Confronted by our sustainability Achilles heel?

I’ve thought long and hard about whether to go this far on the blog, but there’s got to be no holding back.

So be warned, I’m going to use the C word. You know that word we are too posh, knowledgeable or perhaps just too plain scared to use ………..

This morning I was having my post swim coffee with friends and thinking how lucky I am to have such a strong friendship group. I was happily collecting the little paper serviettes placed between the cups and saucers from which we drink our coffees. For months now I’ve been developing this little fetish at cafes around Melbourne and the massive pile of these paper napkins accumulating at home has meant we’ve stopped buying facial tissues, kitchen rolls and of course, serviettes.

So there I was thinking smugly how good I was, doing my little bit for global sustainability. After all I’d read that discarded paper accounts for 35% of municipal solid waste going to landfill dumps and paper production is the fifth largest global user of energy. Perhaps even worse, it’s the third largest industrial polluter to air, water and land in places like North America. The acid rain components, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide tend to be emitted during paper manufacture as is the chief greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide and that’s without thinking about the damaging solids and dissolved organic and inorganic materials and toxins discharged into waterways. Yep, I was feeling really good about doing my bit to cut down on all that, one serviette at a time.

Then, all of a sudden things turned nasty. Our group discussion changed to a different issue and I found myself under attack, being accused of being a big H…… that’s a sustainability Hypocrite. And all because of my sustainability failures in this area of my life. Head bowed, I wished like Mr Badger I could head for the warmth and darkness of an underground warren. But as I cycled back home in the refreshing rain I realised I’d been given another glimpse of perhaps the biggest issue undermining human attempts at sustainability.

We are all part of the system and conflicted. Nobody has all the answers or leads a truly sustainable life. The danger is if someone seems to be preaching or stepping out of line about how society should work then we get defensive. The valuable insight my friend gave me today is that before we try to fix the excess of the C word Consumption in our lives, we perhaps need to focus on another C word that’s gone missing – COMPASSION. As I look around at so many features of our society it seems we have developed a predisposition to attack rather than to offer compassionate support. Could this be our real human Achilles heel?

Slinking back underground to lick my wounds for today it occurs to me the best way we can help sustainability is by supporting others efforts in our community. But when you’re with friends, do you find yourself focussing on the issues they are engaged with or simply looking for ways to point out their personal shortcomings?

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