I will put this eloquently: There’s a CRAP-TONNE of misinformation floating around the inter-web about our good green earth. Some tidbits are common misconceptions, some are harmless fallacies, whereas others are offensively incorrect and harmful pieces of rhetoric. Here’s a small collection of some common sustainability myths.
Human population is growing exponentially and dooming our planet.
In a past post (check it) I briefly addressed the concept of ONE PLANET LIVING. This asserts that regardless of population growth, it is possible to live in a way that does not impinge on the ability of future generations to survive.
Also, the concept of exponential growth itself is a fallacy. The United Nations has done extensive research into projected global population trends, and while there is a range of projections for end-of-century populations, the average estimate lands around 11 billion as birth-rates are falling worldwide.
In the early 1970s, women had on average 4.5 children each; by 2014, women had around 2.5 children each (source).
Corporations are the enemy
Now, i’ll preface this by stating the obvious (or what should be obvious)- some corporations employ business practices that help desecrate global biodiversity and generally ignore trends towards sustainability. That said, it’s not necessarily helpful to equate corporations with ‘the enemy’.
In my past post titled ‘Dirty Canadian Pensions’, I mentioned a recent report by Corporate Knights where an assessment of 45 stock exchanges on sustainability disclosure found that there is a growing global demand from investors for public carbon performance metrics. In short, this means that corporations are being held responsible for their part in climate change and are tasked with more sustainable business practices.
‘Eco-friendly’ products are always better
As I’ve touched on before, greenwashing is a significant concern for consumers looking to use their buying power for good. Here’s some examples of companies that boast an environmentally friendly agenda that in reality, lack the commitment to sustainability issues (some of these are painfully obvious examples of greenwashing):
The key to sustainability is recycling
We have all been exposed to the ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’ slogan since childhood, however ‘recycle’ seems to be the key take-home message for most of us in school as well as in popular media that promotes ‘sustainable’ practices.
In reality, it’s all about the ‘reduce’.
The ONLY way to create a more sustainable earth for future generations is to embrace an overall reduction in consumption.
There is a concept in sustainability called The Natural Step, the premise being that there is a steadily increasing overall population on our planet, as well as a steady decrease in available natural resources as, after all, this earth of ours is a finite resource.
Recycling is nice and certainly helps slow the consumption of natural resources, but recycling products always results in a degradation of the quality of the product, and requires additional energy and resources to complete the recycling process.
Therefore, as per The Natural Step, we can see how important a net reduction in consumption really is, over recycling.
Sustainability means lower quality of living
Last time I checked, the 'quality of life' index is majorly concerned with job opportunities both locally and globally. Paul Hawken, author and entrepreneur who helped found the sustainability movement articulates this perfectly. He said, "Addressing climate change is the biggest job creation program there is".
As technologies and innovation associated with sustainable living advance, they necessarily become more affordable and allow us as a society to become far more efficient in the way that we do the everyday things that we would be doing anyways.
New technology is always the answer
While technology certainly helps aid breakthroughs in sustainability understandings and allows us, as I said, to develop new ways to tackle old projects, it's important to recognize that there are many ways of improving sustainability, including but not limited to advancements in technology.
Sometimes, a paradigm shift may come from a social movement or consumer demand. Other times, a clever business model or tactical plan can set the stage for future improvements.
Sometimes, going back to basics is the key for looking to the future. Barack Obama made a point during his presidential campaign that the proper inflation of car tires could save Americans millions of gallons of gasoline through more efficient fuel economy. This is obviously a very basic concept and one that certainly does not call for a technological breakthrough. Obama was ridiculed for this sentiment in Republic campaigns, but ultimately he was right. Sometimes the answer is staring us in the face the entire time but we are unable to see it for social, political or otherwise reasons.
Furthermore, waiting around on 'new technology' is a sure way to waste time when there are plenty of incentives NOW that can impact every sector of sustainability.
“We have an economy where we steal the future, sell it in the present, and call it GDP [gross domestic product].” - Paul Hawken