Half of one, six dozen of another
tl;dr: stop confusing sustainability with climate change, they aren't the same thing.
In many parts of the world, all carbonated soft drinks are called Coke. Similarly, it really doesn’t matter what brand of facial tissue you might use, the descriptor is probably going to be Kleenex. There are some brands that have become so dominant that they literally take over the definition of the product itself. This is what is happening with sustainability and climate change.
Climate change is a very serious issue that deserves the attention that it is getting. However, it is not synonymous with sustainability. This is a very important distinction to make because many municipalities believe that by tackling carbon emissions, they are also comprehensively addressing sustainability. Is this nitpicky? To the outside observer, perhaps, but to someone who is in this field, there are stark differences.
In the past two years, there have been several non-climate-related contributors that have stressed sustainable practices in many cities and towns.
1. COVID-19 impacted this nation in ways that haven’t been seen since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. While climate change will contribute to viral and bacterial epidemics and pandemics, there is not enough evidence to attribute COVID-19 to climate change. Again, that is not to say that climate change will not cause an outbreak, because it is not a matter of if, but when this does occur. Given the increasing dangers of viral mutations, if local governments do not prepare for the next wave of COVID or a new disease altogether, then they have completely ignored the lesson that planning for these eventualities is a necessity.
2. Many people were very upset this year because of the sharp rise in fuel costs. Is this climate-related? Absolutely not. It was triggered by geo-political risk when Russia decided that it should escalate its conflict with Ukraine and actually invade. People purchased vehicles without the thought that gas prices would be $7 USD a gallon, and when prices soared to those levels, many were left with some tough decisions to make. Again, they could not continue with their way of life and it had nothing to do with carbon emissions.
3. Speaking of vehicles, anyone try recently to buy a car under MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price)? People were actually able to trade in their used cars for more than they paid for them because demand was so strong. What caused this shortage that prevented people from purchasing a vehicle? It had nothing to do with global warming whatsoever. It had everything to do with supply chain fragility. Believe it or not, a fire at one semiconductor factory in Japan caused a domino effect that resulted in long waits for new cars. Supply chains are so lean that a singular event can create havoc throughout the manufacturing process. If we can’t access “essential” goods like automobiles, are we living sustainably?
4. There is an employment trend called "the mass resignation”, forcing staffing shortages across multiple industries. I’m sure you’ve all had to wait much longer for service at restaurants, stores, and offices because there just aren’t enough employees available. Is this climate-related? This is a facetious question because of course it isn’t. Yet, we still face the sustainability challenges of keeping locations open and providing services at the same levels as before.
We don’t have to continue feeding a fed horse here in regard to the myriad of challenges that sustainability needs to focus on, besides anthropogenic and natural climate change. What we need to understand on a broader basis is that it isn’t nitpicky at all to point out that climate change (and by extension carbon emission reduction) and sustainability are not the same things at all. In reality, they aren’t even close. At Greenheart Partners, we will always seek ways to reduce our consumption on an individual, household, and municipal level, but we also are diligently creating solutions that address issues like the ageing population, telecommuting, urban agriculture, inflation, and other key elements that will decide what our lives will look like tomorrow and for many years to come.
The silver lining to all of this is that if you are one of those individuals who feel that climate change isn’t nearly as awful as many of us are saying it is, you still can play a part in the field of sustainability. It is in your absolute best interest to do so because we have experienced plenty of situations in which anyone can see that without preparation, things get very challenging for many people. As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and being proactive about challenges is actually far more accessible and cheaper than being reactive. That philosophy can be embraced by all people, regardless of political ideologies or influences.
Here are some simple things you can do to play a part without "drinking the kool-aid." :
1. Think of something that you absolutely love having in your life. Then consider what needs to be done to make sure that it is available to you going forward.
2. Research suitable alternatives. What I mean by this is if you suddenly couldn't buy a new car, would you be ok riding a bike? How about using a moped? Carpooling? This way you don't have to be completely unprepared when disruptions occur.
3. Not to sound like Marie Kondo, but consider what truly "gives you joy" in your life. For example, I thought having a brand new pair of socks every time I needed a pair was cool, and then I realized it was kinda consumeristic douchebaggery, and now we happily launder socks and use them more than one time.
All of these suggestions are proactive AND apolitical. Here is the secret to sustainability. Much of the time, what is really important is thinking more than doing. And, if you are so inspired, after thinking about good sustainability practices, start thinking about how to reduce carbon emissions, because it actually is really important as well!