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Sustainability – a micro perspective

Sustainability is a much-coined term these days and has become a buzz word that is fast losing its real meaning. Very few ‘conscious’ people from any walk of life would oppose the concept of sustainability and many would speak eloquently on the subject. From glitzy corporate brochures to deep intellectual discussions sustainability can be found everywhere.

This makes me wonder if the whole world is so focused on this issue of critical importance to mankind, how come our civilization as a whole is becoming more and more unsustainable by the day?

The problem lies in the way its defined, as a macro concept. No one disagrees that the current model of development is unsustainable or that our carbon emissions are unsustainable or a lifestyle focused on continuous acquisition is unsustainable. These are very true broad macro statements on which we can read books and discuss intellectually for hours on. But then how does it apply to us, our lives, our day to day decisions – that’s where the catch lies.

The age-old trick of human mind when confronted with difficult and hard decisions is to find an escape route – and what better escape route than blame it on someone or something beyond your control – the economic system, the Government, the neighbor down the road, and so on.

Generally, there are two ways we find our escape routes. One is to deify a person so that we can start worshipping him/her, instead of following and living by his/her teachings. This is what we have done time and again – with the Buddha, with Jesus, with Gandhi and with every such person. Once we deify them, we can escape our personal responsibility. After all we are only human with all our human frailties whereas they were beyond human and so implementing their teachings in our lives is beyond us; instead we put them on the high pedestal and worship them. The second approach is to intellectualize and universalize a problem and its solution that all of us agree but no one will live by personally but everyone will preach to the society. As if society is separate from each of us.

That is why it’s important to look at sustainability from a micro, personal perspective – how can I live sustainably? What is sustainability mean to me in my day to day life and day to day decisions. I need to start applying this yardstick every time I want to buy that new gadget, that new dress, go on that new holiday, go shopping in that mega mall, eat out in that fancy restaurant – is it really needed? Can’t I manage with what I have? Why do I need it? Because my neighbor has it? Because it’s the latest fashion? What happens if I don’t do it? Is it not the same lifestyle of consumerism and acquisition that I have been opposing intellectually?

By taking that cruise to watch the Arctic ice caps melt am I not adding to the very carbon missions that are causing such melting and accelerating that very process? By printing our commitment to sustainability on a glitzy brochure (which will then go into a landfill before long) am I not adding to the very problem the brochure is trying to address? What about when I latch on the latest health fad and buy that extra virgin olive oil or buy those exotic fruits (may be even organic) from a distant land – am I not directly contributing to the carbon emissions that such long-distance trade agricultural produce is creating? Or adding to the destruction of eco systems through widespread mono culture that such demand is encouraging? Or when I want those chicken legs or lamb chops or pork spare ribs or prawns for every meal every day? Is it sustainable? Is it possible to meet such demand without modern industrial animal farming? Isn’t such industrial animal farming responsible for the widespread presence of antibiotics and growth hormones in our food? Isn’t it directly leading to unparalleled destruction of rain forests, species extinction, ocean dead zones, massive greenhouse gas emissions and unimaginable animal cruelty??

Aren’t these decisions within my control? Am I not responsible for them? Ultimately isn’t our unsustainable economic model and corporate greed fueled and sustained by my own actions? While I may not be able to change the model as a whole top down, can’t I change my behaviour that is sustaining this very model? If I am not willing to take these simple hard decisions and live by the principles of sustainable living that I espouse, then is there any point in my preaching to the society?

Like Mahatma Gandhi said “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”. Its time each of us turn our gaze inwards and start asking these uncomfortable questions. Its time we start walking the talk. Let our actions speak for themselves. If each of us individually and personally start taking these decisions and acting, societal change is sure to follow! Let’s start this journey today!

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