Does Poverty Foster Sustainable Living?

Does Poverty Foster Sustainable Living?

When I discovered the sustainability movement, I found a few things that came as a surprise to me. Chief among these surprises was how much of a correlation there was between my life as an average Nigerian and the lifestyle as advocated by the sustainability movement.

In one of my earliest articles about vegan choices, I explored the theory that a lot of Africans (or at least Nigerians) didn’t have to go vegan because they already were that by reason of birth. By virtue of the financial position of many, meat is regarded as a luxury and not a meal. So that there are many that never get to eat meat because they do not have that privilege of choice.

Over the past months, I have grown more conscious of the roles we all have to play for a more sustainable society and in all of these, I have tried to view issues concerning the movement through the lens of my society. In doing this, I’ve realized that Africans have some of the most sustainable lifestyles and practices ever. From their high distaste for waste to the reuse and repurpose culture, sustainability really is a way of life.

From the piece where I shared how little we care for store-bought gifts during Christmas, to the one where I explained how we never threw away stuff, down to this article about the sharing economy as an integral part of African lives, the list of examples already given provides substantial proof that Africans really do live sustainably.

The average Nigerian will buy “pre-loved” clothes because it is cheaper, he/she will wear clothes for a longer period of time because he/she may not be able to afford another and so, maximum value must be wrung out of the one available. A mother visits an open-air market and buys groceries in bulk because she must save a little more money and direct same towards catering to other numerous needs of her family. Of course, food could not be wasted in that household because everyone is thankful to have it in the first place. And so, it comes to pass that the average Nigerian becomes the poster boy of sustainability without meaning to, and with little or no choice to be otherwise.

Does Poverty Foster A Sustainable Lifestyle?

Now I imagined this was unique to my society until I read my editor’s article, where she talked about a childhood with modest parents who had emigrated to Australia. While having all her needs provided for, waste and an attitude of privilege were generally frowned upon.

The question reviewing all these pieces have raised can be summed up as; does poverty encourage and foster sustainability? Frankly, it’s a question I am unable to answer because, on the one hand, most of the tenets of sustainability are automatically obeyed by a poor person by virtue of his financial position.

On the other hand, there exist contradictory realities. The fact that these people are confronted with the extremities of life’s harsh realities makes squint with disdain at most of the issues concerning the environment. It is hard to care about ‘sea turtles’ and ‘melting icecaps’ on an empty stomach, and you too would feel a bit foolish speaking of plastic bags and straws to people you can see are starving.

With this state of mind, there are no barriers to acts such as cutting down hundred-year-old trees or fishing a species of fish to extinction. Survival is paramount, and every other consideration becomes relegated to the noisy background.

Another contradictory reality, as I pointed out in an article about class and status in the sustainability movement, is vanity. In my society for one, there is generally a desire to not appear poor, which in turn leads people to buy and consume more than they ordinarily would. You may consider this absurd, but believe me, it is quite real.

I still cannot answer a few questions regarding this face of the sustainability movement but I believe that at the end of the day, the message of the movement remains that we all strive to reduce our impact by making more conscious choices. Wherever we can start and with whatever we have. Whether it is informed by one man’s wealth, or by another’s lack, making this decision remains the key.

The earth is counting on it.

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