In what ways does sustainability affect our surroundings and how does it affect our lives? Are we living every day in ways which are creating a positive or negative effect on sustainability? Is becoming unsustainable something we should be worried about now and if so, what can we do as a community to help? Sustainability is not something I had heard about until coming to university. Never as a child had I really given much thought into what my actions or other’s actions would have on other people and more importantly the environment. At a young age we are taught the basics of picking up after ourselves, throwing away our rubbish into bins provided and to always eat all of the food given to us on a plate but never did I really think about what happens to the rubbish after. From a young age I was taught that when we throw away rubbish it goes to landfill; but never was I taught the consequences that come with throwing away our everyday rubbish. Never was I shown the long-lasting effects of pollution and how it not only effects the environment but also many of the animals living among us.
So, what is sustainability by definition? According to the Cambridge dictionary; sustainability is about the ability to maintain a rate or level. Living in an environment which is sustainable would mean the effects we have on our surroundings would need to be causing little to no damage therefore being able to continue growth for a long time. This would then make unsustainable living the complete opposite and would mean damaging the environment using more of something that can be replace naturally. The big question is how have we come to living unsustainably as a community? The work of Thomas Midgley Jr is one of the main causes of pollution. Midgley was an American mechanic and chemical engineer who worked very closely with general motors during the early days of automobile. This earnt him 100 patent and showered with honours by the scientific community. Some may say that very quickly Midgley unintentionally became the most dangerous man; a reverse genius. By complete accident, Midgley helped to poison three generations of children and greatly increased the risk of skin cancer in Australia. Midgley’s work is a great example of unintended consequences. When Midgley went to work for a car company called General Motors, and when he started to work here, he found the had a problem with engine knocking. Knowing that the knocking was a result of how the gasoline burned in cylinders, Midgley added iodine to stain the fuel and change gasolines heat-absorption properties. When this did not work, he started to experiment with the elements until he came across lead. By using lead-based gasoline this eliminated engine knocking and improved mileage. Not long after this, virtually all gasoline used across the globe contained lead. Exposure to large amounts of lead is extremely harmful, especially to children as they are more likely than adults to digest it and pass through their bloodstream. It has harsh effects on neurological development that can last a lifetime. The hard truth behind this all is that everybody knew how toxic and dangerous lead gasoline was but people like Midgley were more concerned about making money, so no one helped to stop lead pollution for half a century. In 1923, Midgley confessed that after a year’s work in organic lead, his lungs had been affected and that it was necessary to stop all work in order to get a large supply of fresh air. After developed countries were gradually able to phase put leaded gasoline until finally it was banned in the 1990s. Pollution from petroleum is still a big problem to this day but usually by contaminating water. This is also another reason how technology has played a major part in damaging the environment. How is global warming effecting us and how is it effecting the environment? We live on this planet so, if the planet is dying it needs to be something we need to worry about. The quality of Earth effects our quality of life and air pollution can really take a toll on our bodies. Air pollution causes 7 million deaths a year worldwide, affects our breathing and it puts us at a higher risk of asthma and other respiratory diseases such as bacterial pneumonia, pulmonary embolism and lung cancer. Living in a polluted area can put people at a higher risk of getting cancer because of the carcinogens in air pollution and can also cause damage to the immune system and can cause higher incidents of heart problems. How is sustainability affecting our bodies in other ways? Eating sustainably is about choosing to eat foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals that have good health benefits. Choosing to eat healthier is not just sustainable for our bodies but also the environment. Eating a vegetarian diet is more sustainable than eating meat diets and also more sustainable than eating a vegan diet. Eating more plant-based foods will help to prevent bloating and the feeling of sluggishness; the fresher you eat the fresher you feel. Also, not eating things like meat lowers the risk of getting food poisoning because plant-based meals can be eaten raw or cooked so do not need a minimum cooking temperature and bacterial is less likely to grow. Eating healthier also benefits our skin. From a young age I’ve always struggled with eczema on my legs. After visiting a GP, I found out that actually lowering your intake of red meat can help relieve eczema without having to use steroid creams. Doing this can also lower the risk of heart disease, obesity, type two diabetes and high cholesterol. In the future, the amount of agricultural land currently on earth will not be near enough to supply everyone with a sufficient amount of food to survive. Vegan diets leave too many resources unused and it has been discovered that diets with small amounts of meat as well a lacto-vegetarianism and ovo-lacto-vegetarianism can feed more people across the globe therefore making it the most sustainable way of living. If we are also able to cultivate foods that require less land, then we will be able to feed more people with less. The main five causes of air pollution are from industry/factories, transportation, forest fires, radiation and aerosols. Industries have a lack of policies to control pollution, poor enforcements allow industries to bypass laws that are made to control the amount of pollution made which has resulted in the mass amount of pollution that we are now dealing with today. Using outdated technologies is another way industry’s help to pollute the earth. In order to save money a lot of companies will use outdated technology instead of upgrading to more efficient equipment. Industrial pollutions cause natural rhythms to fail meaning wildlife is affected. Habitats are being lost and species are becoming closer and closer to extinction and it is getting harder for the environment to bounce back and recover. Industrial accidents like oil spills, fires and leaks of harmful material are damaging and hard to clean up. Global warming is also a huge issue. Smoke and greenhouse gases are increasing at a steady pace which is harming the environment. Forest fires release a number a number of harmful gases into the air. Smoke, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide. The bigger the forest fire, the bigger the emissions. Inhaling these toxins in large amounts can cause death. The quality of our food is something that is also affected by pollution. Because of the mass amount waste that gets dumped is the main cause of water pollution. 2.2 billion tons of waste is dumped in oceans every year and this has had a majorly negative effect on the environment. 27% of coral reefs have been destroyed and Marine ecosystems are dying. To this date we are very aware on pollution and the affects it has on the environment; but years before now a lot of waste has been disposed on in an unsustainable way without a single thought about the consequences and we are now seeing the effects of this. Most of the planet is made up of water, so when we dump waste on side of the world it gets washed up on the other side. By doing this we are contaminating the sea and we are contaminating the food chain. Waste gets dumped into the ocean which is then eaten by little fish, the little fish then get eaten by bigger fish and then in turn we eat the bigger fish which has been exposed to water pollution. Contamination from things like lead, mercury and cadmium can cause neurological damage, vomiting, kidney failure and so on. The big question when it comes to talking about sustainability is what can we do to help? There are a number of everyday things that we can do to help towards living a more sustainable life that might not seem like a lot but everything we do is one step towards a greener planet. Reducing our household energy is a simple and easy way to help live a more sustainable life. Making sure that all our appliances and lights are off when not in use helps towards reducing household energy. Not only does it help the planet, but it also helps your wallet as this means you won’t be spending as much money on electricity. Buying and using energy efficient applications will also help this and making sure to THINK before you shop. Everything we buy has and environmental footprint. Purchasing Fair trade is another sustainable way to spend our money. Fair trade products are grown using sustainable methods of agriculture. This means that the farming techniques protect the environment, public health, community’s and the wellbeing of the animals. Fair trade benefits the local people producing the goods; items that are not fair trade may have been produced unsustainably and be the product of exploitative labour practises. With Fair trade the local people producing the products are paid fairly for their hard work. Choosing to also buy local produce instead of products from around the world will be a positive benefit towards more sustainable living. These products that get shipped consume huge amounts of fossil fuel energy to get from their global locations to our supermarkets; and buying from and support local farming companies and business is really good for the community. A lot of litter that is seen in the streets is a lot of the time from places like fast food companies. Fast food companies like McDonald’s do their best to help towards making our planet green again. There is a new system for customers to separate the liquids, cups and general rubbish to promote recycling as well as separating their own food waste, cardboard and plastic milk bottles and using the ‘zero to landfill’ system. Cooking oil from the vats is drained and turned into bio oil which then powers their delivery trucks and they also host events such as big beach clean ups were the workers do their part to help the environment. Taking extinction off our plates will also help make the planet greener. Meat produce is one of the most environmentally destructive industries and responsible for massive amounts of water use, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and habitat destruction. Cutting down on how much meat we eat or becoming vegetarian/vegan is a really good way of helping the planet, the animals and to stop climate change. Eating a vegetarian diet means that 2.5 times less carbon emission then a diet with meat and there are many other benefits of eating a meat free meal once in a while. A chicken breast takes more than 542 litres of water to produce which could fill a bath just over 6 times, also by eating vegetarian meals you could save the same amount of emissions as taking a small family car off the road for a year. Because our planet is heating up, doing what we can to reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions is really important. Replacing our usual source of protein from meat with nuts, seeds etc. can help this. Another way we can think before we shop is by cutting down the number of disposable items we purchase. Instead of purchasing items like disposable razors and cutlery we can invest in longer lasting razors which a usually made of metal and last for a lot longer and cut down on purchasing things like one use take-away containers. These containers can also be recycled when they are very well used or damaged. Making sure that we recycle as much as possible is really important when trying to help make the planet a greener place. By recycling we are taking the products/rubbish and giving them a new purpose before discarding them. We can do this with not only recyclable products but also with things like clothes, furniture, electronics etc. Reselling and donating items is a really good way of recycling; this way other people are getting use of them even though you may not need or want them. Other ways we can recycle is to choose to upcycle products and make them into something new. By doing this we are not being wasteful and are using old products to the best of their ability. Recently I visited London, I was walking round the Shoreditch area looking at Graffiti art when I came across Nomadic Community Garden. In this community garden are a lot of old products that have been upcycled and put to good use to create a really lovely community area. Old tyres have been stacked and used as plant pots and even sculpted into sculptures of animals and of a nude lady. Huts and seating areas have been made out of old wood and other recyclable products have been used to create a good area to grow plants. This is a really good example of how you can upcycle products. Other ways in which you can do this like also donating products to charity and upcycling clothes to turn them into something new. Ways in which we can be more aware is by being water aware. We need to take advantage of the fact we are lucky enough to drink water out of our faucets without getting ill. If the taste of tap water is something that you don’t like water filters can be used to remove the taste from the tap water and make it a little bit cleaner; other things we can do is add fruits like lemon and lime to change the flavour of the water. Also, by reducing the amount of bottled water we buy we are using fewer plastic bottles which if not recycled and disposed of properly just end up being littered or dumped in the sea and washed up on beaches harming animals. Plastic never goes away and takes up to 40% of the world’s ocean surfaces this is harming and even killing thousands of seabirds, turtles, seals and other marine animals. Ways in which we can help is by using reusable shopping bags, drinking bottles and metal straws. Making sure that we turn off taps properly and when not in use will also towards being water wise and using the dual flush on toilets. Ways in which we can pollute less is by relying less on our car’s way too much. The majority of people who own two cars in their household usually have two cars to commute. Walking to work if it’s not too far is also a good way of being less pollutant. If work is quite far use public transport as your way of getting to your required destination. And if your commuting far, car sharing is also a really good way to lower the number of cars on the road. In London there is a congestion charge of £11.50 a day around Central London Monday to Friday between 07:00 and 18:00. The reasoning behind this charge is to reduce the congestion around Central London and promote the use of public transport. The transport system in London is very up to date, takes contactless payments and has WIFI in the underground tube stations for EE mobile network customers. Trains and buses in London are very frequent to accommodate the large number of people who use the transport system. There is also the Santander bike hire which has become quite popular and mainly targeted to tourists visiting the city. For as little as £2 you can hire a bike to cycle around the city and can be good for people that want to do a lot of sightseeing. Other places like Amsterdam are known for promoting the use of cycling around the city; using this kind of transport means less air pollution. Choosing to have a smaller family can also be very beneficial to the environment. As there are 7.5 billion people in the world our food, water, land and fossil fuel demand are pushing other species into extinction. Being more sustainable with our diets is also something that will benefit the planet. Growing our own fruit and veg at home can be a more sustainable way of living as they will be organic and pesticide free. Not only will this help the planet, but it can also save you money too. Starting to grow our own garden and your own foods will help to encourage healthy eating in our households. This also works in schools too. A recent study suggests that schools who create garden areas to grow their own fruits and veg help to promote healthy eating and cultivate and interest in trying new and exciting foods. A good service for those who struggle with gardening are companies that can deliver fresh fruit and veg straight from the farm to your doorstep. Not only do you not have to do any of the dirty work of gardening yourself, but this also helps out local farming businesses in your area and also keeping healthy eating in the household.