September 14, 2021

Do We need to Rethink our Approach to Sustainability?

There is something magical about waking up early and observing nature unfold in all its glory.

On an extremely chilly Saturday morning, while I was sitting at my desk sipping coffee, I began to observe how beautifully and smoothly snow from yesterday was diminishing with each ray of sunshine.

Sitting in a room with full-height windows and doors can be inspirational. Mesmerized by the beauty of the trees outside and enjoying the aroma of the berry and chocolate coffee beans that I bought from a local coffee shop in Virginia, I decided to postpone my grocery visit, and start to write this blog.

Trees of all shapes, sizes, and types stood around me. Some still had leaves on them; others had already shed them due to the extreme winter conditions. A few seemed to be enjoying the warmth of the sun, while others appeared to be hibernating, waiting for the right time to come to life. The unfortunate ones would not survive the winter—instead, they would decay, form compost, and help the other trees grow.

Isn’t it beautiful how these different trees still stand together, helping this planet to survive?

This was how I got diverted and started thinking about what exactly sustainability is—so I googled the word.

I came across many great sites and extremely thorough research papers that helped me understand the work scientists, professors, and economists have been doing on this subject.

The top five sustainability articles I read were broadly focused on:

>> Climate urgency.
>> Climate tipping point.
>> Life below water, sea-level rise, and coastal flooding.
>> Global tree restoration.
>> Veganism or plant-based lifestyle to mitigate the global burden of disease.

I noticed that all of the above focus points fell under a heading of “environmental sustainability,” which is an umbrella that covers “social” and “economic” sustainability as well.

Then my mind began to question and I started thinking:

“If we have so much research, why do we still struggle to make progress?”

My mathematical mind created a Venn diagram, which helped me realize how intricate and interdependent all three parts of sustainability are.

For our planet to be sustainable, work must align and happen across all boards to attain economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

This reminded me of the basic lesson I learnt as a kid and am still learning as a 31-year-old adult. The lesson is simple:

“If you must fix an issue in any area of your life, the issue must be fixed at its core.”

The problem has to be understood at the basic root stage to simplify the problem definition and then to evaluate and apply the answers.

The core in the quest for sustainability is in refining the concept of “being human.” We can’t achieve anything globally unless each one of us works in our own tiny ways toward that common goal.

Born and brought up in India, I saw some of the challenges people faced to even get basic amenities—I could tell that “being human” is the toughest goal to attain.

The answer to it lies within but is affected by many external factors. I thought maybe it’s just the developing nation’s populations who have these challenges, but soon I observed people in the United States have the same problems.

People are not happy in general—with their relationships, quality of life, and their work/life balance. The constant struggle to find easy and quick solutions to meet and survive every single day becomes the need of the hour—difficulties so hard that at times it forces them to forget about moral and wise choices.

In such situations where the majority of the population function under survival instinct, how can we assume they will think of anything beyond their own needs?

How can anyone think of the planet when their daily task is to ensure and plan to successfully survive a day, or a week, or a month, and so on?

Emotional satisfaction, happiness, financial stability, and a sense of togetherness in society, if achieved in each human, would lead to a better path going forward.

Think about it in this way: when we are happy, we love to spread happiness, but if we are sad, how can we spread happiness? Unless our own glasses are full, how can we put effort into helping others make their glasses full? The best analogy I can think of is the lesson we all get from airline staff: secure your own oxygen mask first, before you assist others.

I was amazed to see how deep the roots of sustainability are.

For things to change and progress in a better direction, it’s important for the economy and society to work together. Each human needs to sense comfort, enjoy human relationships, and live a healthy life, so they can think beyond now and consider the next generation, and so forth. In my opinion, this is where the ongoing progress should start.

When the basic needs of human beings are met and their minds don’t have to fight to survive, people will have the mental capacity to think about things beyond their own problems, and only then will we see anything bigger and healthier happening for the society, world, and our beautiful planet—a better and greener planet with healthier relationships.

All of the magazines, the internet, and the policies are talking about the numbers and predict in the next 10 years that this is how the planet will be. But are they holistic enough to meet the numbers? Will those policies ensure that “we” as the atomic unit of this system are going to progress as well?

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