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What is sustainability?

In the last couple of centuries of human existence, the world has changed significantly, and humanity is the prime factor in these changes. There are many positives to these changes and many negatives.

For the positives, more people are educated, there is better healthcare, and things have generally gotten safer for most people. These positives are quite nice really, but the negatives do make the positives seem somewhat small. For starters, our ecosystems are crumbling, both animals and cultures are going through extinctions, and a lot of us feel powerless to stop it. Not exactly a barrel of laughs for planet earth, really.

What Is Sustainability?

However, that doesn’t mean that we have given up or that it’s game over for our planet. A lot of people are fighting to save the earth and its creatures, some of these actions are nothing more than picking up trash and putting it in the bin, others are taking governments to task over what they have done. Of all these actions and words thrown around, one word sticks out from the bunch: sustainability.

It seems vitally important to everyone that we are sustainable, but what is sustainability? Will it help our planet? In this article, we take a closer look at sustainability and see why it is so essential.

So, what exactly is sustainability?

So, what exactly is sustainability?

Sustainability, for all intents and purposes, is the capacity to endure through a situation for as long as possible. The longer an area can maintain its current level of something, be that life or growth, then it is relatively sustainable. The shorter an area is able to maintain this level, and is in fact quite unpredictable, the less sustainable it is.

Here are two examples. The first is a farmer’s field. This field is used by the farmer year after year to grow crops that are then harvested in autumn. Although it may seem like the fields of a farm are in constant use, that is not the case. If a field is used constantly, it will lose topsoil and nutrients, which is not only bad for business but bad for the field. So, farmers will tend to let the field go fallow.

Letting a field go fallow means that it won’t be used for a period of time and the land goes a little wild, with weeds and grasses rising quickly. This fallow period will restore the fertility of the land and more nutrients will be in the soil for the next crop growing period. By letting fields lie fallow, farmers increase the yield of their crops in the long term and increase the sustainability of their land.

The second example is a wild fishery. This is an area of the ocean that has a sizable population of fish that roam as well as other marine animals, which humans then fish commercially. There is no artificial control of these areas, and often not much in the way of regulation. As such, wild fisheries are fished regularly by multiple vessels that use huge drag nets to catch fish.

With no chances to recover or respawn, these fisheries typically end up in a critical state after a couple of years, where most of the fish have been fished, and the area is barren and devoid of life. As you can imagine, this not sustainable and liable to drive fish populations to extinction, which is also bad news for us.

Why is it important?

Why is it important?

Sustainability is critical for a number of reasons. For starters, without doing things more sustainably, then we as societies and as a planet will run out of resources really fast. In fact, in the modern day, this is already happening. Fossil fuels have run out in certain areas and are continuing to run out as we use more and more of them.

This isn’t just happening to our fuel supply as well, food and water resources are becoming scarce as well. If you live in the US and you buy some kind of white fish expecting it to be Atlantic cod, you may instead be given Pollock instead, as it is a close relative, and the taste is similar. In coastal desert countries, there are salination treatment plants to turn saltwater from the ocean into fresh drinking water.


As the human population grows and resources are used in reckless abandon, we are slowly outliving the bounds of our earth, and it will no longer be able to sustain us. This wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t already have evidence of this happening previously.

There have been 6 major extinction events on earth, with the most devastating happening long before the dinosaurs. This catastrophic event was called ‘The Great Dying’ and it wiped out 70% of land animals and between 80 and 90% of marine animals. This event was caused by the expulsion of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and climate change, and it took the earth up to 10 million years to recover from it.

Even if we look at human history, there is evidence in the collapse of great civilizations that suggest a lack of sustainable management and climate change wiped them out. The Bronze Age collapse, the Mayan collapse, the Greenland Vikings collapse, there is evidence to propose that these two things had a hand in all these civilizations collapses – though there is nothing concrete.

As such, it is important to heed advice and take into account these historical events to avoid a repeat of what happened before.

How can we be more sustainable?

How can we be more sustainable?

It may seem like it is impossible for one person to make a difference on a planet where there are 7 billion others, but you most definitely can and should be doing things more sustainably. Trust me, even if it doesn’t feel like you are making a difference, you are. With that in mind, here are some ways to be more sustainable:

  • Think about what you are doing when shopping. Shopping gives you a lot of waste material that will inevitably go to a landfill. These are things like shopping bags, cartons, plastic wrap, and so on. Therefore, try to get things with less packaging, like fresh fruits or vegetables, and bring your own bags for shopping.
  • Look at the labels on packaging. Labels tell us about the food in a packet, whether they are vegan, sustainable, or even if they are approved for human consumption. By looking at the packaging, you should be able to see where the food has come from and whether it is sustainable or not.
  •   Try to be more plastic free. I know it is hard in the modern day, but plastic is so tough that today’s plastic may be around for millions of years, and it can kill animals. So, try not to use as much plastic. Take reusable bags instead of the one at the store, use foil instead of plastic wrap, don’t drink out of one-use bottles, and so on.
  • Drive less, walk more. Cars are a big polluting product in our world, and we use them when we don’t really have to. Even if you can’t afford a greener vehicle, you can use your car less. Walk to the shop instead of driving, cycle to work, take public transport to places instead.

There are many more ways to be sustainable than the ones found on this list, so if you are truly invested in being more sustainable, have a search for these other methods. There are lots of websites to help you and many have innovative ways to deal with these problems.

Final thoughts

Sustainable living does seem like an uphill struggle when our society offers everything you could want at low prices. However, it is incredibly necessary to the survival of not just our species, but our world as well. The daunting nature of sustainability is only daunting for the first week or so, but once you find your groove it becomes second nature to the way you think and if everyone thinks sustainably, our planet’s problems should lessen considerably.

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