Our Green Planet
Our Planet, Our Problem2019-04-15
Sustainable lifestyle, Small steps we can take, and why relying on tech and capitalism won't save us.
I care a lot about our planet, but every day I'm reminded how fragile it is and that we are destroying it at an unprecedented speed. We are all contributing in some way or another to global warming, and it is our collective responsibility to deal with this problem.
Trying to be a bit more sustainable
Over the past several years, my partner and I have drastically changed our lifestyle to match our ethical convictions. We've made two changes that are simultaneously quite straight forward to implement, but not that easy to stick to. Keep in mind, these changes are possible mainly because we're in a rather privileged position (both working full time, no kids, no debt and living in a European capital), and I'm fully aware that this is not the case for the majority of people.
We've stopped consuming animal based products altogether.
For me, that meant completely changing my diet, cutting out all meat, cheese, butter, milk, honey... any animal food or by-product. I'd really love to be able to say: "It's really no big deal, it's super easy and requires literally no effort".
But that would be a lie. For me, as for many Europeans, my meals' centerpiece was always meat. Vegetables were a side, complementary.
Dropping animal products meant redefining my concept of a meal, learning how to cook completely different foods and meals (I've always enjoyed and felt comfortable cooking, but this was something else).
It also forced me to reconsider my relation to food, each of steps in the "farm to plate" process, and what each of those steps implies. It made me consider the effects of industrial scale farming on our ecosystem, on the impoverishment of farmers while agricultural corporations' profits soar. Or how over decades we have forgotten, or refuse to see, the link between the meat that is on our plate, the animal it belongs to, how we take this meat from the animal and the conditions that the animal lived and died in. Or where in the world the vegetables on our plate were cultivated, what kind of products had been applied to them and the effect that they have on us and on the planet. I could (and might) write more about this, as there's a lot to be said about our relation to food, how food can be sexist and patriarchal, or elitist and so on.
We've also radically changed our purchasing habits.
For food, we mainly buy organic, and try to stick to regional and seasonal produce when reasonable. This is quite restrictive and expensive, but no animal products and limiting exotic produce helps keep the price down.
For nearly everything else, we've reconsidered our needs and overall reduces the amount we consume. This mainly involves reconsidering impulse purchases, but can go as far as checking in what condition certain products are made, reducing packaging, or good old fashioned boycotting
At some point tho, there's no such thing as purely ethical consumption in a capitalistic system, so we have to be aware of that and know where to draw the line.
So why am I saying all this?
I'm not writing this to boast, or take some kind of moral high-ground.
As I mentioned at the start, we're facing catastrophic consequences of climate change that will transform the world as we know it. Regardless of our actual impact and influence we all benefit from efforts to reduce the impact of global warming.
There's a great deal of inequality regarding an individual's carbon footprint and how that same individual will be affected by climate change. Those who have the highest carbon footprint will be the least affected by climate change. But we're kind of "all in this together", regardless of privilege and impact, or lack of.
So what can you do?
What do you want to do?
What can you realistically do that you feel happy with?
Consider what you can effect, and to what extent.
Checkout the industries that have the most negative impact of climate, and think about your relation/involvement regarding that industry.
A few easy ones we all interact with:
- transport: do you drive regularly? could you use public transport more? What about air travel? have you considered offsetting the carbon on your next flights?
- fashion: Are the clothes you purchase made in un-ethical conditions? have you considered second hand clothes? Vegan clothes (not leather or silk)? Fair Trade, organic?
- agriculture: Where does your food come from? does it contribute to deforestation, or droughts? What's in it? Have you considered doing one meat-free day a week?
- waste management: can you reduce the amount of packaging you purchase? Can you reduce single use plastic? What about recycling, composting?
There's a ton of things you can do! Some things are realistic, others require substantial effort or are not always possible.
What I want is for you to think about how everything we consume and everything we do has an impact. And that you influence that. As an individual what we chose to do has a limited impact, collectively we have more influence. But we can't really consider ourselves the main culprits, as we can't all realistically opt-out of the capitalistic status-quo.
The root cause of the issue cannot be the solution
Ultimately, the burden of combating climate change shouldn't be carried only by consumers. At the end of the day, the consumer cannot be fully responsible for a company's production methods, the consumer doesn't have a say in this process.
This is where the biggest impact is to be made.
Unfortunately, companies cannot be trusted to self regulate or to do the right thing. At the highest level, companies are a group of stakeholders that have two main objectives that need to be met, no matter the cost: Growth and Income.
These two goals are not sustainable. Maximizing income and growth are the source of the problem, companies need to either sell constantly more, or make better margins by lowering production costs. Both these option negatively impact climate.
The global climate crisis has enabled various forms of green industries to thrive. There are some real solutions to actual problems. There's an overwhelming amount of either post-colonial micro-credit band-aid solutions, disaster capitalism, green-washing or just parallel revenue streams. Yes the planet and life on earth is important, but is it really as important as Growth and GDP?
It is unrealistic to believe that we can keep our current standard of living, keeps consuming at this rate, and keep on this "Business as usual" and "solve" climate change. Our excessive and intensive consumption are the problem. The belief that Growth is the end goal is what got us into this mess. It is vital, necessary, that we reconsider and change our society drastically if we want to have a chance of fighting climate change.