Living Sustainably In An Unsustainable World

Jude McConkey Photography; Industrial Smog

Jude McConkey Photography; Industrial Smog

San Francisco by alleyesonjenny

San Francisco by alleyesonjenny

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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Meade

August 20th, 2013 was the most recent Earth Overshoot Day. This marked the date where we, earth’s population, exhausted nature’s budget for the year – where our demand for natural resources exceeds earth’s ability to replenish them and absorb our waste. The trajectory has been set, and Earth Overshoot Day comes a few days sooner every year – it was on October 21st in 1993. A rapidly growing global population will continue to put pressure on the planet’s resources as we go further and further into ecological debt.

Here are some reasons why I began to live sustainably:

I want to preserve nature so my kids can experience what I did growing up

Pristine views of forests and snow-topped mountains could be ancient history as we demand more lumber and as our planet heats up.

Clean air could come at a premium – just look at the bustling metropolises in China to see where the rest of us are headed.

The industrialized fishing industry engages in daily overfishing and the destruction of marine habitats. At the rate this industry is going, there might not be any wild fish left a few decades from now.

It’ s healthy, and often delicious

Buying organic fruits and vegetables doesn’t just mean a self-congratulatory pat on the back – try a blind taste test of a conventional apple and an organic apple – the difference is night and day.

I have decided to eat a plant-based diet to reduce my carbon footprint, as the meat industry is one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gases in the world. While this can seem like a challenging way to live more sustainably, it doesn’t have to be a full-time commitment. New York Times columnist Mark Bittman is a part-time vegetarian, and documented his approach in his book VB6 (Vegetarian Before 6pm).

Low carbon transportation makes me feel better

Getting places on foot, by bike, and via public transportation not only saves me money, but also improves my cardiovascular activity while lowering my contribution to road pollution. In many cities, like Vancouver, bike lanes are making this method of urban commuting safer and more accessible.

When I can afford to upgrade to an electric car, charging it will cost me much, much less than rising prices at the pump. According to the US Department of Energy’s eGallon study, it costs roughly 3 times less per gallon to charge an electric car versus filling up with gasoline.

What happens if we don’t commit to making changes? If we keep living the way we have been for the past half- century, the planet we once knew will likely become unrecognizable. Climate change, often mentioned and misunderstood, will continue to contribute to extreme weather around the world (ice storm in Toronto anyone?) and move more and more fresh water from land-bound lakes & springs into the atmosphere and oceans, where it won’t be drinkable. Our beautiful mountains will (and are already) have smaller snowfalls, and our forests, more scars and fewer trees. Topsoil, another precious resource that is necessary for growing food, is vanishing at a startling rate due to the industrialized approach to farming.

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Here are 5 tips to live more sustainably:

Use a low (or no) carbon method of transportation – biking, walking, car pools and public transportation are great options. For those who can afford it, electric vehicles are a great alternative to combustion engine vehicles, and the more consumers support this industry, the better the supporting infrastructure will be.

Audit your footprint at home – monitor your energy use and consider using some technology aids to help you reduce your usage. The Nest thermostat (designed by ex-Apple designers) not only looks super slick on your wall, it also promises to lower your energy usage, footprint, and, of course, utility bills.

Reduce your waste – start composting food scraps and other organic material. If your city doesn’t have a green bin program (which makes it super easy to compost), you can buy a compost bin at any home improvement store – the benefit of this approach is that you end up with nutrient-rich, chemical-free fertilizer for your garden (which you could use to grow your own fruits and vegetables).

Grow anything and everything you can - backyard, farm or apartment, it doesn't matter where you live or the space you have, there are ways to grow your own, very organic food. This concept allows you to trade with friends, keep things local, keep things organic and steer away from dominating 'megabrands'.

When you buy; buy organic food, buy local, buy ethical – the benefit of buying local is that you can often meet the people responsible for making, or growing what you’re buying. Support your small farmer and community,

Buy what you need – we need so much less than what we have. By buying fewer, high quality clothing items, pieces of furniture or anything else, really, you will be more likely to take good care of what you buy and won’t have to replace it as frequently.

Buy natural fibres - mass-produced plastics, nylons and polyesters are toxic and harmful and unnecessary. Choose to buy leathers, waxed cottons, wool, ceramics, canvas, woods - real, renewable fibres.

These are just a few ideas for how to live more sustainably. If we all make an effort to do things differently, we can start to pay back that ecological debt we have accumulated.

Article written by Daniel Andrew; Co-Founder of Two Birds Apparel, a Vancouver-based clothing brand with strong environmental and ethical values. He is a regular contributor to the Two Birds Apparel Sustainable Lifestyle Blog and the Long Bottom Line blog. He can often be found with an armful of canvas grocery bags, reading food ingredient labels at Whole Foods.