It’s 2019 and sustainability is so hot right now. Like frozen yogurt and Uggs in the late 2000’s, it seems to be what everyone is talking about. Like all trends, some people are supportive and other people just wish it would go away. It makes sense; trends are inherently annoying. I consider myself a pretty earth-conscious, tree-hugging sustainability monger, but I will admit that seeing it blow up on social media this summer ticked me off. Every other Instagram story was either about banning straws and saving the turtles, or the same devastating shot of the Amazon burning with some wimpy call to action. I mean, tell me you didn’t feel absolutely bombarded by the number of posts saying, “the earth’s lungs are burning!”
It’s a weird thing, to be annoyed at people for being passionate about saving the environment and raising awareness. Especially because for so long I wished more people would talk about the issues I cared about. What bothered me was not the attention the issues were getting, but that attention seemed to be the only thing people were willing to give. While I shouldn’t assume anything about how other people choose to live, most of the friends and acquaintances I saw posting about straws and burning rainforests had never had anything to say about sustainability before. They were people who I’d seen use plastics, waste food, drive instead of walk, etc. Not that these things are cardinal sins, but generally, if you care about the environment, you try to avoid them.
I think what really bothered me about sustainability getting trendy and environmental crises going viral on Instagram, is that it seemed like no one joining the conversation really understood what they were talking about. Sustainability becoming trendy means more and more people are hearing about something really important, but understanding it shallowly. The lifestyle changes individuals need to take on to lessen their environmental impact and slow the damages of climate change are not as easy and glamorous as social media campaigns would like us to believe. It requires planning, more conscious decision-making and accepting a little inconvenience in life. Buying a set of reusable straws only does so much, especially when they’re being used in single-use disposable cups (which, by the way, are no longer recyclable in Hamilton, NY). The positive impact of a reusable straw is also wholly dependent on how much the individual actually uses it, which is harder than you would expect. This means remembering to bring it with you everywhere, cleaning it regularly and not forgetting it in the last cup you were using. Similarly, posting about how the Amazon is burning is doing very little to concretely evaluate personal life choices that feed into these kinds of environmental disasters.
I have another concern with the current sustainability craze. Trends inherently have an expiration date; we see it with food, fashion and memes on an almost daily basis. If sustainability is trendy today, will it still be tomorrow? We have about ten years to take action to avoid the harshest consequences of climate change, but if the sustainability movement can’t hold people’s attention then we can’t possibly hope to make enough progress.
I don’t want “being green” to go the way of frozen yogurt, Juicy sweatsuits and low-rise jeans. I want it to be the hot new thing that keeps getting hot new updates, like a never-ending hit TV show, or the iPhone. Sustainability and being better to the earth should become ingrained in all of our lives, for the rest of our lives. Not just the 24 hours that it’s up on your story.