Sustainability is the only legacy that matters

John Treadgold

The future is created by the decisions we make today. Yikes, that’s a pretty big responsibility, sorry to lay it on you so heavy. But, it’s also an opportunity. We have a chance to craft a legacy for our generation that will be told in stories and holograms for centuries to come.

I’m talking about a legacy for our society, rather than an individual legacy like having a library named after you, or having Kim K. like one of your Insta pics.

What bigger legacy could there be than that of sustainability? It’s become a buzzword and its definition is shifting, but essentially, if something is sustainable it’s by definition going to last long into the future; and that’s my kinda legacy.

The flip-side is making a mess, in the knowledge we won’t be around to clean it up.

It’s the paradox of having the technology and insights to build cars that drive themselves and drugs that allow us to cheat death, but at the same time willfully ignoring the consequences of burning fossil fuels at an ever-increasing rate.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that it is not a question of science, intellect or wisdom. It’s a question of economics. We want more, we want convenience, and we want it now.

Dear reader I’m not here to preach. I don’t want the petrol bowser to run dry. I love nothing more than a long drive to go surfing, or a short drive to get a burger when I’m too lazy to walk. But, I also know that it’s all terribly inefficient.

And in the end, I just want to get from A to B. The ride will be much the same whether it’s fuelled by oil, electricity or hydrogen. Price is the key for most people.

Now… the oil executives (and the politicians who hope to be oil executives one day) will tell us that the ‘lefty dream’ of renewable-energy and zero-waste will send us back to the dark ages.

The assumption here is that oil has been the driver of much of the prosperity of the past 50 years. And I don’t deny that. But in the same breath they’re confirming that this is the technology of the past. This technology already represents the dark-ages.

The future is clean energy. The future is efficiency because the world’s population is going to double in 65 years. Even the school kids know that we can’t keep burning oil at this rate.

I think greed and wilful ignorance got us here, but I think economics can help us get out.

We need a market that rewards innovators, while including the costs of pollution in the price of the product.

The large-scale infrastructure of the last century of industrialisation has given way to a new era of decentralised power. When households can produce their own power from the sun, and trade it with their neighbours, suddenly the politics of greed and corruption give way to community-led decision making.

We, as individuals, now have options. Our politicians have proved unwilling to act so we’ve taken it upon ourselves, and businesses have grown from the rich soil of our discontent.

Solar panels are growing cheaper, electric cars and bikes are now common-place. Green-star rated buildings can earn higher rental returns and people are refusing single-use plastic bags, straws and bottles.

Individuals have more power than ever before, and not just in terms of what they buy, but also in how they invest. If these are the trends of the future, then they are likely the investments of the future too. This has given rise to impact investing, social enterprise and the B-Corp movement.

It’s all about crafting the future through our actions today, that’s out legacy.

Do we want to be the founders, the originators, do we want to be the OG’s of the future of efficient-energy?

Or do we want to maintain the status quo, to leave coming generations with rusting oil refineries, with century-old technology, with polluted rivers and an atmosphere thick with a growing cloud of indecision and corruption?

It’s not really an option, I know. No-one would choose option B, especially when delivered with such emotive language. But the debate still rages.

I don’t have a solution, but one thing I’m sure of is that individuals have more power than ever before. The only question is what are you going to do with it?

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