Socioeconomics of being sustainable

As I explore sustainability in society more, a reoccurring concept can’t be ignored. That is the socioeconomics of “going green” and being sustainable. Let’s face it; buying organic food, a hybrid car, and outdoor gear isn’t cheap. And those are the things, according to some part of upper class society, that “crunchy” and “green” people do, right? I think, in today’s society, we might be blending and stretching what it is be to be sustainable. All the things mentioned above require the purchasing and consuming of certain goods. People of lower class technically aren’t considered “sustainable” because they simply can’t afford it. When life necessities like food, housing, education are on the line, the environment comes second. This reminds me of my time spent in Tanzania working with an eco-village building organization. The organization tried to encourage sustainable practices in a village where education, food, income, and housing were the utmost demand. To make an income, many of the women would cut down trees and sell charcoal. This caused deforestation and the burning of coal further created pollution in the air. However, the women wouldn’t stop this practice because it brought them some sort of income. To change this, my organization introduced a jewelry and crafting business for the Maasai women (the Maasai tribe is known for their beautiful jewelry.) Hence, the women made an income, while also not destroying the environment at the same time. Moral of the story though is that many people of lower income don’t feel the need to be sustainable when the basic necessities of life are being threatened.

However, the more I think about the socioeconomics of being sustainable, I can’t help but wonder if the people of lower class are indeed more sustainable? As upper class, we are buying organic food, buying Patagonia jackets, buying more gas friendly cars. However, isn’t it our lifestyle and behaviors that make us sustainable, not just our purchases? People of lower society aren’t buying and consuming as much. Rather, they are doing just the opposite. They aren’t throwing away their leftovers. They are riding the bus instead of purchasing another car. They are reusing old clothing and shopping at a thrift store.

As I explore more, the economics of being sustainable seem to be another dividing factor between the wealthy, ruling class and the lower class. It’s almost as if you can’t be “green” and environmentally conscious unless you have money. But isn’t that reversed? Isn’t it about our behavior, rather than necessarily purchases, that make us sustainable? Just a thought I’ve been pondering as I’m exploring more sustainability in our society.

Resources I have been exploring:

Al Gore on Sustainable Capitalism-

Cultivating Food Justice book-

“Who is More ‘Sustainable’, Rich or Poor?”-

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