Sustainability is defined as the avoidance of the depletion of a natural resource so that ecological balance can be maintained. This is important because the depletion of natural resources leads to devasting affects for humans and every other species on Earth. Sustainability in the United States is an overlap of economic soundness and environmental consciousness. While the environment is becoming more and more of a focal point the financial side of things are equally present in the mind of the average American citizen.
It is almost always cheaper or more convenient to make things out of plastic and other hazardous materials than it is to do so sustainably.
One way to promote sustainability in America is through our food practices. Purchasing food from local sources and growing your own is a great way to work towards living sustainably. Buying local means less fuel is used to get the foods from their original growth location to the consumer. It also promotes genetic diversity in the plants and animals being cultivated.
Lack of genetic diversity is what caused the Irish Potato Famine. All the farmers were planting the same type of potato and when a disease went through it killed off all the plants. Buying locally also means that the money stays in the economy. The farms also create jobs within the community. Local food sources are a more practical method to use when working towards living sustainably. (Arrowquip)
Sustainability also involve not only our food but also our material products and their production methods.
We live in a consumerist society and go through goods at an alarming rate. By using things meant to be one use only, especially if they can’t be recycled, we deplete resources. (Mayell)
Recycling is so important to the idea of living sustainably but even more important is the lasting factor of a product. This is because as good as recycling is it releases chemicals and other nasty stuff that isn’t good for the environment. The idea of recycling seems good, but it promotes the idea of a closed circle of materials when that simply isn’t the case. It is very rare to find something that is 100% recyclable and even if it is the process to remake it releases pollutants. Another big factor in this is the amount of material recycled vs the amount that is recyclable. (Westervelt)
Recycling technology has problems as well. The process of breaking it down and remaking it causes pollution runoff that affects water sources in the area. We also ship the materials to foreign countries to be processed there so we have two options, keep the pollution in the United States or lose jobs and economic benefits to other countries.
On the ethical side of this, some of the places we ship our electronics to use child labor. This means that we are exposing children to toxic materials. “The EPA estimates that as much as 75 percent of our e-waste is languishing in the nation’s closets and attics, waiting to be disposed of” (Somerville) Tie-ing back into my earlier ideas recycling is great but there are many problems with it and overall it would be much better to have technology that lasts longer.
Another area in which we can work towards sustainability and ecological soundness is the transportation industry. 75 percent of the carbon monoxide pollution that the United States produces is from motor vehicles. A lot of this could be avoided through the use of public transportation and walking but in more rural areas that simply isn’t feasible. Public transportation is a eco-friendlier option and is more sustainable in terms of fossil fuels.
However, it is still a source of pollution. Automobile pollution is a major problem in the United States, we have only about 30% of the worlds cars but produce 50% of the world's emissions from cars. We must find better ways to travel and transport goods to move towards true sustainability. Solar powered and electric cars are the future in this aspect of sustainability, but they aren’t cheap enough to be available for everyone so until they are, we should look at public transport as a more reachable solution. (Brinson)
Circling back to food one of the biggest things that is preventing us from being truly sustainable is the huge dependence on meat we have developed in this society. All those quarter pounders we eat every year are having a huge impact on the environment. All animals produce methane gas all throughout their lives, but cattle produce the most out of the animals that we typically cultivate for food purposes. Cattle aren’t going to make that big of an impact in their natural environment but how many free cattle do you see?
We have mass produced an animal and now around 37% of all human induced methane production comes from livestock. The way we eat in this country, and several other places around the world, is not sustainable. A meat focused diet is not only bad for you but also the planet. (Shapely)
One energy source that we rely on today is natural gas. Natural gas cannot be sustainable because it is a non-renewable resource. The drilling and laying of pipe to extract and transport natural gas is also extremely bad for the environment. (Bruggers) The displacement of soil can pollute water ways and fracking is also very dangerous. They sometimes add chemicals to the wells they use to make it easier to frack. Studies show that areas where fracking occurs have higher rates of asthma than other areas. (Stone)
Wind energy is a great resource for sustainability. The draw back for this energy source is the turbines aren’t very aesthetically pleasing. Small amounts of land also have to be cleared to place them as well. They also have a moderate amount of noise pollution but is that a minor thing when compared to the energy they provide. (Cummings)
Solar energy is arguably the most efficient form of energy. The sun will be around as long as humans are. All the energy generated by the sun is free. The panels are incredibly low maintenance, they are very durable. It creates jobs, Australia alone has 10,000 people working in the solar power industry. (Go green)
In summary there are many ways to live sustainably. Growing your own food or purchasing from local markets is great. It means less fuel is used to get the food to you, it helps grow the local economy and promotes genetic diversity. We need to decrease our meat consumption as well, particularly beef as it is the most damaging.
We as a society buy too much stuff. We need to be recycling everything we can and that’s just not happening. The pollutants it releases makes it an un appealing option so right now we need to be focused on buying things that last longer. We should also focus on breaking the idea that recycling happens on a closed circle. As for technology shipping the materials to a different country to be dealt with doesn’t change the impact the process has and in doing it we are supporting child labor practices.
Using public transportation can help put a dent in the amount of carbon monoxide pollution the United States produces. Electric and solar powered vehicles would be better but due to their cost aren’t a realistic solution for sustainability yet.
Wind energy is a great option for sustainable energy with the main drawback being the noise pollution and the aesthetic issues. Solar is an almost perfect choice because it can be built directly into the architecture. As well as providing a massive amount of jobs.