Be the Change: The Urgent Need to Participate in a Sustainable Lifestyle Shift

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Charles Darwin

Welcome to the Anthropocene. We are living in an age where humans have profoundly affected the earth and its climate to the extent that many scientists believe it will be part of the permanent geologic record. In 2019, the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) – an international panel of scientists – voted to designate the Anthropocene as a new geologic epoch. The group will submit a formal proposal to the International Commission on Stratigraphy, which oversees the official geologic time chart in 2021.

Image credit: Artist Ray Troll

As you can see, humans are but a blip on the radar when it comes to geologic time. Perhaps this is the thing that drives us – a fear of insignificance – that ignites our impulse to create, build, and consume. Our ability to think analytically, to problem solve and outsmart has made us a successful species – climbing to the top of the food chain and colonizing even the most remote corners of the globe and space. In our brief time on the planet, we have used our brain power for incredible inventions – the automobile, air travel, plastic, the Iphone, the atom bomb. Like a double edged sword, our most fantastic creations have also spelled great devastation. 

If you’re reading this, you likely are already fully aware of human’s impact on the planet vis a vis our consumption habits and the way we live. The science is in – the planet is warming, ice is melting, sea levels are rising, the earth and its oceans are brimming with the trash from our throw away culture. Somehow, it is cheaper to buy a tomato that has traveled 3,000 miles by plane than to purchase one that’s grown in your own backyard. The list goes on. Even high powered billionaires like Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon (no irony lost here) are pledging small fortunes to try and turn the tide. 

What Can You Do to Live a More Sustainable Lifestyle?

For the normal everyday person, the reality of our impact on the planet can feel a little overwhelming. Ok, that’s an understatement! But what can you do personally? While there are many small actions you can take, like swapping out light bulbs and starting a compost, there are larger lifestyle changes that can have a more significant impact. 

A 2017 study highlights a number of actions, categorized as “high” “moderate” or “low impact” that individuals can take to reduce their carbon emissions. Interestingly, the study found that many of the actions found to have the highest impact were not commonly discussed as part of the solution. This is likely because many of the actions which have the greatest impact when it comes to reducing emissions may be seen as a bit controversial. 

Top Actions to Reduce Personal Environment Impact 

  1. Have one fewer child
  2. Live car free 
  3. Avoid one flight (depends on length)
  4. Purchase renewable energy
  5. Buy a more efficient car 
  6. Eat a plant-based diet 
  7. Home heating/cooling efficiency, wall insulation
  8. Install roof top solar PV system
  9. Use public transport, walk, or bike instead of driving
  10. Buy energy efficient appliances
  11. Conserve energy – ie. hang dry clothes, reduce use of electric appliances
  12. Reduce food waste 
  13. Eat less meat 
  14. Reduce consumption – ie. pay bills online
  15. Reuse
  16. Recycle 
  17. Buy local 
  18. Conserve water
  19. Minimize waste
  20. Plant a tree
  21. Compost
  22. Purchase carbon offsets
  23. Reduce lawn mowing
  24. Ecotourism
  25. Keep backyard chickens
  26. Buy “eco friendly” products

Not listed are civic actions which can be harder to measure in terms of their impact. Civic actions you can take include spreading awareness and solutions to friends, family, your employer, and children’s school. Taking part in a protest. Staying up to date on climate and environment related legislation, communicating to your representatives, and voting for pro-environment candidates. Sharing relevant, science-based articles and news on social media. 

Perhaps one of the most powerful actions is leading by example through our own sustainable  lifestyle. 

An electric car charging in California

The Benefits of Living a Sustainable Lifestyle 

We’ve discussed the how and a bit about why you might want to reduce your environmental impact…but what benefits do you get from living a more sustainable lifestyle? When it comes down to it, these are the things that really drive us and motivate us to make changes in our lives and can be excellent talking points when sharing with less environmentally-minded people. It’s all about the benefits!

Some of the major benefits of making the shift to a more sustainable lifestyle include:

  • Save money 
  • High ROI with renewable energy 
  • Better health
  • Sense of community 

Save Money and ROI 

Most people, regardless of their economic situation, want to save money. Many lifestyle changes to reduce one’s own personal environmental impact have a high potential for savings and recoupment of investment costs. For instance, purchasing an electric vehicle has a high ROI, as does investing in renewable energy sources for your home like a rooftop solar PV system. 

A 2018 study found that electric vehicles can cost their owners half as much as regular vehicles, depending on the state and comparative fuel and electricity prices. Even greater savings are able to be realized by individuals who use a home solar PV system to charge their electric vehicle. This is particularly true in Hawaii, which has some of the highest electricity prices in the United States.

As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, the ROI of rooftop solar PV systems is excellent. The average person breaks even in about 7.5 years, with free electricity for the rest of the lifespan of the system, which is about 25-30 years. In addition, solar PV systems increase the property value of your home.

Improve Your Health 

In addition to saving money, sustainable lifestyle changes like walking or biking as alternative transportation, or switching to a plant-based diet can benefit your health. Scientific studies point to a plant based diet (a diet that emphasizes legumes, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds and discourages most or all animal products) as having a positive impact on cardiovascular health, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, among other widespread health conditions.

While harder to measure, mental and emotional health is most surely positively impacted by making sustainable lifestyle changes. Taking charge of your energy consumption and becoming more energy independent is likely to result in feeling less mental stress over the rise of fuel and energy costs, or worry over tense geopolitical situations and government policy. Growing some or all of your own food can have a similar empowering effect. 

A Sense of Community 

Participating in a more sustainable lifestyle often brings you into contact with others who are embarking on the same path – each bringing their own unique experience to share. A common bond of being eager to learn, grow, adapt, and change for the betterment of ourselves, our planet, and future generations binds us together in cooperative action.

This is the spirit of community we are building at Kuwili Lani, and we invite you to join us!