Most of us live a comfortable life because we have almost everything we want. But that isn’t always going to be true. In future, we might not be able to have the same things because the raw materials and resources could run out. To make sure that future generations enjoy everything that we enjoy today, we need something called “sustainability” in most areas of our lives. Sustainability is one of the puzzles that scientists and governments are working together to solve today for everybody’s future.
What is Sustainability?
Imagine owning a moneybox for your allowance that is always full. No matter how much of your allowance you take out, it keeps refilling. As much as we would like it to do so, the world doesn’t work like that. Money does run out of we keep spending. Many of the things we use every day have a limit on the amount we can use or take out. It might take hundreds or thousands of years for some of them to completely run out, but these “resources” will disappear completely in the future. Some are running out now or causing problems because there isn’t enough for everyone or they are getting harder to find.
Sustainability looks at ways of making sure that these resources last a very long time or even forever – such as the money box that will keep refilling. Politicians, scientists, businesses, and other important people and groups around the world are looking at ways of making this happen so it doesn’t disrupt anyone’s lives. The United Nations, a group of people representing all the countries around the world says that sustainability means “meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In other words, “we shouldn’t use up everything today that people of tomorrow will also need.”
Why is Sustainability Important?
The resources we use today are important to many areas of our lives including work, transport, schools, government, technology and many more. These will also be important to people living 10, 50 or 100 years in the future. The problem is, they might run out by then.
If we are to all continue to get along and live happily without running out of the things that we use today, and if people are going to continue to be able to work in some of our most important areas that use and make things, we need new sustainable sources. We will need newly-invented materials or natural resources that we can quickly and easily replace – sources that are sustainable and will keep refilling no matter how much we use, how much we take out and how many more people are going to want to use them.
Six Examples of Sustainability Problems in the Real World
Ancient civilizations were built on using raw materials such as rock, water, oil and gas. But as time has gone on, some of these raw materials have become rarer or harder to find. These are not sustainable. However, we are slowly replacing some of these older raw materials with some that can easily be replaced or will never run out. Sustainability affects many areas of our lives. Here are some of the most important.
At the moment, our electricity mostly relies on oil which is a fossil fuel. Other types of fossil fuel include coal and natural gas. They are all plant and animal remains from millions of years ago; none are sustainable which means they will run out eventually. But over the last 50 years, new technologies have come around to create electricity and other power sources sustainably. These include:
- Some based on the weather such as solar power (which use the heat and light of the sun) and wind turbines (which turn the wind) to create electricity,
- Harnessing the movements of the planet such as hydroelectricity (which uses dams to control the flow of water) tidal power (which uses the changes in ocean tides to generate energy) and geothermal power (which takes heat from beneath the surface)
- So-called biomass and biofuels which uses plants such as certain types of grass harvested and processed to create a type of gasoline or diesel that is renewable and doesn’t rely on taking oil out of the ground
Agriculture & Deforestation
Some crops are not good for the environment. For example, you may have heard recently about a campaign to reduce how much palm oil the world uses, to create sustainable palm oil farming, or to stop using it altogether. Palm oil farming leads to cutting down rainforests to make way for more farming land and this is not sustainable – we need the rainforests for many reasons. In this area, sustainability means that we ensure local landscapes are not damaged by farming and that we plant enough trees in other places to replace those we have cut down. Also, in some areas of the world, cutting down too many trees means the soil isn’t quite so good at growing new crops and we need to chop down more trees.
Another hot topic at the moment is plastic. Did you know plastics we use are made from oil? Yes, the same oil that we put in our cars and burn to produce electricity for our homes and businesses. Oil will run out, but this is not the only problem. The news has recently been filled with a lot of information about the damage that plastics are doing to the environment all over the world – particularly in our oceans – harming the lifeforms that live there. They are swallowing plastic which poisons them and gets caught up in it. These plastics take thousands of years to break down. Scientists are trying to develop new plastics that are safe for the environment and break down much quicker.
Since the year 2000, countries all over the world have tried to do something about waste. How much stuff does your family throw away? How much is recycled? The world has improved how much trash we send to recycling but more needs to be done. Waste that cannot be recycled will go into landfill sites. Trying to change what we make plastic from is just one of the problems of waste. We need to use as much packaging and other things we throw away at the moment recyclable, so it can be reused as it is or melted down to make new things from the same waste. Landfill creates problems such as greenhouse gas emissions (which lead to more global warming) and reduced land space for other uses. Also, it is becoming expensive to maintain areas that are just used to dump stuff we don’t want anymore.
Some of the problems listed above are problems because we are using more of everything because there are more people on the planet. The old resources and raw materials can’t cope anymore. What was once only a small problem because they were limited to fewer people is now a much bigger problem. We are cutting down more forests to make way for more farming land and larger populations are using more water – to drink, to put on crops and to wash, and water sources such as lakes are drying up. We’re also burning more fossil fuels to create more energy for more people. As the population just keeps getting bigger, we need new solutions to the strain that we are putting on our resources.
This word means the balance between all lifeforms in an area or on the planet. It might not be obvious why this is a problem for sustainability at first until we realize just how much we depend on other plants and animals in our lives. There is currently a threat to bee populations all over the world and scientists are trying to understand why so many are dying off. It’s not likely to happen, but if all the bees die then our food supply will be affected. Bees do something called “pollination” which helps plants reproduce. If bees go, the amount of food we have from natural plant sources will be much lower. The fish in our oceans is also an ongoing problem; when we fish too much, that can cause problems too.