How can society be more sustainable? And what can we all do to make this happen? A guest commentary by Prof. Dr. Christian Berg, an expert on sustainability.
During my grandmother’s lifetime, the world population has quadrupled, our consumption of raw materials has increased by a factor of eight, and our energy consumption has increased tenfold. Never before have we witnessed such an increase in the lifetime of just one generation. Humanity is standing at a turning point. We will not be able to continue heating up the earth and using raw materials for disposable products that are harmful to the environment much longer.
The change required for this does not mean developing new products and leaving everything else as it is. When we replace the combustion engine in our car with an electric motor, that does not change the average capacity (of approx. 30 percent, or the equivalent of 1.5 people), the ratio of tare weight to payload (approx. 12 : 1), or the fact that cars are parked in a lot 95 percent of the time.
We have to reconceive and reshape our society from the ground up: how we live and work, produce and consume, cultivate our land, and organize transportation and mobility. We are in need of systematic change. That is a Herculean task. First and foremost, politicians have to lay the proper groundwork and choose an intelligent approach. Companies need to develop products, services, and systems that make us more sustainable. And this all has to be financed by banks. What about us? What can we do? A great deal!
After all, only our combined actions can bring together the worlds of politics, economics, and finances. A major change is only possible thanks to the many small steps that come before it. In addition, we can often do a lot more than we ever thought possible.
The first step is raising awareness: informing ourselves and recognizing how everything is connected. What does intensive animal farming have to do with climate change and dead zones in the ocean? Why does income disparity exacerbate social problems? There is no need to pore over thick books; there are many outstanding documentaries available in media libraries or online. First of all, you should see where it would make the most sense to start. There are many great tools to help you calculate your own personal “footprint” and that provide concrete advise for change (such as the carbon footprint calculator offered by the German Environmental Protection Agency). And then you should start with the small things and practice them little by little in your private consumption, at the office, in the gym, at church, or when shopping. Where does my insurance company actually invest the money for my retirement? Are they investing my savings in the very things that I am trying to avoid?
It is important for us to see future challenges as our own. Our future is at stake, and whether our children and grandchildren can still lead a good life is in question. We have asked a great deal of young people during the pandemic, demanding their solidarity. There is no vaccine for the climate crisis; all we can do is take action before it is too late. We should aspire to give them something back. It is not too much to ask.
Prof. Dr. Christian Berg
Our guest author Prof. Dr. Christian Berg teaches at Clausthal University of Technology and Saarland University and is a keynote speaker for sustainability. He worked for many years at large corporations and as a political consultant. His most recent book is a report on the Club of Rome, entitled “Is Sustainability a Utopian Ideal?” (original title: “Ist Nachhaltigkeit utopisch?“), and was nominated by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation as the “Political Book of 2021.” More information: www.christianberg.net