Sustainability in a nutshell

Sustainability:

1: capable of being sustained

: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged
Sustainability isn’t a luxury anymore. It’s not just about quality of life, recycling, or green space. It is an all-encompassing issue that is affecting not only the environment, but also our economy, our policies, and our daily lives. Big changes are not just necessary but imperative to the longevity of life for all. As our global population has now exceeded 7 billion, we are coping with even more complex affairs; it has become a juggling act between a large population, food supply, and a healthy environment. We can’t keep all three.
Climate Change science is not all doom and gloom, however the media may portray it. I think the problem of sustainability, and the cause of such societal stagnation is the absence of the individual. You’re right, no single person can stop climate change, no one person can save the polar bears, or the forests, or the millions of starving people around the globe. There are, however, significant and viable solutions on the individual level. The importance lies not in corporations but in communities. While one person may not be able to make a tremendous difference the world, a whole movement of individuals can make a world of difference.
I hope that in the future, more emphasis is put on realistic, pragmatic, individual solutions. The primary step is awareness. The facts of climate change alter from day to day, and developments are fast approaching.
Of course there are the current Durban Climate Change Talks.
And there are numerous other ways to stay educated about contemporary environmental issues. The Guardian Environmental page has numerous blog posts and articles daily covering the science and the politics of sustainability. You can read about sustainable architecture and design on Inhabitat.com, or treehugger.com.
I posted earlier in the semester about some sustainable development programs I experienced first-hand in Benoni, South Africa this summer. You can follow the progress of the farm at the Hadassah Centre for Women, and the John Wesley Community Centre in Etwatwa.
Sustainability is a global effort, and we should all feel a sense of social responsibility for keeping our world green. Whether recycling, composting, executing green design, or using alternative modes of transportation we can each make a significant impact on the health of our planet.

So solar.

On my way to Asheville, North Carolina today, I looked over on the side of the interstate to see mile after mile of fields. However, one took me by surprise. It wasn’t full of cattle or hay, but rows and rows of shining metallic solar panels. These so-called solar farms and scattered across the country, producing comparatively small amounts of energy to power little businesses and communities.

Something very alluring, at least aesthetically, about solar energy is its infinite nature. The sunlight is producing absolutely massive amounts of energy: the energy is there, we just have to develop technology and infrastructure to harness it. We don’t have to go looking for deeply buried reserves of solar energy, it is abundant, free, carbon-neutral, and unlimited. We couldn’t ever use all the energy the sun is emitting.

Additionally, new advances like 360 degree panels are reshaping the way we harvest solar energy: making it more efficient, and therefore more affordable. Mirrors can also be used to reflect more light during different parts of the day onto solar panels to collect photons. Scientists are hard at work making panels more efficient (currently the best panels are still only 20% efficient) and more affordable. Some solar power is even created by using mirrors to make steam from water. Photovoltaic energy is difficult to capture, but worth the effort and money.

For more on solar research and development see this article on improving solar technology or this clip about solar farming and energy stockpiling from Discovery.