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Sustainable living simply seems like the right thing to do. Recycling glass, paper, metal and plastics, composting, and watching our energy usage are all second nature now to many of us.
Yet this is only one piece of the sustainability puzzle. The big picture — why is sustainability important? — is the grand scheme of it all, the goals and purposes that give us hope and remind us of what we're carsharing and composting eggshells for.
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A Better Quality of Life
Sustainability is consciously working to have a desirable quality of life while at the same time remaining mindful of future generations' right to do the same thing. It is using resources today with an eye on making sure there will still be resources for others to use tomorrow.
All of the little things we do personally to make sustainability a reality are all part of a bigger picture that includes maintaining biological diversity, development and stewardship of renewable resources, and preserving ecosystems.
What makes sustainable living important are six worldwide trends, each of them with its own dangers and solutions. It's especially critical for those of us in developed or first world countries to be cognizant of sustainability issues, as we consume the most resources and hold the most power to effect change in the world.
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Without sustainable practices, the world will soon hit "peak" fossil fuels production. It's estimated that peak oil and coal will be in 10–20 years. After that time, fossil fuel reserves are not gone, just much more difficult and expensive to discover and extract.
To counteract the inevitable energy crisis, it's critical to develop newer, greener, renewable forms of energy. While the world cannot run on solar or wind power today, a near future power grid composed of fossil fuel's steady energy delivery backing up the more intermittent energy delivery of many renewables is not unrealistic.
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We don't often think of contraception as a sustainability issue, yet it is. While it's controversial as to just how many people the planet can support, the point is moot when the vast majority of new births are in undeveloped countries, which generally most emphatically cannot support such increased population.
Sustainability in the face of an exponentially growing population requires serious thinking about food production, how to enhance and influence infrastructure development in third world countries, and about contraception practices.
Even if the world can support the extra billions of people soon to come, without a focused effort on sustainability the majority of those will be living lives "poor, nasty, brutish, and short" (Thomas Hobbes). Sustainable practices hope to keep this from happening.
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Water usage is constantly increasing, resulting in reduced water availability. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 40% of the world's population already faces severe water shortages and drought, with this number predicted only to rise. Additionally, fresh water quality is deteriorating due to pollution.
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Non-sustainable agricultural and other practices contribute to soil erosion and pollution. The extreme weather brought on by ongoing climate change also wreaks havoc on the world's natural land resources, making some areas too wet and other areas too dry (desertification).
Sustainable land development practices and sustainable agricultural practices aim to ameliorate the effects of diminishing land resources. Likewise, sustaining forests and preserving forest ecosystems is equally as important.
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Deterioration of the Atmosphere
The most famous atmospheric sustainability issue is the ozone layer. While the banning of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) slowed the ozone layer's diminishment, pollution continues to chip away at atmospheric integrity and air quality. Sustainable practices aim to reduce the release of destructive compounds into the atmosphere.
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Social decline is the unraveling of a society that occurs when its members stop behaving how they're expected to: lawlessness is one sign of social decline. When unsustainable living practices bring about energy issues, overpopulation, lack of water and land resources, and poor quality air to breathe, social decline is likely to be triggered.
In this sense, sustainable policies and practices are meant not only to preserve society but also to prevent its entropy. We can view sustainability at the local level and how it makes the world a better place to live in as a glue that helps to hold society together.
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While they may not be pleasant issues to think about, being aware of the major environmental problems facing the world today helps to give purpose to sustainability efforts. Why is sustainability important? It's important because recycling today can mean someone has fresh water tomorrow. It's important because building a greener home can mean cleaner air tomorrow. Whether you take simple steps at home or work or volunteer on larger environmental sustainability measures, it all has a positive impact in the long run.
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References and Image Credits
Sustainability Initiatives http://www.wlu.edu/x26777.xml
What is sustainability and why is it important? http://www.western.edu/student-life/sustainability/sustainability-faqs/what-is-sustainability-and-why-is-it-important
Is there a place for coal in our future? http://www.america.gov/st/energy-english/2009/December/20091201111329amgnow0.4081842.html
Water Quotes http://ct.water.usgs.gov/education/morewater.htm
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