The sustainability of living

by Ellen Seah | @EllenSeah

Nico Margan studies at RMIT, works as a casual labourer and lives in a tent.

“It’s wasn’t something that just suddenly happened. I didn’t just say one day, ‘Hey you know what, I’m gonna live in a tent,’” Margan laughs. “But I think acting according to your conscience is a lot more important than a lot of people give it credit for.”

The 23-year-old’s prized tent took five months to build and he now lives in Warrandyte, with buses his sole form of transportation. He home grows tomatoes, potatoes, garlic and a variety of greens with a weekly dumpster dive providing the rest of the food he needs. “There’s a lot of good dairy products and bread that goes to waste,” Margan says.

Late last year, America and China announced ambitious emissions targets to tackle climate change by 2030. The joint agreement saw the US aiming for a 28 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. China committed to slowing and stopping emissions by 2030. Australia’s current target to cut emissions remains at five per cent by 2020 based on year 2000 levels. We also happen to have a Prime Minister who says coal is “good for humanity”.

Margan says the biggest question in terms of sustainability at the moment is the divide between libertarian ideology and activist ideology.

Libertarianism is a political ideology emphasises the need for freedom of choice and faith in the primacy of individual choices and consciousness.

“It’s the belief that everyone should act according to their own personal benefit, and that will flow on to benefit society,” Margan says.

“Instead of adopting an activist stance and trying to change things on a larger scale, people tend to approach sustainability in a more libertarian way. They do little things in everyday life to benefit the community as a whole.”

“I guess I’m trying to walk the line between libertarian and activist ideology.”

He’s not the only one. Just two hours north-east of Melbourne, the waste-free Grown & Gathered farm prides itself on completely sustainable, ecological farming. Grown & Gathered’s Matt and Lentil farm all their own vegetables and fruit, produce cheese, and ferment natural wines among other things.

Originally run-of-the-mill city office workers, the duo’s farm operates on a fully closed-loop farming system. In the cycle, everything from fertiliser to produce returns in a full circular loop with no added waste.

Anything else they require is traded or bartered for in a program called The Flower Exchange. Trading flowers instead of money is “honest and creates relationships” according to the Grown & Gathered website.

Libertarian sustainability isn’t just happening in Australia. NYU Environments Studies graduate Lauren Singer has been living a “zero waste” life for over three years.  At 23 years old, Singer hasn’t made trash since 2012.

“I didn’t start living this lifestyle to make a statement,” she wrote in online magazine Mind Body Green, “I began living this way because it’s the best way I know how to live. It’s a life that aligns with everything I believe in.”

Singer only buys unpackaged groceries, second-hand clothes and carries reusable containers and bottles to events. Everything else including cosmetics, toothpaste, deodorant, and even laundry detergent is homemade.

Singer has a line of homemade, eco-friendly house products online, and her blog Trash Is For Tossers details her journey and tips for living a zero-waste life. When I asked Margan if his lifestyle was suitable for everyone, the answer was immediate and sure.

“Hell no. There isn’t just one model of sustainability you can apply to everyone. People need to figure out what sustainability means to them and move towards that goal,” Margan says. “It can’t be something that happens overnight. Sustainability is a gradual thing.”

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways of incorporating sustainability into everyday life. Starting a garden, growing fresh fruits and vegetables and being mindful of ways produce is sourced are a few ways Margan cites as good starting points.

“As a consumer, being informed is so important,” he says.

“Other than that, just be active in the community. There are plenty of groups out there who are trying to create a more sustainable future. Do something in your own life and do something for the community.”

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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