Sustainability is a Choice, and it Depends on Us

The term sustainability has become a key topic in every day live for everyone one of us. 
If we think about it, it is of paramount importance. What do climate, biodiversity and culture have in common?  They are, each and every one of them, being threatened by unprecedented issue, one whose name is rather well known – the environmental crisis.  

To know the depth of the problem is absolutely fundamental.  For instance, it is important to know that:

Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and the extinction of indigenous languages and cultural traditions are events that are closely related and influence each other.

But knowledge is not everything and action must be taken.  As individuals we have great power, based on the choices we make in our daily lives.  The impact we have on society is far greater that we might think.

We interviewed Telmo Pievani, science philosopher and an expert in evolution.

What is the uniting factor between climate, biodiversity and culture?

The decrease in diversity in living species has its origins in olden times; most likely, it was us humans who caused the extinction of various species since the Neolithic. Therefore the Anthropocene is ancient history and since then human behavior has had great impact on the environment.

In the recent past centuries the situation has changed considerably, and the environment crisis – as have the other two, has increased dramatically. This means that these interacting crises are getting faster and faster: a real “avalanche effect”.

In the case of the biodiversity, it has resulted in a decrease in the number of species that inhabit our planet. We live in an ecosystem that is becoming poorer in terms of biodiversity and is becoming more fragile, posing a threat to the ecosystem and, therefore, to human life.

Deforestation, the globalization of commerce and transport, and the population increase are some of the phenomena responsibly for the dramatic extinction of traditions, languages and culture – ancient ones in some cases.

We are impotent spectators just looking at the loss as it happens.

On the other hand, climate change is a more recent phenomenon, it is a result of the industrialization in the western world.

Climate change is not only an environmental problem but it also is a social one. The issue of “climate justice” shows us that those who are paying the highest price for the adaptation and mitigation measures are the poorest people; the ones who are represent those wonderful cultures we should be protecting.

Sustainabilty and humanity; the range of action

Humans exhibit a clear radical ambivalence, which becomes more evident when these crises happen at concurrent times.

In just a few centuries we have engaged in a process of modification of the environment, one to which we have not been able to adapt to. We are the ultimate builders; our strategy for survival is to change the environments in which we live to our advantage.

We are not the only species who does that but we are, certainly, the most invasive and pervasive builders in nature, every ecosystem on Earth bears our prints.

In this ambivalent process, the exploitation of the natural resources has allowed us to attain high levels of progress and comfort, to which we are not ready to renounce. It is clear that, at this point, this type of economic and consumerism model does not work, it is not sustainable. The actors of this process can no longer exempt themselves from taking measures to ensure that this unsustainability is overcome. It is not just a question of marketing, but of survival.

What actions can we undertake to stop climate change?

It is imperative, in order to revert the process, that we show greater respect for nature; conservation is most important. 

We must protect many more areas of our planets, in which we engage to stop the destruction of the ecosystems.  As determined by biologist Eric Dinerstein in his research, we must build a Global Safety Net.

But conservation by itself is not enough.  We also need proactive, innovative solutions.  Technology will play a pivotal role in helping us overcome the crisis or to allow us to adapt to it.

Science, technology and the environment must no longer be placed in opposition to each other: in the upcomings years we will have to collaborate at every level, with all our strength and the best available skills, to change course.

Our commitment counts. What impact do our choices have?

Individual commitment is essential and each of us has many possibilities for action.

Contributing to increase the impact from the bottom-up, primarily with individual choices, is the first step.

According to several scientific studies the effect of individual habits is quite high –around 30%.

Therefore, if we review all the initiatives aimed at reducing the environmental crisis, we will see that at least one third of them results from changes of individual behaviour.

There are different possibilities to make change:

  1. Energy efficiency
  2. Green building
  3. Reduction of food waste
  4. Consumer education
  5. Purchases of alternative goods to those with a high social and environmental impact

It is equally to mobilize the remaining 70% – political decision makers, economic entities and companies.

What we decide to consume is not indifferent, every purchase makes a political statement.

We therefore reward companies that are virtuous and have a green heart, those that work to reduce their ecological footprint and are moving towards sustainable production models.

On the flip side, we deny our consent to the ones that do not make decisions geared towards sustainability. It is not green-washing, our future is at stake.

There is still much work to do.

The great challenge of next years will be to take ecology outside the box of theoretical reflection and beyond the world of luxury.

Sustainability is not a matter for the rich, but a duty and a right for everyone.

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