Sustainability isn’t one size fits all. In fact, I’d argue that the term ‘one size fits all’ is an oxymoron – clothing, diet, lifestyle are all dependent on personal needs, values, and preferences. So why should sustainability (or anything for that matter) be a rigid lifestyle that people are expected to fit into?
I think (hope) we can all agree that climate change is (very) real and the environment is facing serious threats from all angles. However, most of these threats are not things that can be immediately fixed with individual action. Sustainability often focuses on individual lifestyle choices and while yes, those choices do have a collective net positive impact, they don’t necessarily solve the root of these problems. Global warming is essentially caused by extremely high levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere which trap heat that causes the atmosphere to trap heat radiating from Earth toward space (according to NASA). This is called the ‘greenhouse effect.’ The way we solve it is by reducing our carbon emissions, and the way we do that is find an alternative source of fuel for cars, planes, and everything we need that uses fossil fuels. From what we (scientists) know, electricity, animal agriculture, transportation, and industry are the biggest contributors to global warming. Practices like reducing your intake of animal products, reducing our total individual driving time, and being conscious of your energy use in general do help, but the real, long-term solutions need to come from policy and structural change.
So, why do we practice sustainability?
Because we need to.
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That being said, what you do needs to be best for you. If your body needs nutrients that can be best found in meat, eat sustainable meat. If you need to drive to work, drive to work but try to carpool when you can. If you need to use plastic for sanitary purposes, try to reduce your plastic intake in other areas of your life and make sure you recycle correctly. Everything we do in our lives these days will contribute to environmental degradation in some way simply because of the way our consumerist culture was built. Unless we commit to making both a structural impact through voting and choosing elected officials who will prioritize climate change as well as individual sustainable habits, change will continue to be slow. These problems are larger than any of us, but don’t allow yourself to sit idly by while ‘other people do the work.’ We are the ones who need to be putting in the work – being mindful about our energy use, transportation needs, consumption of fast industry goods.
But make sure you do it in a way that is authentic to your individual self and needs. Remember, you have to fill your own cup before you can pour into others.