‘Sustainability’ is the ‘Ability to Sustain’…but sustain what? Do we know the answer?

Today Sustainability is a widely spoken and discussed topic in the corporate world as well as educational institutes. Grey, Blue and Green energy sources are being deliberated at length. ‘Earth day’ celebration is now an integral part of the school activities, something which was non-existent in our times. Every second article in LinkedIn is connected to sustainability and promoting responsible, environmentally friendly business activities. Companies, globally, are focusing on energy and environmental management more than ever before. There must be a reason for all these, right?

The ‘Global Footprint Network’ calculates the ‘Earth Overshoot Day’ every year. In 2021 it was 29th July. It was 30th December in 1970. In simplified terms, it means that we have consumed within 29th July, the quantum of resources from the environment, which we should have consumed earliest by 31st December, so as to maintain the ecological balance. In other words, we have consumed resources of 365 days within 209 days. While there can be more in-depth interpretations and country-wide analysis in terms of natural resources consumption, the fact remains that something requires our attention. And what is that?

There are multiple school of thoughts for each activity that is perceived as affecting our environment. For example, Green House Gases (e.g. Carbon dioxide, Methane etc.) are believed to create global warming while Hydrogen is generally considered as a clean fuel. But there are contradictory articles and research to this theory. Similarly Nuclear, Solar and Wind Energies are apparently considered to be cleaner and/or more sustainable than conventional fossil fuels e.g. Coal, Petroleum and Natural Gas. However, that is a debate which might not resolve in hours, days or may not, even in years. While we are not going into the technological considerations and judging the correctness of the various research and related inferences, there is no debate that whatever is the best technology, it surely needs to be clean and sustainable. This is from a broader perspective. Is there something that we can do from our level?

One of the classical laws of economics (Say’s law) states that ‘Supply Creates its Own Demand’. Although  it has been refuted later on by other economists (e.g. Keynes) and has been a subject of debate over and again, does it hold good for us? Do we buy unnecessary articles just because they are attractive, or because someone else has it, or because we want to improve our social status? Very often all of us indulge is some or the other activities, that are either in line or similar to these. 

Can we cut our air travels (for short distances to start with)? Could we use public transport instead of individual ones? Do we really require the number of garments and shoes that we have? Does your child really need so many toys? Can’t we walk or cycle down to the grocery store instead of taking our 2 or 4 wheeler? Do we really need the quantity of food we eat? Can food waste be reduced? We can keep on placing ourselves precariously poised by asking such honest questions to ourselves. I am sure all of us are doing some of the things correctly, but by and large, we are hardly able to control our greed in each and every facet and end up in sharing a pie of the guilt. If we could only stick to our needs, control our consumption and wastage, and stay in harmony with nature, we can contribute to a great extent in the endeavor for sustainability.

Actually, the concept of sustainability starts from within ourselves. Our education, value system, thought process, self-restraint and ability to closely cling ourselves to nature can yield havoc. The lifestyle we choose, the forms of entertainment we desire, the way we address our daily ordeals has a lot to contribute towards maintaining a healthy environment around us. Science and Technology are means to improve our quality of life. Breakthrough medical research, scientific inventions, technological innovations and engineering marvels are all aimed at making our life safer, healthier and more fulfilling. But it’s very important how we use them. The more and more we invest in our physical pleasure and quick forms of entertainment, the more we move away from nature. Remember, the more we demand such unnecessary necessities, the more we get those, and at what cost? Additional natural resources, additional energy and additional intellect going behind those, all of which could have been used for something more constructive and fruitful. We should invest in our overall physical and mental wellbeing and use the available resources to replenish ourselves intellectually and maintain our good physical and healthy stature. These will help in controlling our greed, ego, and unnecessary needs, that go against nature. Anything that goes against nature is definitely not environmentally friendly and hence, not sustainable. If we can overcome our greed and ego, we will already have taken a great step towards a sustainable future. This applies from micro level as an individual to a greater population as a country and finally to the whole human race.

But what if we don’t abide and continue our endless satisfaction of greed and pseudo needs? What if we keep on investing in non-sustainable initiatives and technologies? What if the ‘Earth Overshoot Day’ shrinks further to June this year and to January in some years in future? What if all the arctic ice melts and what if indiscriminately deforestation continues? 

If the answer to the above is ‘We are going to spoil the Earth’, the answer is resoundingly wrong.

We, the humans, are ignorant enough to think that we can destroy or even save the earth. Earth is self-sustaining. Nature will take its own course and Earth will do the necessary to preserve herself, and even if that means the end of human race on earth. The more we act against nature, the more we are prone to climatic catastrophes. On the ultimate day of apocalypse, the last human being will also be wiped away from the face of earth. Then there will be no GHG, no pollution, no actions against nature. The damages done by us will gradually be normalized over time and again the poles will be full of ice, forests will multiply fast and GHG levels in atmosphere will be back to normal. Earth will always win the battle and we will be the perennial losers. This is both, a scientific, as well as a spiritual truth.

So, ‘Sustainability’ is essentially a battle of Humans with Humans to save Humans on the face of the Earth. ‘Earth Day’ can be better coined as ‘Human Civilization Day’, when we should realize what our actions can do to the future generations. Sustainability is a fight to restore the sanity in us, overcoming our unprecedented greed and pride. Sustainability is the only way to ensure perpetual human sustenance and flourish. Sustainability has nothing to do with the Earth. Sustainability is a very selfish initiative of ours, allegedly the most intelligent creation of God, which should be achieved without any compromise, if we want to live. It’s the fight for our existence.

‘Sustainability’ is the ‘Ability to Sustain Human Race on Earth’.

About the Author

Iman Ghosh Dastidar is an energy professional who is an ardent traveller and sports enthusiast. He is a rare writer as well. A Chemical Engineer with an MBA and a Certified Energy Manager, Iman has more than 18 years experience in the Oil and Gas industry and have handled all the major portfolios of the industry. Currently he is a part of the Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO) and is responsible for complex wide energy management and optimization initiatives. Energy & Sustainability, ESG, Process and Projects Management are some of his major professional interests. He is equally interested in Football, Tennis and Travel, in his personal life.