10 Surprising Things I Learnt About Sustainably

1. It’s more than just caring for the environment:

When I started looking into sustainability, like most people, it was from an environmental point of view. I wanted to know what I could do in my daily life to be more environmentally conscious. However, it turns out to be much more complicated than I thought, and it’s shifted my attention toward the importance of education and poverty eradication.

This doesn’t mean I don’t care for environmental issues, as by helping to address poverty and access to education, I could potentially have a much more significant impact on the environment. It’s still essential to #reduce, #reuse and #recycle but without tackling poverty and access to education, these efforts could just be in vain. So how can you help? In my opinion, sponsorship of education for children in developing countries is one of the best things we can all do for a sustainable future.

2. A new found love for economics

One of the areas I really didn’t expect to enjoy so much was economics. Just like many other #ecofriendly people, I had always just put economic development in a box labelled BAD as modern capitalism has definitely got a bit of a bad reputation.

However, economic development has a massive part to play in sustainability, from lifting the poor from their poverty traps, decreasing population growth to smart cities and clean-renewable energy. Environmentally conscious socially inclusive economies which focus on wellbeing over profit can be a positive and essential driving force for a better future for all.

3. The value of early childhood education

As a teacher, I always though access to higher education would have the most significant impact one’s role in society. So I was surprised to see that the return on investment is actually highest in early childhood education (ECE). What that means is any investments later on in life had much smaller differences to their future income.

Investments in higher education still had an effect, but proportionally were much lower than that of ECE. In fact, anything that happens to us before the age of 6 will have massive consequences that will follow us for a lifetime, from education to health to psychologically. So if we want the next generation to overcome the challenges we face today, we need to focus on the very young.

4. Small changes have big impacts

A really nice surprise was that even small changes have a massive effect in the poorest regions. This might sound obvious but small investments have a much larger effect in the worlds poorest areas than the same investment would in a richer area. Sometimes it’s difficult to help as our current issues can be really daunting, so I found it really motivating to know that even small helpful things can really make a difference.

5. America First means America Last

I’d only seen America through the eyes of Hollywood movies and the media, and so I knew they had some issues, but it was disheartening to see how deep and widespread they actually are. Massive increasing inequality, legal corruption, lousy tax policies, expensive education with enormous student debts, a gross profit driven lobbying privatised health care system, a counterproductive war on drugs, a constant need to police the world, its lack of care over sustainable issues….and this is before Trump!

HOWEVER there are still amazing things about the States and incredible people doing great things, I’m really inspired by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and apologies to any Americans this isn’t my opinion it was just on my course.

6. You can’t always do everything even when you set your mind to it and other motivational lies

‘You can do anything if you sent your mind to it” – motivational messages like this can be a detrimental and a setup for failure because unfortunately, sometimes it turns out you can’t. For some people, no matter how hard they try or how much they want it, they will not be able to achieve their dreams. I’m not just talking about poor regions of the world; this also refers to places like the US where there is very low social mobility, meaning if your parents are poor, you are statistically more likely also to be poor when you grow up. Poorer families have less access to education and health care. Uneducated, unhealthy people have a harder time finding work can so they end up trapped, some turning to crime.

These ‘poverty traps’ can be endless and flow over generations and generations, and unless there is outside action, the cycle is very tough to break. Not only is this unfair, but it’s also a massive waste of potential talent which could be used to support the economy. It doesn’t have to be a trap as some countries have been able to increase their social mobility, through good governance and investments in health and education. In turn, they have a larger and more productive workforce.

7. We should fear nitrogen more than carbon

One of the ways we can analyse our impact on the environment is via the Planetary Boundaries. These are boundaries set by scientists which we shouldn’t cross, CO2 limits, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss etc. With so much emphasis on climate change and CO2 emissions, you would think carbon is our current #1 enemy. However, the boundary we have not only crossed but completely smashed already is actually that of nitrogen.

Nitrogen enters our ecosystem through natural processes and the use of fertilisers. It’s an essential molecule which is responsible for producing proteins and therefore growth. Usually, nitrogen in the air enters the earth via natural processes involving special microbes, the plants then absorb it, and then we eat the plants. However, in the 1900s, we discovered a way to take nitrogen from the air and create fertiliser synthetically. Since then we’ve been able to grow so much more food that the world’s population has exploded!

The current use of fertilisers is entirely unsustainable. Our dependence has lead to the special microbes, who used to do this naturally, to literally go to sleep, they have become dominant and are losing their abilities. So we need to continue to pump more and more synthetic nitrogen into the soil to keep up the food demands. This unnatural level of nitrogen also messes up all the other microbes living in the soil with unknown consequences. The suplus nitrogen then runs off into water supplies, causing algal blooms and the death of whole aquatic ecosystems.

Just as worrying is that much of the nitrogen evaporates and combines with the air to form nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas than which is x300 stronger than CO2!

8. The top richest people in the world could end global poverty 10 times over

Achieving sustainable development will come with a cost, so some the price is too high. However, the world actually has more than enough financial resources to achieve it. The problem is that much of that money is in the hands of a select number of individuals.

  • The top eight men own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world.
  • The richest 1% has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet.
  • We now have 2,208 billionaires, with a network of over $91 TRILLION dollars.

If these people each donated just 0.1% of their wealth annually, we would have enough to ensure universal access to health and education for all. A massive stepping stone to achieving sustainable development.

A few are already trying to give away their money to charity. However, some like Jeff Bezos, who is currently the world’s richest man, are still more interested in profit over wellbeing. Incredibly Amazon paid no federal tax in 2018.

As a consequence, it’s the poorest people who lose out the most. They are the most reliant on the public services that these dodged taxes could have provided. By redistributing the money correctly, by enforcing fair taxation, sustainability is not only achievable but also very affordable.

9. We waste so much food!

Roughly one-third of the food produced is lost or wastes, most of this coming from fruits and vegetables. Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa…! This waste comes from poor harvesting techniques, storage and cooling issues, transport duration, appearance standards and a little from overbuying and not eating. It is essential, therefore, that massive investments need to be made in agriculture to improve harvesting techniques, smarter storage to prevent spoilage and more efficient transport systems.

Buying in season products which are locally produced might seem like an easy answer. However, small scale farmers in less developt nations rely on the exportation of their goods year-round to feed and school their families. Limiting this would be detrimental to their livelihood – so there is a trade-off we need to consider between environmental and social impacts, both of which are vital to sustainability.

10. That despite all of this, life globally is actually getting better!

It might seem that we are facing more issues than ever, its really overwhelming and daunting sometimes, where do we even start, is there even any point?

However since the implementations of the UNs Millennium Development Goals in 2000;

  • Under 5 mortality, maternal mortality and poverty rates have more than halved
  • The primary school enrolment rate in developing regions reached 91 per cent, also, equal numbers of boy and girl where enrolled 2/3 of these regions.
  • The global malaria incidence rate has fallen by an estimated 37 per cent
    2.6 billion people gained access to improved drinking water

If you’re feeling a bit pessimistic then I personally recommend subscribing to the Bill and Melinda Gates Annual Letter, they are both extremely passionate about showing the improvements we are making in the world, and their letter is always incredibly inspiring and motivating.

Thanks for reading, and if you have any surprising or interesting facts about sustainability, please let me know in a comment below!


The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015

There are a record 2,208 billionaires in the world, according to Forbes’ 2018 rich list

FAO Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction

The Age of Sustainable Development Jeffrey D. Sachs. Foreword by Ban Ki-moon Columbia University Press


How Amazon Paid $0 Federal Income Tax in 2018

Consistent effects of nitrogen fertilization on soil bacterial communities in black soils for two crop seasons in China