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Change attitudes to change habits

Most people agree the planet is in trouble due to human activity.

Most people agree: the planet is in trouble due to human activity.

David ThompsonSure, every major business is declaring how committed they are to sustainability, and we’re told that green is the new black.

But we’re not changing how we live. We still use SUVs to drop our kids off at school, studies in the US have revealed that on average we use between seven and 10 calories of fuel to produce one calorie of food, and we still change our toys every time the advertisers tell us to.

We’re producing more waste than the planet can absorb and consuming resources faster than they can be produced.

That means we have to stop talking and start living sustainably. So why don’t we? Perhaps one problem is that people have been told too often that things are really bad, and that they need to make sacrifices now, or the world will end.

If you talk to the average Kiwi about sustainability or green issues, what they see is the brave battler on their bicycle making a noble sacrifice for the good of all. They see a problem that seems too big with a solution that doesn’t look like a lot of fun.

They don’t see that sustainability is about making changes now to ensure that the quality of life we have tomorrow is at least as good, and ideally better, than what we have today. They also don’t see that the changes required to get us there often result in better lifestyles now.

Let’s look at something fundamental – food. A sustainable diet means more seasonal, locally grown meat and vegetables with less imported and processed food. The food is not only better for us, it actually tastes better. Does anyone actually enjoy those flavourless, imported tomatoes in the supermarkets?

In the West we have achieved something remarkable: a lot of the food we eat is actually bad for us, with diseases like diabetes, obesity, cancer either caused or heavily influenced by our (unsustainable) diet. Is a lifestyle with cancer or diabetes something to aspire to?

We need to change the way we live, but first we have to change the way we think. We need to start realising that what are doing now is not just unsustainable, but that the alternative is actually better in almost every way.

That means we need to find a new way to describe sustainability so that ordinary Kiwis understand what it really means and can therefore make the logical choice to change the way they live. For the world, for the future and for themselves.