Recognizing system change for sustainability

This is a topic I’ve changed my mind about in the last couple of years. My journey towards a sustainable lifestyle has mostly been about my personal behavior. I share all the things I do and all the things I personally can do to make a change. I still support that and I think I will never stop sharing all these things. But today I want to recognize something else we really need, which I’ve never mentioned before, system change.

System Change

Yes, I really need to talk about system change. Most of our systems in The Netherlands (and beyond) are just wrong if you’d ask me. I’d even say the entire economy is wrong (but I’ll come to that in a different post). After about 5 years, I think a know a lot about a sustainable lifestyle. And so, I am quite confident to say that it’s not always easy due to the systems we have. A perfect (mind you, the word perfect here) zero waste lifestyle for example, is extremely hard due to our disposable system. Throwing things away is just cheaper than reusables. Organic food, is overal more expensive than non-organic food. Public transportation is more expensive in a lot of cases than driving a car. An electric car is more expensive. A holiday to a foreign country is cheaper by plane than by train or car. Buying new stuff is cheaper than repairing. Welcoming the homeless into your home causes you to be cut on income. The list goes on.

And that’s why most systems need to change. We need to make sure repairing is cheaper than buying new. We need to include the real price into our products. We need to make public transportation the cheapest option. We need to change the systems that we rely upon. And that’s hard! Quit eating meat, that’s easy. But making sure meat has a true price can’t be done by one person. But we do need it too! Today I want to recognize that most people can’t be perfect when it comes to sustainability. I am not perfect, partly due to the system. I don’t live zero waste because the system sometimes forces me to buy waste. When I accidentally forget my water bottle for example, there are no zero waste options. Another example, I want to avoid the supermarket and fast-food restaurants, but I can’t do that 100% because the system is built so that I have no other options sometimes. You can do a whole lot, but you can never be perfect. We need true pricing, we need a donut-economy.

Never ending discussion

With that being recognized, I don’t want to imply that we as civilians should’t change because we need the systems to change. It goes both ways. If we change, the systems change. If the systems change, we change. For some people I know and what I hear in discussions about sustainability pointing fingers is an easy way out. People say that the government should change the systems. Or that corporations should change their systems. I would agree, but I never make this into an or-or discussion. And so with me recognizing system change I am not saying that we have as civilians a free pass. No! It’s an and-and-and. We all need to take our responsibility here. It’s all hands on deck if we want to fight this climate crisis. Recognizing system change doesn’t equal ditching your own responsibility. Not at all.

‘We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.’ – Anne Marie Bonneau

We don’t need perfection

I really want to emphasize that perfection is not possible. Not on zero waste, not on veganism, not on zero emissions. As I said, we can’t be perfect, partly due to the system. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try at all. I think the basis, an eco-neutral lifestyle, is very well possible. I’m not there yet, but I’m very confident I’ll make it this year or the next (I’ll calculate it again this September). It does take effort and time, but eventually we can all do it. But if we expect everybody to be perfect, we’ll never combat this climate crisis. If we all do the best we can, I’m sure we’ll be able to! So yes, we do need system change, but we also need to do the best we can at the same time.

Yours sincerely,
Romee

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