The 'sustainable model' that I try to gauge myself against is that of equality for humanity. If it’s not sustainable for everyone, then it’s not sustainable.
When I find myself doing something on a regular basis, I ask myself the question, "Is this sustainable for humanity?" I try to imagine, to the best of my ability, replicating what I'm doing across all humans on earth and then I try to decide if that’s sustainable.
"Is this particular food I'm eating sustainable enough for all 7 billion humans to sit and eat the same meal with me today?"
"Is this method of transportation that I'm using sustainable enough for all 7 billion humans to ride it with me today?"
"Is this project or job or career that I'm pursuing sustainable enough for all 7 billion humans to pursue the same project, job, or career with me?"
"Is buying a brand new paperback book at the bookstore sustainable enough for all 7 billion humans to buy one with me?”
“Is what I’m creating or producing on a regular basis something that 7 billion others could create or produce alongside me?”
I keep asking myself this question, over and over: "Is this sustainable for humanity?"
It's almost impossible for me to know with accuracy what’s sustainable for everyone, but at least by asking the question and framing it in context of all humans I gain a better understanding and perspective around my lifestyle choices.
Can 7 billion humans consume meat while still maintaining a sustainable ecosystem for the planet? Nope. So clearly non-meat diets are the way to move forward.
Can 7 billion humans drive their own combustion-engine vehicle while still maintaining a clean environment and healthy planet? Nope. So clearly public and mass-transit systems are the better, more sustainable option.
I don’t know how all the pieces fit together. There are so many variables that go into answering such big questions. But that shouldn’t stop us from asking them. Simply asking the question always yields a feeling in one direction or another.
Applying a little knowledge and commonsense goes a long way towards guiding those feelings in the right direction. By asking the big questions and allowing their answers to shape our decisions, we’re far more likely to do things that make sense on a global scale.
A little over a year ago I began asking this question on a regular basis. It all started when I was purchasing a pair of minimalist running shoes online.
As I contemplated the $112 price tag, I began to wonder if such a choice made sense on a global scale.
Assuming everybody on Earth could afford such a purchase, could the Earth itself support the manufacture of that many shoes made of those same materials?
It quickly became obvious that given a scenario where all humans had to wear the same shoes, we would collectively find a much cheaper solution using materials that were already in abundance and which already needed to be reused.
This solution would maximize durability, allow everyone to make repairs and alterations to their footwear with the most basic tools, and ensure maximum ergonomic compatibility with the human body.
Did such a solution already exist? Certainly after thousands of years something as basic as footwear must have evolved to the point where it was sustainable, right?
I used the greatest resource of knowledge humankind has ever created and did a little research online. I learned about the Tarahumara, the native American people of northern Mexico who run hundreds of miles a week using sandals fabricated from old rubber tires.
I’ve been wearing and running in my own handmade pair of huaraches for over a year now, making repairs and alterations as necessary and being quietly reminded with each step of that decision I made after asking the question, “Is this sustainable for humanity?”
If we all gauge our decisions against a backdrop of equality for humanity, then we will recognize the significance of our individual actions and those actions will naturally gravitate towards what makes sense for everyone.
It used to be that we were so disconnected from each other that it wasn’t possible to find globally harmonious solutions. It used to be that everybody would make decisions based on their local knowledge and access to resources.
But now, in a ever-growing global society where an increasing number of us have access to resources from anywhere on the planet and the collective knowledge of humanity, our individual choices matter more than ever.
How we choose to live, what we choose to do, the things we choose to buy and eat and consume, all of it has an ever-increasing impact on the rest of humanity and those of us affecting things on that global scale have a new responsibility to work towards what is sustainable for everyone.
To work towards a future of global social equality, we must start by making decisions that reflect a respect for that equality and we can start by asking the question, “Is this sustainable for humanity?”