Sustainable development, the environment, climate change, global warming…Do you hear violins playing a funeral dirge in the background? Between you and me, all the gloom and doom stories on these topics are quite depressing. In the face of the potentially catastrophic scenarios portrayed, we have two options: either we sit on our thumbs, or we roll up our sleeves and tackle the problem. So if we don’t want to sit idly by and watch the world implode, where do we start?
First, let’s see what sustainable developments means exactly. If you break down these two words, they seem pretty easy to understand:
- Sustainable = capable of being sustained, maintained, kept up, supported
- Development = growth, enlargement, expansion, progress, evolution
So, clearly, sustainable development encourages all of us to use methods that can be maintained and will not deplete resources in our quest for social and economic progress.
In order to sustain development, we must act to protect natural resources for future generations by taking small steps and continuing in the right direction slowly. But, it’s hard! Yes, we agree! In a way, being environmentally friendly is similar to being an athlete; someone who puts in the effort every day, to achieve exceptional performance. And we all understand how hard that is.
In sustainable development, many complicated fields overlap which is why it is so hard to find comprehensive solutions. In 1987, the United Nations (UN) Environmental Commission identified the three pillars of sustainable development as: environmental, economic, and social.
As all these factors are related to each other, when you begin to think about problems of sustainable development, you quickly realize that it is like a Rubix cube. For instance, look at the bottle of water near you (I know you have one not too far!). Where was this bottle made? Think about how far it traveled to get into your hands.
Then think about how this bottle of water was made. In the majority of cases, bottles are made of polyethylene terephthalate (such a scary name!), most often it is shortened to PET. It is a kind of plastic and the plastic is itself a derivative of oil (petroleum) that has to be extracted from the ground. Unfortunately, this extraction emits a whole bunch of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide (CO2). I told you, it is scary!
In addition, oil extraction pollutes water because of all the chemicals that end up in the groundwater. A study on the environmental impact of water bottles estimates that the manufacture and travel of a 1 liter bottle (33 oz) requires 2-3 liters of water (67-100 fl. oz). And this explains why we are living on credit with regard to the Earth’s resources!
So with just a simple bottle of water, you can appreciate a vast array of the environmental problems we face. But the complications do not stop there. The bottles are also sold by companies that employ people. So this is a long and difficult problem to solve: if we ban plastic bottles, what do we do about all the workers in that industry?
Just with this bottle of water, you can see how complicated and difficult it is to protect the environment yet maintain economic and social progress. It is precisely why sustainable development is such a complicated area and why it will take time to find solutions.
No, we cannot change the world in the blink of an eye. We are not all superheroes. But we can each take small steps to protect the environment and move forward gradually.
Of course, each individual effort may seem worthless when you acknowledge the magnitude of the problem. We may seem like a drop of water in the ocean. But because every drop matters, our power is an ocean of possibilities.