Welcome to the blog of the Broad Curriculum course Living Sustainably: A complete guide to surviving a changing planet. This course is run by Professor Nick Gray of the Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Am I sustainable?

“Ideal” sustainable living
I have my own vegetable patch. I try to only eat food that is locally grown, and I never buy things that are out-of-season.  Any paper I write on is recycled, and everything I use ends up in recycling or composting. I don’t use a dishwasher. I cycle everywhere, and if need be I take public transport. If I need to travel I never take planes.
Why, then, am I not sustainable? Despite all of these lengths gone to, I still use more than one planet’s worth of resources. How can that even be? The truth is, sustainability is not just about individuals making a difference. Don’t get me wrong – every person has a part to play in terms of sustaining our environment, but laudable as it is, if it is left to individuals it is futile. For example, although recycling paper saves a tremendous volume of water and energy over producing it anew, the process itself is still incredibly costly (source: nationalgeographic.com). My life and my work revolve around using a computer, as do the lives of most others in the modern world – as long as Ireland’s energy production is reliant on fossil fuels, this is unsustainable. I can’t choose to only use renewable energy, after all. Every time I step on a train, every time I turn on a light, I’m contributing, little by little, to the planet’s downfall. Every cycle of the washing machine costs around 95 litres (source: wearefreeradicals.co.uk). The clothes I wear, the bike I cycle, these are usually made in an unsustainable manner. I mean, even the meat I eat isn’t sustainable (cows are one of the biggest producers of methane and other greenhouses gases in the world).
This is all a bit depressing, isn’t it? Do I simply, then, appropriate the blame on everyone else? Do I tell off the restaurateur whose business I frequent for not shelling out on an eco-oven? No, the fault lies at least as much with myself. We make claims about our contributions to sustainability, but by our own complacency in daily life that fragile shell of using “one planet’s worth” is haemorrhaged. Do I stop using my washing machine then, or even construct my own bike? No, because sustainability is not mutually exclusive of a high quality of life. Sustainability can only be achieved if individuals stand up and say no. If we want to truly be sustainable, we have to do more than just putting paper in the recycling bin. We have to band together and force the hand of companies, large multinationals, and ultimately governments that engage in unsustainable practice. Legislation needs to be put in place to force the hand of those who do not provide sustainable services. Renewable energy. Recycled materials. Safe and sustainable production practices. It’s the only way.
This is a bleak scenario and a steep road to climb. It’s not going to be fun and it’s not going to happen overnight. But imagine if we succeed. Technology, life in harmony, not at odds with nature. A life safe in the knowledge that this world will continue to trundle on after us, that we are preserving a world for generations to come. I’m not sustainable, not yet. But I want to be; I will be.
Killian Hanlon

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