Moving into the third decade of the second millennium, society finds itself at a crossroads like never before.
A glance at the globe’s collective problems and one could be forgiven for thinking matters are beyond salvation and that the outlook is very bleak indeed.
Indeed, whilst the world continues to be ravaged by the plague that is COVID-19, such “normal” catastrophes as war, famine, natural disasters, and man’s apparent inhumanity to man continue seemingly unabated causing us all at times to well and truly banish hope and optimism to the very back of all burners.
As desperate as these catastrophes are there is another concern that continues to rage and which requires our urgent attention. It is one that first came to the general attention of society two or three decades ago thanks to the diligent efforts of a select few who made it their mission to educate the world. At first, they were dismissed as worry-mongers or accused of exaggerating but they stuck to their tasks and finally started to get the message across, I refer to, of course, the physical condition that our world is in now.
Unless we have been metaphorically living under a rock the past few decades, we will be only too aware of such terms as “Global Warming”, “Environmental Protection”, “Green”, “Recyclable”, “Carbon Footprint”, and the buzz words and phrases that accompany them. And yet…. how many of us are really sure of what they all mean? Yes, we know it is important to take care of the environment and that the world is changing, and the vast majority of us now take steps to recycle and “do our bit”, but what about the nuts and bolts of the situation?
The public-at-large is by now used to the sight of Greta Thunberg hectoring and lecturing the great and not-so-great on the world’s ills, and while we are in awe of her convictions and forthrightness, we may not possess more than a general inkling of the finer details of the young Swedish environmental activist’s platform and concerns.
Well, in no way does your erstwhile author claim to have any more than the most rudimentary of understanding of what is, after all, a fairly complex subject, but having taken at least a perfunctory attempt to see the woods for the trees, so as to speak, a little clarity has started to emerge.
One thing I have learned is that it is important to distinguish between the terms “Green” and “Sustainable” as although closely linked, the words are neither synonyms nor interchangeable.
Perhaps it is best to start with the similarities in meaning and usage before looking at the differences. Both terms are concerned with taking care of the planet and with awareness of the problems facing the world environmentally. Similarly, both terms concern themselves with ensuring future generations will not inherit a doomsday scenario and that there will be sufficient natural resources to sustain them.
However, differences exist. The word “Green” is perhaps the more widely used of the two and in its literal sense, it is applied to any aspect that benefits or assists the environment. Examples include the processes that exist to ensure the responsible utilization and protection of the world’s natural resources. “Going Green” is a catchphrase used to describe utilizing nature’s resources in the present while ensuring their existence in the future.
Going Green involves recycling and reusing available resources as well as reducing the number or amount of resources used. Some examples here include the simple and common ones of running repairs on broken equipment rather than discarding and replacing them, turning off running taps while brushing teeth, and energy conservation through limiting the use of electricity.
Green activities are the most visible ones we see, experience and – hopefully – participate in. They include recycling or reusing our plastic drinking bottles, the phasing out of plastic carrier bags in supermarkets and the like, and carpooling or taking public transport rather than driving in separate cars all the time.
Green concerns are focused on both the present and the future, but “sustainable” ones relate more specifically to the future and to ensuring its productivity and sustainability. As the word suggests, sustainability is concerned with the long run and implementing procedures and programs to ensure this. It means a balance has to be found between the needs of the human race and nature as once the world is “gone” it will remain gone for a long time.
Sustainability would include, for example, the creation of green spaces in areas that might not naturally exist, such as urban development. This would enable recreation spaces for humans as well as encourage animal welfare. Further examples of sustainability include the setting up and continuation of forestry, fishing, and crop rotation.
In short, we can see that while “green” is primarily concerned with environmental health, sustainability also relates to economic and social benefits. The issues that relate to sustainability will, invariably, be green, but not all green issues are automatically sustainable.
For example, items created from a source may be renewable and therefore green, but should the products from this source require a lot of energy to manufacture and distribute then they would not be sustainable.
This is not to say we should get too bogged down in definitions, however. The point is that all of us can do more to ensure that not only do we experience and enjoy the benefits the world has to offer, but that we can actually do so without causing undue damage to its resources in either the short or the long term. It doesn’t need to be a painful process in the present either, and despite the common misconception to the contrary, caring about the environment and the world we live in and will bequeath to those that follow us does not make us “tree-hugging lefties“.
It merely makes us responsible citizens in an ever-confusing world and no amount of hand-wringing and tut-tutting is likely to bring about any positive change anytime soon and instead, it is direct action that is required from us all.