It’s regrettable that in this world, where it can seem like one person can’t get what they want without someone else feeling they have been denied something, that even the future survival of our planet is the focus of a furious debate. As much as we might like to do our bit to protect the planet, it can seem like every action we take to do so is counteracted by people for whom a few small changes represent an insupportable burden. And while we put in the effort to protect the environment, we’re often left dealing with people telling us “sustainability is a scam”.

Still, if there must be a debate – and it’s not at all clear that there is time for one before things come to the crunch – it’s useful to be armed with some responses to the arguments that skeptics put out there. Below, we’ve got some useful tips for doing just that! Read on…

“Living sustainably is for the wealthy and privileged”

Let’s start with the idea that a liveable planet is some kind of luxury; it should be the bare minimum that we can expect. You can be absolutely certain that as things get progressively worse, the people with the most money will have the best means of escaping the worst consequences. Sustainable living isn’t just about what you install in your home and what you use – it’s about what you don’t buy. A new and expensive car, even with green credentials, costs money and has an environmental toll that may be greater than just keeping your current ride and using it responsibly. Buying preloved clothes also means using less resources, and can see you picking up some vintage classics for a bargain price.

“Solar panels are actually bad for the planet once they’re used up”

Solar panels on a house roof
Photo by MICHAEL WILSON on Unsplash

There’s a need for caution with this, because disposing of anything in the wrong way can have a polluting effect. But solar panels are built to last and have, at present, an average lifespan of 25 years. So if you have a solar installation tomorrow, they’ll be good until the mid-2040s. For one thing, it’s nonsensical to imagine that we won’t have better technology to reuse or recycle them by then. For another, an increasing percentage of solar panels used today are designed to have a lower carbon imprint both when they’re working and when they no longer can.

“What individuals do doesn’t matter when corporations and other countries pollute so much more”

The second part of this argument is somewhat accurate. There is an oft-quoted statistic that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions, and that’s very disturbing. Also, countries such as China and India do emit a lot, but here’s the thing…

Those 100 companies are fossil fuel producers, so of course they’re responsible for a disproportionate level of emissions – but their emissions can be reduced by people like us using more sustainable fuel methods. As for the other countries who churn out a lot of emissions: Much of this issue is down to the West outsourcing so much of its manufacturing demand to those self-same countries. Reducing consumer demand for these processes will help those countries meet green responsibilities that they are now signing up to. So what we do as individuals definitely matters.

Tiny living plant being held
Photo by Nikola Jovanovic on Unsplash

“You say you care about the planet, but you still eat meat. Hypocrite much?”

The farming methods used to put meat on dinner tables around the world are putting out a lot of greenhouse gases. It would be better for the planet if we all went vegan tomorrow. But not everyone can do that so easily, and for some people the result of trying could be to aggravate health issues. So it’s not necessarily a matter of giving up meat entirely. If every American reduced their intake of meat by just 25%, that would remove 82million tons of emissions every year. So for just one meal in four, trying something delicious and veggie could have a demonstrable impact.

“Who actually has the time to make all the adjustments they’re asked to?”

We live in a society that, even when you take the impact of Covid into account, is still very time-poor. In an ideal world, we’d all have a lot more time to ourselves, but this plainly isn’t an ideal world. So you might not have time to compost every bit of waste you can, nor collect rainwater to use for gardening and washing. However, using a canvas tote bag or two rather than getting plastic or paper bags at the supermarket is actually a time saving. Replacing a roast or baked dinner with a fresh tossed salad is, likewise, going to free up time. The more adjustments you make, the easier it is to make others, too, so don’t let skeptics put you off.

Reusable eco-friendly handmade bag
Photo by Mathilde Langevin on Unsplash

“Why are you making these changes when you can’t see the future? You might not even be alive when we see their impact!”

So let’s say that the overwhelming majority of scientists are wrong, and these changes won’t improve the climate. Let’s say that they might have an impact on a potential future that’s so far off we won’t all be around to see it. Let’s accept that that’s all correct. What you’re saying is that we might create cleaner, more breathable air, save money on household shopping, reduce the demolition of habitats for animals and other creatures that are endangered, stop polluting our waterways – and save billions of dollars on healthcare for illnesses related to pollution… and that would all be for nothing?

The truth of the matter is that the changes we make now will have an impact now, and it will be visible now. It’s overwhelmingly likely that it will also have cumulative future benefits that might just stop this planet from becoming uninhabitable for at least a substantial percentage of people. It’s not “virtue signalling” to want to make that difference and be part of that world, and we shouldn’t let ourselves be discouraged by skeptics’ myths that don’t stand up to interrogation.