Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hypocrisy of Sustainable Living

Nowadays we hear a lot about being ecofriendly, being green, being sustainable, and so on. Local newspapers, national TV channels, Hollywood movies, scientific journals, and almost every possible public institution talk about this stuff. In fact, the word sustainability has become a cliché which is rarely used with its broadest meaning. As defined by UN, “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

It is widely accepted that our present way of living is not socially and environmentally sustainable. If anybody still does not believe this, there is a lot of scientific stuff like this which will make you reconsider your opinion.

The question which then troubles me (and I believe many more people around the world) is what should we do to advance in a sustainable way? Here I am concerned with actions at personal level and not on macro level. Every expert seems to have her opinion about this. Save electricity, save fuel, use public transport/ bicycle for commuting; everybody seems to come up with a new suggestion. But just how much is required? I can’t claim to have a green lifestyle just because I am using bicycle for commuting. It will be a step in the right direction but is it big enough to make me green? There seems to be a lack of measurement tools and benchmark for sustainable lifestyle on absolute scale.

The confusion doesn’t stop with personal life and even extends to choices I make in my professional life. Should I work on a coal based power plant which will be operating at a slightly higher efficiency than existing ones? Will it mean I am supporting coal based power generation? Is efficiency just a reason I am using to cover myself? Is it not a hypocrisy to commute to the workplace on a bicycle to work on coal fired power plant?

There are many things which nobody, no matter how strongly she wishes, can do at personal level without substantial and far-reaching changes in her lifestyle. If one decides to use only renewable energy, she will either have to spend hefty amount on an array of solar panels or stop using electricity altogether. Here is an inspiring story of one Mark Boyle who is living an oil-free life. Do we really need to change our lifestyles so significantly? I can’t argue against it but I don’t seem to have enough conviction to follow something like this either.

At this point, I think following Business As Usual scenario would simply mean contributing to the problems we are facing today. Some significant steps need to be taken in my personal and professional life. Probably Mark Boyle won’t be able to stop any of the effects of oil consumption on our planet but he can at least claim that he didn’t contribute to any of them.