or tourist destinations. In the end, it not only costs more space and cash to produce the same quantity of products, but environmental damage also occurs when wildlife is displaced for the sake of building renewable energy plants.
Mining coal is harmful to the environment, but so is mining rare earth metals for wind turbines. Creating impounding reservoirs for hydropower dams isn’t exactly saving the earth either. Ultimately, there’s always going to be a trade-off to the creation of renewable energy sources.
Realistically speaking, this contests a whole new issue of how you have to be affluent to dive into environmental sustainability. The sad reality is that renewable energy is empirically designed for the rich. There’s a cruel irony that the privileged who can afford it, don’t want it but the poor who needs it are denied access to it because they simply don’t have the financial means to obtain it. So, even if there was an intention to be environmentally sustainable, one’s economic standing halts their ability to achieve it.
Sometimes, the most obvious things can also be the ones we’re mostly oblivious. If everything you own is renewably sourced and reusable, good for you. But did you turn off all the switches before leaving the house? Do you take 1-hour showers? Do you spend money on things you don’t need?
We have to realise that everything we do in our lives is going to have an impact on sustainability―be it social, economical or environmental. You can’t just use reusable products but live your daily life ignorant of your wastage in different manners. Your eco-friendly products are redundant if you have a net surplus in terms of the negative impacts your actions have on the earth.
Not that it’s bad to go renewable. I’m just saying that it isn’t the only way to be sustainable. Neither do you have the right to look down on other people just because you do. Think twice before you speak to someone in a derogatory manner just because they’re eating from a styrofoam container. Don’t just feel good and waste more because of the luxuries you happen to be able to afford.
I know it’s not easy to be sustainable. But you have to try. In our age, given the plethora of information that’s available, ignorance is a choice. There is no excuse for you to not take into account the impact of your actions so stop opting for the convenient choices.
You’re not doing this for yourself, you’re doing it for everybody you love and for the good of the future. As the great Martin Luther King, Jr.once said, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step”, so I hope from now on, you’ll be taking the initiative to make your first steps towards sustainability.
We're hiring lifestyle writers!