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“Back to sustainability” by Clara Montaner Augé

Every transition process is complex, it requires reflection and illusion, and it is traced out step by step. In a way, the journey towards sustainability is a return one, the outward journey was taken when we started the industrialization period.  The so-called “development” came with promises of a longer and more comfortable life, but we gradually forgot how it was cultivated while respecting natural rhythms, how was possible living without plastic on a daily basis, or how to have a low-emission holiday. Today it is our turn to learn again from nature and its regenerative function, from our grandparents and their ancestral wisdom, and also to reinvent ourselves, although we now know that under the premise of unlimited growth there is no possible future.

Five years ago my carbon footprint was the average of a young woman of the Global North, with a modest salary, but with access to numerous commodities that the consumer model offers at affordable prices. I shared a flat with friends, I ate junk food weekly, I have bought fast fashion every season and I have taken several flights per year. After studying Environmental science (although it gave me a base to build my principles) did not prevent me from causing a high ecological impact, since, in my mind, sustainability fitted apparently well as a mere feature, as an appendix to be added to the productivist system in order to improve it.

In the summer of 2016, I started living with my partner and my decisions started to take another dimension. We were going to settle in one place, to start a life according to our taste and values. 

We started to realize that we did not need to fill the house with new furniture to set up our space. We also decided not to have a car and to move around on foot, by bike or public transport. With a little planning, buying local products and free of chemical pesticides was feasible. At first, we counted how much organic food each basket contained and we were happy to know that with those products we were not contaminating the soil, the rivers, or harming the wildlife. Thus, the proportion of respectful purchases was gaining weight.

Photo: Clara’s carbon footprint (3.6ton/year) compared to a baseline (3.5ton/year) considerably lower than the average in developed countries , distributed by category

At the same time, I stopped eating animals. Knowing their capacity to feel love, pain, happiness… thanks to the coexistence with other species, the subject came to my head, although I decided to do so when I came across a truck of pigs going to the slaughterhouse. The deep sadness became the strength to take the step towards vegetarianism. The most difficult thing has been to face social pressure since the traditions linked to meat are very deep-rooted. 

However, I have never wanted to go back, and the benefits of quitting meat range from dramatic reductions in carbon footprint to health benefits. My diet is now almost vegan, as milk or eggs are part of the same industry of animal husbandry and environmental degradation, and they are not essential to a healthy diet – always if it’s balanced and provides the necessary nutrients.

In 2017 I decided to write a blog: Calaix Ambiental. The initial idea was to capture what I was learning in courses, seminars, exhibitions … on the subject that became my passion: ecology. Then I discovered the underworld activism of social networks and I was fascinated by their profuse information. 

Little by little, I was braiding new fields of action: buying very few clothes and locally manufactured; swapping the products of the giants of pollution (Coca-Cola groups, Nestle, Pepsico, Unilever…) for the ones produced by small producers or in bulk; and now I am in the process of changing my services from internet, electricity, banking… to cooperative alternatives, thus promoting another economy, one that is conscious of strengthening social and ecological networks instead of decimating them.

One thing that helps me decide on my consumption, for example, whether to buy a mobile phone or take a trip to another continent, is to ask myself: does the planet need more mobile phones, more flights…? The answer is usually no since a big part of the system is designed with a view towards sustainability. However, our consumption and the care of the ecosystems do not have to be confronted and today there are already many alternatives focused on living in balance with the natural cycles, some already mentioned. Moreover, contrary to what it seems, a respectful lifestyle is much cheaper, yes, even if you spend more on ecological products you save a lot of superfluous purchases.

I know that throughout my life I have emitted more CO₂ than my peers in the Global South and than the emissions probably generated by future generations, this encourages me to leave behind old habits and live more fairly. It also motivates me to follow this path, bearing in mind the cost of continuing to emit at the current rate: it would mean an increase of between 4 and 5ºC on average over pre-industrial levels by 2100. But science has repeatedly warned us that if the global average temperature rises by more than 2°C, the functioning of the ecosystems will be seriously altered and damaged. 

To keep up with this moderate increase, the industrialized countries should achieve reductions of about 40% of emissions by 2030. But governments don’t have a magic wand. So, this reduction happens because you, me, and all the citizens reduce drastically our carbon footprint. Living with a healthy climate and ecosystems is a right that all should enjoy. Why not bet on it? 

Author: Clara Montaner Augé