A term that has never made anyone crack a smile. It seems that the minute someone speaks these dreaded words, one of two (or both) grim scenarios nestle into people’s brains.
It is Looking Bleak
The first scenario is an almost post-apocalyptic future where parts of the planet have become uninhabitable, hunger and disease are rummaging the globe, and the news only broadcasts footage of natural disasters and a constant stream of climate migrants.
For a less dramatic description, read Vera’s article on her experience with plastic and marine conservation here.
The second is a more immediate future but feels just as grim to the ones who can imagine it. It deals not with the consequences of climate change, but with the consequences of fighting climate change. A future emerges where you can’t take a hot shower anymore, or eat a delicious steak. You can’t keep up with fashion trends or enjoy a far-away holiday. Life becomes dull and restricted. What’s more, some people won’t make the end of the month because all the sustainable rules and products are just too expensive.
It seems there’s no winning with climate change. Either our quality of life goes down because our world will become more and more uninhabitable. Or our quality of life goes down because we are forced to spend all our money on saving the environment. And the fear of either one or both situations seems to be leaving people confused, frustrated and feeling powerless, even unwilling, to do something.
This is not only visible when I look at myself and the people around me, but unfortunately also on a much larger scale. The result of this is a continuous bickering between parties and an overall thwarting of any type of plan. One easy example is the US leaving the Paris Climate Agreement. Another one hits closer to home: the Dutch government lost a climate lawsuit against the Urgenda Foundation but still won’t reach the demands set for next year because the government was (and still is) unwilling to make any major decisions.
Can It Be Different?
I understand I painted a rather bleak image. But what if we start seeing our potential future differently? More positive? Is that even possible?
Well.. let me tell you about a book that inspired me to think differently.
As I said before, just like anyone else I felt the despair of climate change and my own role within that. “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things” inspired me to completely change my perspective of a sustainable world and a sustainable future. It opened my eyes to the positivity that climate change can bring. Yes, I said it.
While the book addresses several key topics, what I want to explain further right now are the terms Eco-efficiency vs. Eco-effectiveness.
Eco-efficiency relates to the approach most companies, government institutions and individuals are currently taking to be sustainable. It focuses on reducing our carbon footprint, reducing our waste, reducing the use of toxic chemicals etc. It brings with it a clear idea that in order to save the environment we have to do, use, take, less of everything. Of course, it would only cost us money. A dreadful perspective which often meets a lot of resistance. But that’s not the only problem with this approach. Because the only thing that we’re doing when we’re being Eco-efficient is being less bad. Less pollution still means there’s pollution.
The best we can do with this approach is slowing down the destruction of our environment.
So how do we then save the environment and simultaneously make people not hate it?
Eco-effectiveness seeks to create mostly industrial systems that emulate healthy natural systems. It is especially the starting point which our next steps will be based on that’s so utterly different. This time we don’t start with an already high pollution rate and try to make our way down. We actually start at a carbon footprint of 0 and then increase our positive influence on the environment. It is a complete switch in perspective and direction, just because the idea you start with is different. And while the creators of this concept focused mainly on industrial systems, I believe we can also apply this in our personal decisions.
For example, let’s not start with shopping at H&M or ASOS and try to reduce the amount of clothes we buy there. Instead, let’s find sustainable clothing brands where we can shop better quality and more unique clothes guilt-free as much as we want. Or stop trying to reduce our meat intake by removing it from our favorite recipes. Instead let’s go on a hunt for delicious novel vegan or vegetarian recipes that we can’t get enough of. Or let’s invent a way in which we can heat our showers in a sustainable manner. Maybe we can even sort out a holiday that benefits nature. Think for example about paying entry for a forest or marine park which will help in its conservation.
With a simple perspective change, sustainability suddenly becomes a fun rewarding challenge.
The Positive Side of Climate Change
Remember when I said that climate change also brings something positive? Well, that’s because when I look around I see how much creativity and innovation it pushes forward. The entire idea of what an economy should be is changing because of climate change. A circular economy in which waste is not seen as an end-product, but as a valuable source for someone else is gaining ground in the world. Instead of a linear economy which has to reach an undeniable end, a circular economy can go on forever.
What’s more, the idea that saving the environment will only cost us a ton of money and not earn us anything – because current lucrative businesses only run on climate devastating ways – continues to be proven incorrect. The number of sustainable circular start-ups is ever increasing. Companies such as Fair Phone, Mudjeans and Black Bear are successfully paving the way for circular businesses. And an increasing number of larger companies (Vitens, Shell) are slowly changing their ways as well.
I won’t deny that Eco-effectiveness and circular economy are still very new concepts and remain a major testing ground. But it is the future (much better than the other two options). And an inspiring one that is.
The next time you’re considering something, I urge you to include an Eco-effective perspective. How did it affect your decision? Let me know!
Something else that I’ve really enjoyed following and highly recommend (for the Dutchies): Dus wat gaan wij doen? A Dutch video series taking a proactive and positive stance in tackling our role in climate change.
Also if any Dutchies are interested: On the 10th of March there will be a Climate March in Amsterdam. People will protest for fair and concrete climate policies from the Dutch government.