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For anything to exist does it need to be sustainable?

If we want something we love to last we know we need to look after it. If we want our dog to live a long happy life we feed it well, give it a drink, bring it in on cold nights, walk it, toss it the odd bone, take it to the vet for a regular checkup and give it a cuddle during a thunderstorm. We take care of it, we nurture it. We all understand how we need to look after our dog to make it sustainable. Why is it so difficult to take the same care of our natural world – our life support system?

What is sustainability?

Sustainability is a pretty long word that’s tricky to spell, and describes the ability of something to keep going at the same rate and in the same (or better) condition as before. It is tempting to think that because we are at the top of the food chain we should be able to do anything we want and it will be sustainable to keep doing it for as long as we like. Unfortunately nature does not work like this – our planet is finite. Every living system can only take so much exploitation before it starts to weaken and decline. When this decline reaches a tipping point, the living system is finished and can never reclaim its former glory.

How do we find sustainability?

Sustainability is everywhere. Mostly we all live within our financial budgets because we have to. When the money’s gone, the card is maxed out, and mum, dad or significant carer have no more to give – that’s it. We can spend no more. Most of us avoid this situation because it is awkward, boring and unpleasant. We all understand that we have to spend sustainably if we want to spend in the future – so we don’t we go broke. But what would happen if we had a limitless supply of money? What would you do? What do the richest corporations in the world do with their money?

What is living sustainably?

We’re pushing our environment to the limits, and in Australia we are living like we’ve got four planets. The problem is that we don’t have another planet (or four) to help us out. Not even a neighbourly planet to lend us a cup of sugar, a new forest or a fresh river. Our use of our Earth’s resources has risen from 50% in 1961 to more than 140% today. We are consuming more than our Earth can produce – we are making many more withdrawals than deposits from our environmental account. We recently asked a banker about this. He said, ‘If Earth was a customer we wouldn’t give it a loan.’ Living sustainably all sounds too hard. Is being sustainable worth the effort? Would it really help us?

Is Australia doing a good job at creating a sustainable future?

Being sustainable is something that has only occurred to many of us recently. Some of us are yet to even consider it. Unless we all decide that living sustainably is an important thing to aspire to and achieve, it will be very tricky to convince anyone else. We are always too busy: putting a meal on the table, doing our homework, upgrading our gadgets, meeting our deadlines, and caring for our families and friends to stop and pause to look at our bigger picture. How do we get ourselves to pay attention? How do we act selfishly for our greater good and see past our individual short-term desires?

What can we do?

We are all in this together. Can we ignore the mounting debt of living unsustainably? The sooner we start making some repayments the easier it will be later. Each of us can take action. When we borrow something, we know we are expected to return it as we found it. This might be a good place to start when thinking how we can change. How might you get your school to head towards sustainability? Is your family interested in living sustainably at home? How can you get other people to listen to you and start to live sustainably? How do we get people to start thinking differently to tackle this challenge? What will it take?