During the past seven weeks we tried to put a spotlight on sustainability, by looking into several sectors, from education and agriculture to energy and policy, and highlighting how they all can and should relate to the notion of sustainability. In this last post of the series, we will try to draw a line and add up what we have so far, trying to imagine how sustainability will be shaped in the future.
Certainly the world, and obviously its sustainable development, is confronted with many problems. In every part of the system we can find examples of how wrong we have dealt so far with our resources, whether we talk about burning ever increasing quantities of fossil fuels, over-fishing our oceans, polluting our rivers and lakes, producing and dumping huge quantities of waste or even pretending to fix things by enacting inefficient, lopsided policies. In previous posts, we have discussed the effects implied by a growing population and its predisposition to overconsumption at a certain point in time. And certainly many of these problems are directly linked to some very human attributes, such as greed, self-interest, laziness or lack of involvement.
It is therefore easy to understand why some people are quite pessimistic with regard to our possible comeback as a responsible entity, willing to pay for its mistakes and take real steps towards a sustainable lifestyle. In fact, when considering the other seven billion people on the planet, a single person’s actions might not be seen as meaning too much – therefore many people get stuck behind the mindset that their actions don’t count. Furthermore, failure of major policy commitment on the issue of sustainability (such as the Rio+20 Summit this year, to quote just the most recent one) is surely not an inspiration.
However, there are also many achievements, and certainly the first step has been the acknowledgement that something was going wrong, that the environment was suffering due to our unsustainable activities. Many measures have since then been put into practice, with varying degrees of impact: from banning of some dangerous substances to encouraging renewable energies or finding new ways of recycling waste. The development has also brought to the front many new technologies that can help reduce our burden on the planet. On the other side, several of these technologies are feared to unleash other possibly harmful effects, some not yet known.
At the other end of the scale there are the optimists, who believe there is still hope for us and our planet. They are encouraged by the numerous alternatives available today that could help us reverse the damage we have caused. The interconnectedness of today’s world requires a holistic approach. There are things that can be done at global level, like policies limiting CO2 emissions level, while others may have a better impact at country level, like protecting a particular habitat. And then there are the smaller things that each person on the planet can do, from riding bikes to planting trees or buying responsibly. The optimists are positive that their efforts, together with the ones of many others who think alike, will definitely make a difference. And actually even individual actions can turn into global movements (for instance, see the Billion Acts of Green Campaign).
However, beside their general belief that we will be able to save the planet, optimists agree on two things: there is still a long way to cover and action must be taken now, without delay, both at individual and at country/global levels. The fact is that we are now at a turning point: we are faced with choosing to live sustainably and abide the changes that this entails versus collapsing as a society under the burden of our unsustainable use of resources. It only depends on us to make the right choice. And learning about sustainability, as well as starting to take action (in our homes, in our communities and our countries) are of foremost importance.
Find out more:
Some of the questions and topics referred to above (and in some of the posts that will follow on the same issue) have been raised during the course Introduction to Sustainability, available at the University of Illinois. They certainly generate a lot of discussions and this is why we decided to explore them further. The statements made in this text are not meant to offer any answers and do not pretend to cover all possible aspects of a subject. They are merely an invitation to discover various facets of the sustainability debate, of which we believe all should be aware and a part of.
Image source: http://www.cybercom.ie/sustainability