Why is sustainability so important?
If we live unsustainability, future generations will not be able to enjoy the same quality of life that we currently have. They will have fewer resources and face greater problems and suffering. Caring about sustainability is caring about our children and the future of human civilization.
Environmental issues are already present all around us. Where I live, signs of former generations unsustainable activities are all around me. Living in Delaware, between the Delaware river and Chesapeake bay, I see waterways where once thriving fishing industries have been almost completely destroyed, due to some combination of unsustainable agriculture (toxic chemicals, nutrient pollution running off into waterways) and possibly unsustainable fishing practices as well. With the collapse of these industries, local economies, and thus communities and culture have been destroyed as well. The picture above is a 2002 picture of oysters from the Chesapeake bay, taken while working for UMCES, a marine lab on the Chesapeake bay. Virtually all the oyster bars we visited were completely dead.
There is also a lot of beauty that is destroyed, and often, we don't even really understand what is going on, why it's happening, and what we could do about it. I see once abundant bird and plant species that are now endangered...while a few species like the Bald Eagle have made a dramatic recovery, other once abundant species like the Rusty Blackbird and Cerulean Warbler are rapidly dying off. The ecosystems here are out of balance...an overpopulation of deer causes problems in forest regrowth. I know the most about my local ecosystems, and I know that the ones here are not doing particularly well. But I know that I live in a country that has relatively strong environmental protection, and a strong conservation movement, and an abundance of open space...and I still see serious problems. I can only read about and imagine what it must be like in places like China and India.
How is this relevant to tea?
I'm not going to duplicate what I wrote in my article on tea and sustainability but I would really recommend reading that article if you haven't--and I'd appreciate feedback and constructive criticism--especially if there are any omissions. But a few things to think about:
- Most tea comes from developing countries with great population pressure and weakly enforced environmental standards. The global economic system tends to "outsource" environmental problems out of wealthier developed countries and into developing countries. But in general, the countries producing tea face far more severe environmental problems than developed western countries buying tea.
- Tea is one area where each person can easily make a difference through conscious shopping / tea drinking habits. Drinking loose tea is not only more sustainable, but it's cheaper! And tea is relatively inexpensive (compared to coffee, alcohol, even fruit juice)--people can't make the claim that they can't afford to pay a premium for tea that is produced in a sustainable way. Even the more expensive tea is relatively affordable.