Sustainable Living – We Are Facing Consequences Of Ignoring Our Traditional Values

A recent UNEP article stated: “To combat the climate crisis and secure a safe future below 1.5°C, the world needs to cut emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gasses by 50 per cent within the decade. Individuals and policymakers can help secure a healthier planet through their sustainable choices. Research shows that lifestyle changes could help the planet slash emissions by up to 70% by 2050. For many, ambitious targets such as this can induce a sense of dread and paralysis. But experts say there is a lot we can do as individuals to counter climate change.”

At the core of this statement is the expectation of the global body to reduce our load on natural resources, waste and emissions. What we are asked to reduce now, basically emanates from our routine and mindless consumption of our past which we termed as Anthropogenic Activities.

Sustainable living means changing our consumption in the areas of food, mobility, housing and leisure so that our load on Earth comes down.

A few questions come to mind.

Why does the phrase ‘Sustainable Living’ sound like some exotic recently-discovered secret lifestyle formula? Is that so? Do we need a scientist or an expert to tell us about the outcome of unbridled consumption?

The same people who propounded the consumption-based economic models of development, making us follow them like the rats of Hamlin, are the ones who are advising us on how to lead a sustainable lifestyle leaving us in awe and a state of paralysis. So much has been our development in these years that we have forgotten how to find our way in a city in the absence of Google Maps.

Any of us who is old enough would recall how just a few decades back life was small, houses were small, vehicles were small and few, roads were narrow but there was no traffic jam, calories in our diet were low, we had fewer clothes to choose from and the need to commute was not beyond few kilometres. All our friends stayed in the neighbourhood and very few of them were obese. The aspirations of that generation were basic.

Anyone of us who had the good fortune of seeing the tribal communities from close quarters would remember their beautiful basic houses — built with locally available materials which had articles not more than a dozen which met all their lifestyle requirements.

In the subsequent decades, we also witnessed deterioration in the name of development and now these memories adorn our minds and the pages of a few bloggers.

Didn’t we inherit that as our traditional wisdom? Do we need empirical evidence by scientists and academics to realize or accept it; when our mythology, literature, words of the sages, and philosophers have been advising against falling into the trap?

When did we stop consciously living a small life and enjoying things small?

Today, on the 1st death anniversary of my father, I remember how negatively he reacted to my second car purchase. His verdict was clear – he won’t enter the house unless the commitment to sell off the first car was given to him. I learned early that I can never impress him by acquiring material wealth as a sign of success. My close relatives went back with an earful for daring to buy him new clothes when he felt that the need for his clothes stands at zero now that he is retired.

When he fell sick, those visitors who brought him a Bournvita would carry a Horlicks back as a return gift and the one who brought a Horlicks would go back with a Bournvita. He ensured that he had just one of each type needed for his recuperation. He disliked if more items were served on the table or anyone who ate more. He was never in awe of someone having more material wealth and assiduously stayed off people in power and position.

In my lifetime, I have never seen him trying to be accepted in any exclusive club and hobnob with powers bigger than him. He despised wearing a suit and being seen at the Governor’s At Home where he was expected to be present officially.

He left behind a cupboard which has a few clothes, a pair of shoes, a sneaker and just two files. One is his pension papers and CGHS details, and another is the ownership documents of his landed properties. I, throughout the last year, have been searching to find any unfinished task left behind by him – I have found none. He had completed all his tasks and discharged all his worldly responsibilities fully.

He could do it because he had internal brakes on his needs and consumption.

His credo was simple: Live small and within your means. Living with dignity was more important than living a life of luxury. Lead a modest lifestyle and don’t invite the jealousy of your neighbourhood. Don’t be over-ambitious and leave most of the things unfinished; you are not expected to leave behind an empire or legacy – just complete your life’s responsibilities. And the list didn’t include him, there were many in our family who not only espoused those values but lived them by example.

Many of the previous generations lived a sustainable life which we find exotic and impossible to adopt now. Where are such people now who represented a sustainable lifestyle? Our ancestors have left behind no liabilities but a chest full of values and principles relevant to the present crisis which we are desperately trying to come out of. When did we exactly throw that inherited wisdom from our societal value systems and agreed to be a part of the model which equated consumption as the sole measurement of development?

A closer look will tell us that the current society is led by those who are in their 50s. And this generation since the 90s has untiringly tried to scramble up the material ladder to be termed as successful. It has reached the speed of a running train. The momentum is so much that it is becoming difficult to break. This cohort has lost the habit and the opportunity to be the sustainability models; hence the task seems daunting.

But have we lost the right to be so? Nah.

We can achieve our goals of a sustainable lifestyle if and only if we redefine success and start celebrating small again. Parents, teachers, leaders, community leaders and spiritual leaders must start talking about the various ways to lead a small life by reducing our consumption, thus reducing our load on resources, waste and emissions.

We know that the logic of scientists and purposeless mechanical efforts of the government has never been effective to change people’s behavior and attitude. Even after 75 years of independence, the gaps in the policy intent and the outcomes remain glaringly static on the ground unless some have been led by people themselves. Let’s not shirk our responsibilities by delegating them to others.

We must lead by example, not to save the Earth but ourselves. When it’s about doing less and not more, it’s easy.

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