The Mous Mag Wrap Up!
This not-so-little wrap up on the Mous Mag panel discussion I participated in last week is a little bit late. The universe and my computer seem to be conspiring against me at the moment. I’ve had words with both and hopefully (with fingers and toes crossed) this post will actually find it’s way to the online blinking computery world we know, love, and/or worship. To recap- last Wednesday I participated in a panel discussion on sustainability. As someone who was practically allergic to public speaking through highschool, this experience was so far out of my comfort zone. Despite the fear the evening went well and the other panelists, Dr Jaz Choi, Alice Nightingale, and Lara Nobel were enlightening, friendly, and extremely knowledgable. Mous magazine editor Bonnie was also a delight! While I obviously cannot replicate the panel discussion here (I am but one woman with an average memory) I will try to surmise some of the topics covered from my point of view and crappy info recall.
What is sustainability?
This question is complex but the winning analogy for the night was from Dr Jaz Choi. She likened the concept of sustainability to when Prince changed his name to a symbol. We all had an interpretation of what the symbol represented, but none of us can clearly explain in the same set of words, the symbol that is Prince.
Sustainability, is a symbolic term. It’s been one that has been associated with our environment and conservation of the environment. Venn diagrams show sustainability as that neat overlap between environment, society and economics. However it’s not simple. A lot of the time we are under the impression that to act sustainably is to do something good for the environment. This is a bit of a misnomer. When we act positively for the environment we are doing something good for our species and our own futures. Sustainability is really a concept designed to ensure the future of our species!
The planet doesn’t need us, we need the planet.
If all seven plus billion of us disappeared tomorrow the world would sustain itself. Our built structures and environs would slowly be overtaken by plants and wildlife (don’t believe me you can watch the video shown in the trailer above here). Our planet doesn’t need us, we need it. The acts that we do to make positive, less toxic and less polluting changes are fundamentally for our own health and wellbeing. Yes, some of us do act from a place of selfless motivators. People do band together to save species from extinction, help out wildlife in extreme weather events, or chain themselves to trees in old growth forests to prevent logging. We are not a bad species, we are just in a bad situation and seeing the ramifications of our ‘growth at any cost’ economic and societal model on a planet of finite resources and space.
What is good or right?
Sustainability is actually an ethical issue. While it’s predominantly used in an environmental or conservation context, it’s actually a societal ethics issue because it requires us to determine good from bad and right from wrong. This is why sustainability is as hard to explain as Prince’s decision to define himself by a symbol.
From an ecological perspective sustainability is easy. We have too many people on our planet for its carrying capacity if we were all to live to western standards using current practices. In wildlife population ecology over population results in habitat and resource scarcity and eventually leads to the total die off of animal or plant populations (this is usually if the species damages or pollutes it’s habit) and/or the death of large proportions of the population until the population fits within the capacity of the resources.
When humans study or work with plant or animal population ecology they decide what is a good and ethical way to fix the problem. Many of these fixes involve population control by culling calculated percentages of the population, making them infertile, introducing predators, or through the introduction of fatal diseases. Obviously the decision to adopt these common ecological population controls in our case seems unthinkable. Killing large numbers of people through disease or otherwise wouldn’t be ethical. Setting lions loose in cities for a survival of the fittest seems like a horror movie plot not a sustainability policy. Sneaking contraceptives into water supplies also sound like the plot to a govenerment conspiracy theory Netflix series.
Most importantly we can’t allow members of our species to make these kinds of decisions because we all have differing versions of right and wrong, good and evil. In the past people or movements have tried to adopt cleansing policies. Leaders like Hitler believed he was doing the right thing- he had even convicted others to join him. The good thing about our species is that we have a kindness to our humaness. Even though we will never all agree on one set version of good or evil, naughty or nice because cultures and beliefs differ, we all share beating hearts and critical minds, and most people you meet will recognise your shared humanness and value that in some way. Hopefully the video above give you a quick overview of the population ecology principles of carrying capacity and positive hopes that there are ways forward that don’t involve any of the brutal methods used in animal ecology.
Feelings of Inadequacy
There is a good chance that you have thought to yourself
‘the icecaps are melting, the globe is warming and everything that they sell at my supermarket comes in plastic. What difference can I make?’
If you have thought something along the lines of this you aren’t alone. We all feel this way from time to time and it’s something we should celebrate and talk about as a unifying topic. The more we talk about the things we feel we can’t change the more likely we are to come up with alternative solutions that benefit all of us.
You are just one little person with a short time on this globe. You might not think that you are important but there are nearly 7.5 billion other little people like you all thinking the same thing. Between the lot of us we are doing quite a bit of damage to our home and the resources we need to live though our feelings of inadequacy. However, the flip side of this is that if we all started doing environmentally positive things instead imagine how quickly the world can change for the better! We like to seperate ourselves from ‘big business’ and government but the truth is that the people who run buying business or for parliament are just little people like you too. They can be inspired to commit environmentally positive action too either of their own accord or through public pressure.
Compassion fatigue goes hand in hand with feelings of inadequacy. When you suffer from inadequacy for too long (or read articles where your hero Dave Attenborough calls your species a plague) then you may develop compassion fatigue. This term gets thrown around a lot in medicine. It’s a common occurrence that medical staff start to become desensitised to the extremes of the work that they do because they see it so often. If you saw broken bodies every day in the emergency ward after a while you may start believing it’s common and not that big of a deal. Waving a bloodied and broken person to a chair and telling the to sit and wait without much sympathy would not be unreasonable to you. This wouldn’t be your fault, it’s just that you have normalised what would be a dramatic sight for most people.
This happens with sustainability issues too. We see plastic packaging so often it’s normal. Even if we cared about its impact on the environment it might eventually become a ‘meh’ issue when shopping if you have no other alternatives to buying plastic wrapped stuff. We see the impacts of compassion fatigue everywhere when we look at bigger scale issues like global climate change. It’s becoming increasingly more common to hear about the issue in the media, but for many of us it seems like a worrying issue that just to big for us to have any impact on so we start to tune it out.
What you can do to foster sustainability.
My biggest tip for sustainable living is to think critically. It may sound like an easy thing to do or a bit of a cop out but it’s actually a lot harder than it first seems and will change the way you operate. Once you start to question your norms changes happen naturally. In the panel discussion we flung around the idea of and #ecoevolution to describe the phenomena of awakening to critical thinking for the environment. It usually starts with just one small change and before you know it your actions have snowballed to create changes across all areas of your life!
So with all this blabbering I bet you are wondering how to foster creative thought. Let’s look at how to do it:
Choose one thing in your day. It could be your morning coffee, the fact that Donald Trump is annoying to you, or perhaps it’s your decision to climb out of the right side of the bed. Ask yourself ‘why? Why to do I do this or feel this way?’ Contemplate that why all day. You might want to add a ‘how’ to your questioning. The how can be a simple ‘how does this affect the planet’, or ‘how could I do this better’. After a how you could also delve into the what’s. Like ‘What implications do my actions have’ or ‘What can I do to change this’. The list of questions you could ask yourself is only limited by your creative thinking capacity. Here are a few to toy with.
- Who: ‘Who is impacted by this’, ‘Who made this’, ‘Who makes the decisions’, ‘Who gave me this idea or impression’
- What: ‘What sacrifice was made to bring this to my life’, ‘What made me choose this’, ‘What lead me to this conclusion’, ‘What went into making this’
- When: ‘When did I start to feel this way’, ‘When did this trend begin’, ‘When was it made’, ‘When did I last feel this way’
- Where: ‘Where was this item made’, ‘Where can I make positive changes in my life’, ‘Where are my reusable bags (etc)’, ‘Where can I find information to shop better’
- How: ‘How did I draw this conclusion’, ‘How does this companies ethics or practices make me feel’, ‘How can I afford the time or money to make changes’, ‘How is this made’
- Why: ‘Why am I passionate about this’, ‘Why do I want to buy this’, ‘Why do they do things that way’, ‘Why am I stuck in this pattern.