It is crucial that we incorporate sustainability into our societies to ensure that we can continue to develop and thrive without creating extensive harm, both to the planet and to our communities. Yet, sustainability continues to be something that is not fully understood by many and ends up falling in line with being a trend rather than an entire mindset change. To create a lasting impact, there not only needs to be action taken by companies and citizens alike, but there also needs to be education put in place that allows the citizens to truly understand what it means to be sustainable, and what actions will actually have an impact versus which are being done simply as a means to appear more “eco-friendly”.
The idea of sustainability that we most often refer to is the “avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.” In other words, the focus is on how we can minimize the amount of resources we consume or the amount of damage that we produce so as to not interfere with the viability of future generations. This has caused us to focus more on reduction, especially of greenhouse gasses and carbon emissions, yet this emphasis has also provided companies, as well as citizens, with the ability to mitigate their responsibility thanks to carbon offsets. Carbon offsets are meant to be a way of neutralizing your carbon footprint by allowing you to fund environment-oriented projects that are focused on reducing greenhouse gasses, protecting forests, promoting renewable energy, and many more. The problem is that now you don’t necessarily have to reduce any of your own carbon footprint or live a more sustainable lifestyle whatsoever as long as you purchase enough carbon offsets to make you seem more “eco-friendly”, because the reality is that they haven’t been proven to make much of a difference when it comes to climate change, and many carbon offsets have been found to be scams.
The approach towards sustainability that resonates most with me is the way that Veta La Palma has revolutionized fish farming. I first came across Veta La Palma through a Ted Talk by Dan Barber, in which he details the way that an entire ecosystem has been created on this farm that has proven beneficial to the fish, migratory birds, as well as water quality. This ecosystem is now able to sustain itself without the need of artificial nutrients, harmful chemicals, or antibiotics, which to me is the true definition of sustainability. The emphasis here is not on reducing our impact, but on allowing nature to run its course and to sustain itself, while providing enough resources for a variety of species to thrive. It is about working alongside nature instead of finding ways of controlling and manipulating it as a means to support our lifestyles.
Another industry that needs to incorporate this mentality and approach for sustainability is the agriculture industry. Nowadays, much of the industry uses the practice of monoculture, or the cultivation of a single crop in a given area, which can prove detrimental to the soil as well as the crops themselves. Although monocultures have proven to be easily scalable, they create an array of problems that are having a negative impact on citizens as well as the planet. For one, there is a loss of genetic diversity that leaves plants susceptible to widespread disease and destruction that could possibly lead to famine. Due to a lack of diversity, plants begin to lose their natural defenses which leads to a reliance on pesticides to ensure that pests and diseases are kept at bay. Unfortunately, those pesticides are toxic to humans and have been found on some of our produce as well as our waterways. To make things worse, monocultures absorb a lot of the nutrients in the soil with no way of replenishing them, so farmers also need to rely on fertilizers to make sure that their plants grow season after season. This loss of nutrients in the soil can lead to desertification, which increases the amount of runoff, possibility of flooding, as well as making farming incredibly difficult. The increased runoff along with the use of pesticides and fertilizers can lead to contamination of groundwater reserves as well as other potable water sources.
In conclusion, sustainability is about rethinking our connection with nature and how we go about affecting it. Looking at the approach that Veta La Palma has taken regarding fish farming, it demonstrates that sustainability is a holistic concept, in that it’s not only about reducing emissions or reducing our consumption, but it’s also about creating. We need to create more ecosystems that can thrive on their own, and we need to create a more diverse agriculture industry that focuses on working with the soil and with the plants rather than relying on artificial pesticides and fertilizers. Education is also key when it comes to sustainability, because it is a global issue that requires the participation of various communities and industries that sometimes seem to have no connection whatsoever, but when you dive deeper prove to be interconnected and affected by one another. It is critical that we take sustainability seriously in order to prevent extensive damage to our communities and planet as a whole.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EUAMe2ixCI -Dan Barber: How I fell in love with a fish