Why tread brightly?


“It seems reasonable to believe — and I do believe — that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race. Wonder and humility are wholesome emotions, and they do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction.” – Rachel Caron, Silent Spring

The need to live lightly

As it stands, humanity requires 1.7 planets to support ourselves. We’re consuming the planet’s resources faster than it has time to replenish it. And we’re not slowing down. On the contrary, our lives are becoming increasingly resource intensive. We drive bigger cars, we buy more stuff, we eat more resource-intensive foods, and we make more waste. We’re extracting and disposing at a higher frequency every year. Already in 2009, Yale Environment noted that consumption is a much bigger threat to the planet than population, so perhaps looking at our personal consumption is worth something.

Compounding this, more than half the planet is still catching up. In 1998, 20% of the population accounted for 86% of total private consumption expenditure while the poorest 20% accounted for only 1.3%. With the global south’s rapid development and a worldwide focus to reduce these inequalities, our resource demand only keeps on rising.

To me it makes perfect sense to find ways to lighten my resource footprint and to reduce the waste I send to landfill. If we want to continue thriving on a planet that also gets its chance to thrive, we have to find ways of living within its limits while allowing those without access to resources their fair share.

Get wild, tread brightly

I write a lot about going outside and about travelling. I believe that, the more we experience, indulge, and delight in nature, the more we’ll want it to thrive along with us. It’s a regular interaction with nature that motivates me to make changes in my life that may appear limiting to some.

Kids aren’t spending nearly as much time in nature as they did a few decades ago. Some, like Goerge Monbiot, believe that kids need to experience the outdoors if they are to become the guardians of the planet. The same is true for us. It’s not just about treading lightly, but treading brightly – with enthusiasm and wonder.

“The treatment of the earth’s living systems in the 20th and early 21st centuries have been characterised by destruction and degradation. We have argued that certain freedoms – to damage, to pollute, to waste – should be limited. We have urged only that people consume less, travel less, live not blithely but mindfully, don’t tread on the grass. We know what we are against; now we must explain what we are for. Environmentalism in the 20th century foresaw a silent spring. Rewilding offers the hope of a raucous summer.”

The thing with sustainability

By no means am I a saint. I own an iPhone and I love a long-haul flight to the middle of nowhere. Sometimes I buy imported things and I can’t seem to rid my house of plastic. I’m also well aware that making one resource-light change often requires a different resource to work harder.

The thing with sustainability is, it acknowledges these complexities. It knows there isn’t one perfect solution or sustainable lifestyle that will bring our collective footprint down to a place where the planet can cope. But living more sustainably means grappling with these contradictions, it means making certain shifts and sometimes discovering they are equally destructive as our previous ways. Sustainability means trying. So, this is me, trying.

“But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.” – Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance