A History of Sustainability

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A History of Sustainability

Date: May 10, 2021
Author: Sarah Valencia 110 No Comments

To begin on a simple note: everything humans seek is directly correlated to our own survival. This has been the case since the dawn of humanity, even in barely recorded times. Sustainability as the term we have come to know today has been slowly modified throughout the years to fit our needs and that of the planet; but despite it becoming more relevant back in the mid-20th century, do we truly know where it comes from? To understand the purpose of sustainable travel, adventure travel and transformative travel, we must get to know the beginnings of how preserving nature came to be in the first place.

With many websites dedicated to the topic and even one website alone dedicated to its history, we wish to crunch down all of this information to illustrate where sustainability truly comes from – because as Carl Sagan once said: “you have to know the past to understand the present.”

The faraway beginnings

Although it may seem like a modern idea, preservation may have existed for longer than we have thought (prehistoric!). Earlier findings show small communities suffered from deforestation, soil erosion, and extinctions due to overuse of resources, which in turn caused further planning for new ways to survive and outlast the effects of nature. When our means of life are threatened, finding fresher approaches to preserve what we have at reach has always helped, even for prehistoric civilizations!

The Malthusian way

Thomas Malthus is our most recent pioneer of what sustainability represents today. In his 18th century ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population’ (which apparently inspired Darwin and his subsequent theories), Malthus mentions that, should we not control our population growth, humanity will outlive its resources quickly, creating famine and poverty. This theory gained just a bit of traction in a time when resources were not scarce yet. It was during the 20th century that Malthus’ words resurfaced when nature started catching up to our use and overuse of what it was giving us. In no time, scientists and environmentalists started realizing that what Malthus had meant for the economy’s sake, was in reality a plea for sustainability and conscientious use of our natural resources.

Rachel Carson’s legacy

Anyone who has skimmed through the subject of environmentalism will know who Rachel Carson is. Mother to the fight against DDT (a strong pesticide), her lifelong advocacy for the care of nature changed the mind of many and inspired many more. Her most renowned book, ‘Silent Spring’, used colloquial terms and simple analogies to communicate to the average American at what cost our food was being harvested – polluted by chemicals that might kill us as much as they were killing the ecosystems around crop fields. This led to the ban of the pesticide, as well as the eventual creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Environmental Policy Act in 1969. Despite her wise opinions being diluted down to her gender and her opinions silenced by those more interested in economic gains rather than saving the planet, Rachel Carson’s work remains one of the most influential in the fight for sustainability.

A new era begins

Sustainable development was first described in the NEPA as “economic development that may have benefits for current and future generations without harming the planet’s resources or biological organisms”. For the first time, sustainability was linked to social and economic factors under the umbrella of environmentalism, as it was now paramount to achieve sustainable living only if the three melded together so that resources could last in the future.

A few years later, in 1987 and after starting to notice a common decline of natural resources in the planet, the UN issued the Brundtland Report (alternatively titled ‘Our Common Future’) stating that sustainable development could only be achieved by meeting the needs of the present without endangering future needs. It also mentions the need for change in how environmentalism and social change were approached, as old strategies would only bring further instability.

The past influence molding us today

Within a few years and with hard-fought battles against sustainability deniers, the term ‘Climate Change’ was increasingly more relevant to the conversation. In 1997, a treaty was signed by developed nations to reduce their greenhouse emissions throughout the following decade by 5%, called the Kyoto Protocol. This protocol was one of the first calls to action made by countries whose emissions significantly contributed to climate change and rising temperatures on the planet. Within the next two decades, the world would live through 9 of the hottest years in record, setting global warming and climate change at the forefront.

Soon enough, politicians like Al Gore started campaigning and spreading awareness around the issue with his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which gained critical acclaim and created the desired result of alarming people to take action on the rapid rise of temperatures on the planet. Many celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio have also hopped on the train of sustainability, with his 2016 documentary Before the Flood, which warned people about the dangers of climate change. In the following years, we have seen activists such as the young Greta Thunberg and the Harries Twins leading movements in order to pressure governments and society itself to take this issue more seriously.

Sustainability’s role

Sustainability has shifted its gears lately to all these new additions to planet Earth’s needs. It is not just about salvaging what we still have in store but attempting to regenerate what has been lost on the way. With more environmental catastrophes happening ever so often, it is always important to review your own carbon footprint and your impact on the planet, whether you will leave it a better place or in more devastation. This is why doing as much as you can, either from the wing of sustainable travel, activism, volunteering for personal growth offering aid to the community, or initiating your own zero waste journey, is more important now than ever. We are facing a crisis that should not go unnoticed just because it seems like we are adapting and living through it while overlooking the bigger issue. At this point, every little step towards a more sustainable life helps us as well as future generations!

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