Sustainability

I need to choose cups for the upcoming “Sustainability” party-
Plastic cup – Please use me, I am economical and hassle-free.
Paper cup – Unlike me, plastic is bad for nature and not easily degradable. Please use me.
Ceramic cup – Cutting down trees to make paper is not sustainable and paper cups cannot be re-used as easily. I can be re-used after washing, please use me. And importantly, microwave friendly & economical unlike steel.
Steel cup – I might be relatively more expensive. But I can be re-used easily, not bad for nature, quite sustainable and can be cleaned up easily compared to the others. Also I can handle rough usage unlike my brother ceramic. I think I can take the crown as the most sustainable cup to be used for the sustainable party.

And the most sustainable cup is…………

There is no one best. We will find out why.

Ok, let’s start simple. Why “sustainability” is gaining traction? Why is it important?
Answer – If we intend to breathe fresh & clean air, eat healthy food, fall sick as infrequently as possible, drink clean water, then we need to think “sustainably”. This answer pertains to environmental sustainability.

Back to the party theme, why can’t I choose one type of cup and crown it the most sustainable. The answer is situation.
Situation 1 – You organize a party for a couple of hundreds of people, then it is wise to use plastic cups and bring them to the recycle units. Ceramic cups might take up more water and electricity(assuming you’re using the dishwasher) to clean up, hence making it less suitable for the situation. Steel cups might work out to be impractically expensive.
Situation 2 – You organize a party for a few friends at home. In this case it is most appropriate to use ceramic cups or even steel for that matter.

This means every situation has a tailor made sustainable solution. Every time I use the word sustainable, there are so many viewpoints and so many stake-holders. Sustainability could mean environmental, personal health/fitness, relationships, happiness, etc, and all of them from a long term perspective. The direction in which the graph is tending towards defines “long term”.

Another example
Is being vegetarian a more sustainable option when compared to meat? Not necessarily true. You live in a cold country where very few crops grow. What choice do you have but to eat meat? Here sustainability of your health is important too. But you live in a country like India where there are more than enough variety in the veg department, then it makes little sense to still follow a heavy meat diet. Eating too much meat is not sustainable for your own health and for the health of the earth. It is true.

Sustainable diet –
So what is the most sustainable diet? Listening to your body’s clues and understanding your physical surroundings, is the most sustainable way to eat. Listening to the clues of the body is critical (example you are gaining too much weight, falling ill often, feeling weak after regular intervals, the color of your urine, texture of your feces, joint movements and so on). Yes there are certain symptoms that go unnoticed, but your body tries, in general, to reciprocate to the way you treat it. Another situational habitat change. You go from India to Norway to live there. The sun hardly shows up above you. You need to spend more time outside than the average Norweigan, in Norway, when the sun shines. Simply because your body type does not take in much of the vitamin D. It is an example to show that you need to adapt to situations not based on your religion or beliefs but based on environment and body signs.

Electric Cars –
Electric vehicles against fossil-fuel burning vehicles. No arguments here, electric vehicles are the way to go forward, even if there is fossil fuel still being burnt to generate the electricity used to run those cars. Yes there are many critical points to the electric vehicles, but fossil-fuel based vehicles are not a comparison.

Sustainable farming –
How many times do you hear the nutrients in food being better in the previous generations as compared to ours. The soil needs to be top-notch to cultivate. Treating the plants with pesticides and insecticides affect the soil adversely, affecting the next crop as a consequence. Hence sustainable farming with organic techniques is the only way you can keep the quality of the food same, if not better, forever. Now what should I add to the soil to make it better?? Google and find out? No. The answer is not that simple. So many factors that matter – The geographical location, the type of soil, the water retaining capabilities before treating it, the crop you intend to cultivate, so on. Once you know all of this information, you need to find a tailor made solution for it in an organic way. Google’s search results may not be appropriate for the soil in the Netherlands (if you’re lucky it maybe). An alternative solution is to tap into the locally available experience – your neighbors or the older generations – that’s how the handed down knowledge becomes useful. Brand A agricultural product may work in Canada, but may not work in Sri-Lanka, worse may negatively effect the plant. So explore, investigate and understand what is good for your environment is not necessarily the same as for someone else.

Sustainable transportation – When you grew up, the air around you was better than what you breathe now. Why? You grow up and buy a fossil fuel driven car, adding to the woes for yourself and everyone around you. You buy a car, its emission will be equally divided amongst everyone around you (for the sake of an example, let’s take the number to be 100). So You buy a car and emit 100 milli-gms (whatever metric) of a certain gas that pollutes the air. Everyone breathing that, including you, will be effected. Adding 100 people buying cars because the economy needs to grow, will put 10000 milli-grams of pollutants into the air. And everyone who breathes is now effected by this bigger amount of gases. Do you think this is sustainable? And it doesn’t matter if the BRIC countries or USA produces pollutants, the winds/waters unlike us is not biased on religion or caste and needs no visa to cross borders. Every single human, irrespective, gets effected making the environment worse continuously. Carpool as much as possible, use public transport and learn from the Dutch! – bicycle if the destination is less than 10-12 kms away. (I will write a personal post about what I learnt from the Dutch, an absolute brilliant society)

Sustainable fishing –
Only with sustainable fishing can you enjoy the same fish species  forever without the fish become endangered.

There is an equilibrium for everything in life, again individually varying. Find yours and try your best to stay around this point, otherwise it is not sustainable.

There is no one best solution. Situation is KING. Whether that includes making smog towers to suck out pollution from the air, or making green sustainable energy run the globe, we need to act fast and steadfast. Remove the flags (national flags I mean) that form the barrier and work together as one species.

Sustainable bathing? –
We all like the modern shower without questioning, the reason behind the liking for it. But do you know how much more water is used up cleaning yourself, using the shower, as compared to the bucket bath (Also known as Navy/Military bath)? Ofcourse every variable from the nozzle size to the bucket size matters. So just go back home today, take a 40 to 50 liter bucket and see how many such buckets you need to clean up (I assume it is usually 1). Then open up the shower, while keeping the bucket under it and let it fill up. The time you take to shower regularly divided by the time taken to fill up the bucket will give you the number of buckets you are using while showering. Subtract one from that number, and that many buckets of water you will save every single time. Do the math and you will feel dizzy realizing the old traditional Indian style of bathing is an absolute no-brainer when it comes to cleaning yourself up while still consuming less water. There is absolutely no added benefits (apart from you thinking otherwise) with opting for a shower over a bucket and a mug. For a 10 minute shower, Wiki estimates you’ll save 56,000 (Fifty six thousand!) liters of water a year. I know so many people who shower for over an hour on average.

Sustainable defecating
I try my best to not provide links in my article (yes contrary to what it conventional) but here is an exception.

Concluding,
Polluting the earth is not an issue for the earth. Polluting the earth is an issue for us.
Try to live a neutral carbon lifestyle. It is difficult but not impossible. So can we do this? We’re about 12 billion people. I don’t think there are things we cannot do if we decide on it as one. A ray of hope – we are technologically advanced to un-do the damage. The reason we’re not doing it is return on investment (ROI). If this thinking changes, we can survive as a species.

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