Tuesday, January 20, 2015
The Nature of Sustainability
Over the years, I have tried to be a student of good planetary stewardship. The ultimate prize is a humanity that functions in harmony with nature. This is what comes when what we take from the biosphere balances out with what we give back to it.
In the U.S. and in other economically advantaged countries, People mostly take for granted their supply of fresh water, the ready availability of inexpensive food, cheap energy to heat our homes and power our transport options, and esthetically pleasing and healthy living environments. Up until recently, we have also been accustomed to living with minimal risk of extreme, destructive weather.
These days, the natural systems and resources that we count on for stability in our lives are rapidly disappearing. If the Earth was a bank with a fixed amount of equity assets, healthy living would equate to getting along on just the interest generated by that equity. In fact, our consumption goes way beyond that. We are drawing deeply into the Earth’s resource equity, and putting economic stability and our lives at ever greater risk because of it.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We can live in balance with our planet’s ability to provide. We can, but it requires making some hard and some not-so-hard choices on a local, national, and a civilization scale.
We are using up our fresh water. We are sucking the life out of our oceans. We are stripping our living landscapes bare. We are on a truly reckless path with the only home we have.
Energy is a very big sore spot on Planet Earth. The human consumption of fossil hydrocarbons like coal and oil has put our atmosphere in a perilous state. Climate change is driven by human lifestyle habits; not just the burning of dirty forms of energy, but also our ever expanding appetite for animal flesh. These days, the sun, and the wind are inexhaustible in supply. Moreover, both small and massive scale technologies are now available to convert these clean and natural forms of energy into heat and electricity at costs that are competitive or even cheaper than the dirty energy we’ve depended on since the beginnings of the industrial age.
There is also a personal lifestyle decision that could dramatically reduce the 80 million tons of methane produced annually by the livestock animals we consume. The answer is simple: eat less beef, pork, and poultry. The less, the better. Keep in mind that methane is twenty times more potent as a greenhouse pollutant than carbon dioxide. Even a small cut in a person’s animal protein consumption, if widely adopted, could really make a difference. It’s an easy and also a healthy way to move to the right side of history.
Sooner or later, humans will get to the right side of history. We will learn to live in harmony with nature. We have the technology to take us there. This much is clear: the longer we put off a transition to a life-affirming path, the bigger the mess we leave for future generations.
If we are going to build a future worthy of our species, a sustainable future, living in harmony with the gifts of nature, we the people must step up and be the change we wish for.