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What Does ‘Living Lightly’ Really Mean?

By Matthew Charles-Jones    Matthew is a member of Yackandandah Sustainability

A real challenge with the idea of ‘living lightly’ is how we define ‘lightly.’  This is as much an ethical question as it is a practical one.  It is ethical since it is a decision about the level of environmental impact you will accept.

It appears likely that where there are humans or in fact any animal, there will be an impact on nature.  This impact becomes a profound problem when populations reach numbers that do not allow a landscape to regenerate. Our Australian experience of rabbits well illustrates this contention.

How then do we inform our daily interactions with the landscape – our impact? For example, should we use harsh chemical cleaners in our home?  Do we really need to kill spiders that have the misfortune to share our home?  Is it ok to invest our superannuation to support dubious corporate practices?

Perhaps one approach to these daily decisions is to do what our family, friends or maybe what advertising on TV encourages and expects.  Are these approaches based on knowledge and understanding gained from people we trust, wide reading, diverse media and time in nature?  Alternatively, are some of these a line of least resistance where we don’t have to think too much about things that are complex, hard or which frighten us? Many people recycle and install low energy light globes, which are valuable actions, but it is unlikely these actions truly offset the consumptive character of our lives.   Indeed, there is enormous pressure to keep us doing what we have been doing – buying more, consuming more, wasting more.  This process is fundamental to our individual and collective impact.

But on an earth with finite resources, surely human consumption must reach an upper limit?  This again raises a central question; in making daily decisions do we rely on informed research or do we take the line of least resistance?

And faced with pressure to consume, we must take a deep breath and ask ourselves; is this something I really need?  Moreover, will it really help us to lead meaningful, caring and rich lives?