Sadly, Australians have a footprint of about 7 hectares (70,000 m2) while developing countries such as India and China have footprints of about 2 ha. Sustainability is a term that describes how activities and the things we do today shouldn’t prevent future generations from meeting their needs as well.
This essentially means that renewable resources such as timber, food crops and fish should not be consumed faster than they can be replaced, non-renewable resources such as oil and gas must not be exploited until they can be replaced by renewable energy systems such as solar and wind, and wastes must not accumulate – wastes have to be processed, assimilated and/or the products used.
Once you have reached the conclusion that we are living in an ecological unsustainable way, then the solution is obvious: we have to adopt sustainable living. This means that we will be accountable for our actions, that we need to find the right balance between what is available and what we actually need to survive, it will involve being smarter about how we interact with the natural world, and it will mean adopting strategies to minimise our impact on the environment. We will have to work towards both sustainable consumption and sustainable production.
And dare I say it: sustainability involves the intertwining of caring for the environment with social and economic considerations. This may mean that before you buy anything you might consider the manufacturer’s policies and operations, so that the food, clothes and items you buy are produced fairly and ethically, that their workers are not exploited, and that the resources they use are able to be replaced.
In the social context, it is also about our well-being, of having the right to be healthy, of making the right choices, of building resilient communities that have the ability to adapt to change. And I can assure you that there will be many changes in our immediate future, not least of which is the current worldwide depression. If you want to know what is, and what will, happen use a computer and ‘google’ (or search) transition towns, peak oil, ecovillages, 100 mile diet, post carbon cities and the relocalisation network.
Moving towards a sustainable future will require social change, and more importantly behavioural change. Unless we change our worldview of what is valuable, what is really important for all life on earth to continue, and what we need to change, as individuals, about our lifestyle, then no amount of talking or writing about all of these things will make much difference. It was Winston Churchill who said “History tells us that we will choose the right path – once we have explored all the wrong ones. It's not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what's required”.
There is an increasing groundswell of people throughout the world who have decided to change. More and more people are taking public transport, riding bicycles or walking to work, using cloth shopping bags, car pooling, growing their own food – organically without the use of pesticides and artificial fertilisers, installing solar power systems on their roof, harvesting rainwater to offset their water budget in the home, recycling greywater onto their gardens, buying green products, composting food scraps and plant material, installing water efficient appliances and fixtures in homes, recycling glass and metals, and building passive solar homes that are energy efficient.
I remember an Australian comedy show years ago when a priest would list lots of points and then finish with “There is something in there for everyone, don’t you think”. I believe that everyone can make a difference, that we can take that first step on a long journey into the future, starting by simply making small changes in our behaviour until what we do and think is second nature.