Humans are dependent on natural resources, but the future of our resources is becoming more uncertain every day. We are now facing the harsh truth that if we continue to mismanage our resources, we might not have much more to work within the near future.
This issue becomes more daunting and urgent every day. Population growth is skyrocketing and usable land is diminishing. These two factors are not at all compatible. Countries are being forced to think harder about their future existence.
A country’s ability to feed itself depends largely on the available land, resources, and capital. These three elements feed each other and depend on each other. They cannot exist without each other. They encompass everything we need to consider when we talk about sustainable development alongside nature.
Why is sustainable development important?
Sustainable development is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future. It is about development that allows us to grow without consuming every resource that future generations will need to satisfy their own needs.
Sustainable development is crucially important because it either guarantees or dooms the future of our planet.
The goal of sustainable development is to satisfy our needs without sabotaging the needs of future generations so that they can continue to grow and develop their societies, economies, and civilizations, and not be doomed by the aftermath of ours. It is about finding solutions that strive to find and fix the problems we face in trying to achieve indefinite progress with access to finite resources on earth.
As a concept, sustainable development covers a broad spectrum from social development to economic development to environmental preservation and more.
Sustainability and conservation should be at the forefront of all human development. With this in mind, it is becoming increasingly important for natural environments to be taken into consideration in city developments. We are living in an age of mass extinction, allowing the death of billions of species at the hands of rapid urbanization.
Scientists have officially declared that we are living in a mass extinction period. It even has a name – the Anthropocene epoch. Earth has not seen a mass extinction of this level since the dinosaurs were around, 65 million years ago! You do not need a science degree to figure out what is causing the disaster this time.
People. Agriculture. Urbanization.
Scientists have been urging us for a long time to consider the repercussions that we will soon face for the damage we are causing.
Human society – especially western society – has become alarmingly detached from nature. This does not mean that we are not still extremely dependent on nature to survive. Insects, for example, are mostly considered to be a pest to people, but they are so crucial to our survival that we would almost certainly die without them.
Bees have been on the forefront of this topic for a few years. We understand the importance of bees, even if other insects sometimes fall off of our radars. Everyone is aware that bees are dying at an alarming rate and that we have to do something about it for the good on the environment and the good of humanity.
Bees and other pollinating insects are responsible for keeping approximately 90% of wild plants alive. They are absolutely crucial to the survival of our environment.
Thanks to the stressed importance of these buzzing creatures, recent years have seen many initiatives developing in hopes of protecting bees. One of these initiatives is ‘Bee Saving Paper’ – a multi-use paper product that doubles as an ‘energy drink’ for bees. It is a durable and biodegradable product that serves many purposes to humans and fuels bees who are attracted to it. The boost bees receive from Bee Saving Paper comes from it being composed of energy-rich glucose and honey plant seeds. Numerous brands are working with Bee Saving Paper and promoting its various uses.
This is the kind of initiative that encourages humans to take small steps to better the world around them. It may seem like saving the bees is not your problem, but when agriculture runs out, you will be singing a different tune!
Bees are not the only creatures that we have been trying to save. Past efforts have often focused on preserving endangered species, but we are starting to understand that almost every species is endangered by our modern way of life. Increasing efforts are evolving to focus on the importance of wildlife and ecosystems as a whole.
The Birds and Habitats Directives is one of these. The European based project is demanding that cities take birds and their habitats into more consideration when developing construction and city-related developments. Similarly, the Water Framework Directive is putting pressure on European governments to take natural water systems into more consideration. Rapid population growth and urbanization are putting increasing demand on water supplies, and drastic measures have to be taken to ensure the sustainability of our water supplies.
There are a growing number of organizations focused on water conservation. In Sweden, the Stockholm International Water Institute is rewarding global efforts towards water sustainability. They award initiatives with titles including:
- The Stockholm Water Prize
- The Stockholm Junior Water Prize
- The Stockholm Industry Water Prize
Additionally, they conduct water research and provide advisory services regarding water research. Their overall goal is to guide water sustainability through education and recognizing global efforts of businesses, governments, and individuals working towards water sustainability.
A Stockholm International Water Institute Promotional image (source)
Water is not the only industry where Sweden is at the forefront of sustainability. Sweden has adopted a vast amount of green initiatives and is working hard to push themselves towards a greener tomorrow. Some of these initiatives include:
- District Heating in Gothenburg
Gothenburg is one of the only major European cities that functions on a centralized heating system. This has drastically reduced the amount of energy needed for heating. A centralized system of heating and cooling operates through one main source and makes use of recycled heat from other industries that would otherwise go to waste.
- Urban farming
Sweden has long allowed its population to reap the rewards of their own gardening projects. It has been a popular Swedish pastime for over a century. Residents share a piece of land that they use to cultivate fruits and vegetables for personal use, allowing people to practice self-sufficiency while taking some pressure off of mass agricultural production.
- Using body heat to power buildings
Another fascinating and unique concept to come out of Sweden is the concept of ‘passive houses’. These houses reduce energy consumption by harvesting the heat from people and appliances inside the houses. Passive houses can be found in several Swedish communities.
Sweden is a global leader in sustainability for these reasons and many more. For most Swedes, sustainability is a way of life. They are global leaders in recycling, with about 90% of recyclable goods being recycled. This is much more than any other country has achieved, even in other European countries where recycling is becoming increasingly easy and encouraged. They even recycle fashion – with vintage fashion now so popular that even major retailers are selling second-hand products alongside high fashion items. Sweden also has the largest demand for organic food. It seems like they live and breath sustainability in Sweden – so it is not surprising that they are also investing heavily in green technology and promoting research into sustainability beyond what any other European country is doing.
In Europe, there is a lot of pressure to adapt currently existing architecture to coincide with nature. Growing importance is placed on renewable energy that utilizes natural resources in respectful and non-harmful ways.
Electric transport is one of the leading ways that cities are turning greener, However, this is only a good thing if electricity is also being created in greener ways.
Despite a few exceptions, Europe is largely moving away from fossil fuels. Countries are finding ways to harvest energy from the sun, the wind, and the seas in unique ways that work for the habitats that they are established in.
It’s an expensive endeavor, and it can be slow in some places, but global pressure is demanding that countries all try to do better. The Paris Agreement gave many different cities personal goals to meet. Some have done better than others, but the goal of sustainability has been drilled into all of them and the pressure is on.
In any state that is dependent on fossil fuels such as coal, there needs to be pressure on governments and energy providers to make the change to renewable energy. The only way we can hope to achieve this is by pushing education and putting pressure on those with money and power to make the change.
People often think that they are insignificant in change, yet social pressure can and has made leaps and bounds of change before. Don’t believe me? Look at plastic straw bans around the world.
When California banned plastic straws, a wave of states followed suit. It soon became criminally unfashionable to use plastic straws in socially conscious circles all around the world. What started as a small social media movement has made entire cities completely ban single-use plastic straws. Where they aren’t banned, there is so much social stigma against them that even those who genuinely don’t care about the environment are finding themselves embarrassed to be seen toting one in the beverage.
Alternatives to plastic straws used to be few and far between. Now, they can be located in several different materials in their own booming industry. Businesses have really been getting creative with what they are offering in the place of plastic for your beverages. There are now brands selling paper straws, glass straws, and even seaweed straws.
The disdain from plastic straws comes from two places:
- They are not biodegradable
- They are not reusable
This is not something unique to plastic straws. It can be said of many products; especially in the plastic industry! Plastic is one of our biggest waste problems because it simply does not go away. Researchers have found plastic and rock merged together so tightly in the ocean that they are becoming a whole new substance. That’s right – long after humans are dead and gone, and our societies have been wiped out – there will still be plastic in the form of rocks in the ocean. That is how deep the damage has gone.
Of the estimated 83,000 million tonnes of plastic that humans have created so far, only 9% of that has been recycled. The rest is majorly in landfills and the ocean, polluting the earth and damaging our resources. Plastic was once seen as a wonder product, and in many ways it still is. Since it came into mass production in the 1950’s, it’s durability and versatility have made it a favorite for uses from packaging to high tech products. The problem is that none of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable, and the only reliable way to destroy plastics is with heat that emits a toxic gas and contributes to greenhouse gases.
Plastic straws are not the only thing that needs replacing. In the face of the plastic crisis, straws are a minuscule issue in a sea of waste. Plastic manufacturers from all industries are being urged to find innovative ways to replace plastic with more sustainable solutions.
Manufacturers have lead us to believe that oil-based plastic is hard to replace. That is not true at all. It might be more costly and less convenient, but plastic alternatives are available in so many different shapes and forms that it is shameful to see how little they are being used. Plastic can be made from an abundance of substances, including but not limited to:
Bio-plastic is manufactured from plants, making it inherently eco-friendly. It often comes from agricultural waste, giving it extra sustainability points.
As crazy as it sounds, milk plastic has been around for over a century. It has not been popular in the past, but new technology has made it more accessible and milk plastics have been making a comeback in recent years. Milk plastic is biodegradable and even edible, although it is not recommended for taste, but sustainability.
Stones can be used to make paper or plastic. Calcium carbonate is extracted and used to make these products. They are recyclable and waterproof, but not biodegradable.
Plastic is immensely harmful to nature. Supporting brands that make use of plastic substitutes is the smart and sustainable thing to do. Plastic is the cause of one of the biggest wastes crises we are facing today, and it has only been in use for roughly 70 years. Another 70 years and who knows how drastic the damage will be.
The environment has already taken a massive hit from our actions. We will never fully recover from the damage we have done. All there is to do now is work towards conservation. Our environment urgently needs protecting. We can achieve this through conscious conservation efforts and conscious buying habits. Industries of all kinds need to be driven away from plastic and other products that are not biodegradable or recyclable. Plastic use is possibly the least sustainable thing on the earth. With so many other options available, there is no excuse for it anymore.
Sustainability means moving away from plastic, away from fossil fuels, and towards renewable energy and biodegradable or recyclable products. If we don’t work hard now to save nature, there will not be any nature left to save.