Sustainability, Freedoms & Choices

Reading through social media comments on some climate change discussions just made me alternate through feeling angry, sad, confused and at more than one moment just thinking ‘WTF?’

Maybe that doesn’t sound so strange, this is an emotive topic after all. The surprising thing is that these were not comments from climate change deniers or people who don’t care about the issues, these were from people who share my concern about climate change and environmental sustainability and want to do something about it.

It seems that I have very different thoughts about the best way to go about creating the necessary positive change both in my personal life and on a bigger scale than some others do.

On a personal level, what changes am I willing to make to my own life; should I fly, should I eat out, should I never leave the city I live in?

I will come back to all of that in a minute, but first let’s take a look at the bigger picture. The reality is that we should all take personal actions and cumulatively they do have a big effect, but they are nowhere near enough to solve climate change. So what are the answers to the questions that affect society on a much larger scale?

Some people seem to have some pretty extreme views that I am really struggling with:

  • Should we be enforcing population control policies and regulating how many children people can have?
  • Should we be restricting freedom of belief, freedom of thought, religious and political freedoms and the freedom to share and discuss our views?
  • Should we be legislating against meat and forcing people to adopt a vegan diet?
  • Should we be making yoga a compulsory activity at schools and workplaces?

NO, of course we shouldn’t be doing any of these things! There lies the path to totalitarian regimes and Orwellian dystopia. However much those in charge believe that they are right and that their choices are benevolent the reality is that all of our personal life choices should remain just that, as choices. As well informed choices as possible, obviously, but still choices.

I completely reserve my right not to believe in the same things as you but I will absolutely fight for your right to believe in them. There is just one caveat here, you get to believe in what you want, but you do not have the right to try and enforce your beliefs on anyone else because they are afforded the same freedom.

Anyone advocating for any of the kind of policies above is perhaps making what they believe are choices for environmental sustainability but at the price of social and ethical sustainability and that is not a trade-off that we should be willing to make.

So, back to those personal choices…

There are thing that I won’t give up and I don’t think that makes me a bad person. I don’t think it makes me any less aware, worried or passionate about changing the way that humanity is changing the planet that we live on in a terrifying negative way.

We travel a lot and I deeply and truly believe that it makes us better people. It is much easier to understand cultures and situations and to have informed opinions when you have actually been somewhere and lived together with local people. We learn more about every facet of life, we improve our language skills, our tolerance and understanding, we learn to question and to communicate. I could go on and write a lot more about why we travel so much, but I won’t because Rima already covered it.

I see lots of people in climate change discussions saying that we shouldn’t fly, that they don’t travel or in some cases that they don’t leave their home city unless they absolutely have to. Those are personal choices and, as discussed above, I will respect them but I question the reasoning behind them. Reducing the quality of my own life unnecessarily, when I can make the same impact without doing so, would only make me resent the cause that I was doing it for.

What I will do is make the most sustainable choice possible each time I travel anywhere. Instead of driving any short distances I ride a bike, which is good exercise and more fun anyway. I make journeys between cities by train whenever it is possible. If we do use a car, then we try to combine tasks and reasons to go somewhere to minimise the amount of times we go backwards and forwards to the same places, and the next car that we buy will be electric. When we fly we try to make choices based on the age and efficiency of the plane and will happily pay the extra cost for carbon offsets.

I will also continue to advocate for and support in any way I can the advance of more sustainable transport technology. It seems incredibly clear to me that the long term answer, and the only one that the mass public will subscribe to, isn’t not to travel but to improve the vehicles that we use.

This could easily turn into a ridiculously long essay on why I eat out, why I continue to use the internet which is a carbon monster, why I do pretty much everything I do. I think that all of those things can be covered though by a really simple blanket statement, which is this:

I will continue to live a life that makes me happy and fulfilled and gives me the constant opportunity to learn and to grow BUT while doing so I will be sure that every single choice I make is informed and aware and is the most sustainable option.

In addition to looking for and using the most sustainable options each time, I will campaign for more sustainability in government and industry and protest against the opposite. I will talk and educate others about sustainability wherever I can. Whenever I have the opportunity to be part of a climate positive action or support a more sustainable product or system then I will take it.

Please do travel and do explore, it is the most life enriching thing you can do. Please don’t be fooled into thinking that removing freedoms and oppressing others is the right way to enact change.

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