Sustainability: The new fad?

Too often people label being ‘green’ or sustainable as a hippy fantasy; ”it’s all about peace and love, man.”pecae and love man

It may conjure images of anti-establishment types not washing to save water, planting their aubergines and marching for the legalisation of pot.

Marijuana-Legalizatio-March-6-1000x662

The amount of people that I’ve had roll their eyes, especially back in the predominantly conservative county of West Sussex, when I tried to talk about anything remotely environmentally friendly was frustrating.

However there is so much more to it than hugging strangers and getting rid of the Tories.

d cam

Climate change is not something to laugh about, Cameron.

The economy is the skeleton to which our whole social functioning is currently based upon, and has historically proven to be the most successful way for a society to trade things, material or otherwise. The fact that we now have a globalised economy that pretty much dominates the entire world, exploring the ways that an economy can exist in a sustainable manner is very interesting albeit controversial.

Can you balance demand and supply when the demand is what makes profit is continuously put first?

kim_2195069b

This guy gets it.

The president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim (above) has warned that not facing our moral obligations to change our behaviours will leave the coming generations with a world changed for the worse. The Potsdam institute states that the effects of global warming are “tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions” and likely to undermine development efforts and goals.

poor fishing, rich robbing

Effectively if we can’t safeguard our environmental resources then any efforts to progress economically are made futile. Because, if it had gone unnoticed, we rely on our natural environment to provide everything that sells.

Electronic devices, you know iPhones, laptops and the like? Well they use rare earth metals that come from, well, the earth. And you know that thing called food that we need to survive, well that funnily enough comes from the land we endlessly trashing as though we have a planet B. Which we don’t, by the way.

save the planet chocolate

Green economy’s are not a fanatical ideology, they can prove to be extremely beneficial to the parties involved and have been exhibited in several case studies. The Green Economy Coalition strives to aid economies that give due attention to the health of the environmental resources they depend on for economies to function. Demand and supply are therefore a key element examined in any Green Economy because the suppliers in the chain have control over demand. If materials are responsibly sourced, their origins traceable and production processes keep sustainability in mind then demand and supply would be balanced and pressure upon certain resource would be reduced.

Here lies the example of EcoBudget which allows municipalities to plan, monitor and report on natural resource consumption. With three main components that mimic the phases of the financial budgeting cycle: budget planning, spending and balancing.

In Tubigon, Philippines an EcoBudget was initiated which revolved around the foundation of their region’s economy being in agriculture, fishery and tourism. They heavily depend upon the health of their natural resources, such as the mangroves, coral reefs, clean water and fertile soils as these are critically important to rural and urban poor, as well as the tourist industry. Tubigon has found that the EcoBudget has become a useful tool in addressing poverty as well as protecting the environment.

When looking at the responsibility that companies have to be more sustainable, those businesses who focus on making profits need to establish whether they are able to maintain a demand which they can supply. To achieve this balance, sustainable practices is in their interest and providing transparency about the source of their materials.

But here’s where it gets interesting. So often companies and brands stick the word ‘sustainable’ in as a marketing tool, diminishing its legitimacy and making its poignancy questionable. ‘Sustainababble’ some have coined it; “oh it has sustainably sourced ingredients” or “sustainably derived sources“- what does that even mean?! If the sources are so sustainable why is there anonymity as to what these sources are? Where’s the transparency or openness?

one does not simply define sustainability

These taglines are rarely backed up with evidence yet people so readily take this spiel as gospel without ever questioning its validity. This stems from there being no agreed meaning of the word sustainable and therefore no mediating body that can regulate where it’s used who by.

'100% plant based', does that make the contents a sustainable product?

‘100% plant based’, does that make the whole product a sustainable one? More to the point, where are the plants coming from? Are they sustainably sourced? What does sustainably sourced actually mean? Is the product sustainably produced, harvested, transported, sold, consumed?

A think tank called NEF is striving to create the foundations for social, economic and environmental justice. Their aim is to transform the UK’s economy so that it works for people and the planet. They believe that the UK and most of the world’s economies are increasingly unsustainable, unfair and unstable. There is an interesting book by John Thackara called ‘How to Thrive in the Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow’s World Today’ which explores real life examples of solutions to an economy running on a planet with finite resources.

Also, there are many communities who are breaking away to mainstream economic structures including skill shares, repairing technological devices rather than replacing them as soon as they break, and food co-ops, because we all know that the most valuable trading mechanism is food. Everyone needs to eat right?

When talking about the ways climate change has been tackled through policy, NEF rightly points out that many attempts to reduce carbon emissions are tailored to produce profit for a minority of people. This is rather than focusing on the aim of safeguarding the environment to prevent widespread change that will negatively impact a lot of people. Examples being in the forestation programmes that apparently ‘offset’ emissions, when in fact they know its just a load of superficial codswallop. We need to stop adding emissions to the what is in the air (biospheric pool) and stop extracting from what is stored in the ground (lithospheric pool). I.e. a band aid made of trees on an artery spewing out carbon dioxide just doesn’t cut the mustard.

imagine if trees produced wifi

We can no longer afford to stick environmental issues and social issues in separate silos; they are intrinsically linked.

Against the backdrop of climatic change and the conclusion by the IPCC in their most recent Annual Report (AR5) the period 1983-2012 was very likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 800 years in the Northern Hemisphere. In turn, increased drought in the equatorial regions and differences in atmospheric patterns are causing droughts like the ones currently observed in California and the Mid-west of America.

January is usually California’s wettest month, but this year no rain fell in San Francisco. In 2014, San Francisco had its driest January since 1850, with 0.06 inches of rain recorded. Here, water is more valuable than oil.

 

Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system and accounted for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971-2010. With this has come a decrease in Arctic sea ice extent every season and in every successive decade since 1979, increasing sea levels; threatening increased floods. Glaciers have continued to decrease almost worldwide, having significant impacts on meltwater access for the millions dependent upon it as their only source of freshwater (take the Sierra Nevada and California’s drought or the fact that 30% of Nepal’s population relies on meltwater as their only source of freshwater).

Visible water level drop in Lake Mead, the largest water reservoir along the Colorado River and is relied upon by Las Vegas, Nevada, Arizona and Mexico.

 

 

One could claim that pushing for biofuels and agrofuels would be sustainable alternative source of energy, But global land grabs are contributing to the global climate crisis as land for food is converted into land for fuel. (If you’d like to know more about this probably foreign term ‘land grab’, I would thoroughly recommend a read of Fred Pearce’s book The Landgrabbers)

Agrofuels, or Biofuels, are fuels produced from organic matter, such as palm oil plants. They are cultivated in large-scale monocultures and have been promoted as the answer to our fossil fuel dependent society’s as a ‘green’ fuel which can be used in place of petrol or diesel. They may purport to be a solution to climate change, but in actual fact they emit more CO2 in their production and processing than fossil fuels.

Oh, so not sustainable then.

The thing about energy from the consumer end is that it’s not something tangible that people can touch or actively see using up their surrounding environment. But at the production end there are definitely issues associated with energy harvesting.

 Looking at the damages that the tar sands industry in Alaska has done to their beautiful country is evident.

oil sands alaskaoil tar sands alaska

 

change

So there we have it. Sustainability is incredibly hard to define in a world where there is so much lacking in terms of education and integration of the public as not just consumers but active players in the future of our planet’s health.

 

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