Opinion: Sustainability is more important than ever
When we emerge after government offices, schools and businesses reopen, and social distancing mandates are lifted, it is clear that the world will be a very different place. As we enter a long period of recovery, let’s also use it as a time of reinvention to create the future we want.
One of the important lessons I think will come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is that our island’s sustainability is more important than ever.
How will we better prepare ourselves locally to withstand major disruptions in the global economy? Will we always wait for bailout money to arrive from the Federal government and tourists to return to the island, or can we increase our self-sufficiency and sustainability?
I have a few thoughts to share in the coming weeks about the relevance of sustainable actions, but in this piece, I’ll start with one immediate need -- food.
Just in time for home isolation, our 6-year-old broke the only TV in the house when a toy slipped out of his hand. We are now happily spending most of our days outdoors together. My wife and I are thankfully able to work remotely from our laptops, and the kids complete lessons, play and even pull some weeds. We also pray a lot for less suffering and loss of life during this pandemic.
For our family of five, we quickly learned that it is a big, expensive task to stock up on 14 days of food, which equates to 210 individual meals plus snacks.
With the break from our routine busy-ness, we started planting vegetables in the late afternoons. Once we start harvesting in the coming weeks, we won’t have all the food we require, but we will be a little less dependent on the amount we need to purchase from a store.
While our supply chains are currently intact, it may seem a little alarmist to some to suddenly go out in the sun and start planting things.
However, Guam imports 95% of all the food we consume, putting us in a very risky position. We need to radically increase local food production to reduce our vulnerability, but that will take time. Within our individual capabilities, we can implement a not-so-radical shift in the way we feed our families.
Start a backyard garden and increase your family’s food security. You can begin by saving the ends of your green onions, lettuce and cabbage heads. Pop those in a little bit of soil, sprinkle with water, and you can see them grow overnight for almost instant gratification.
Next, get plant cuttings from your neighbor, a few seed packets (typically under $2 each), a bag of soil and a few small pots or empty containers. There are lots of online publications from the UOG College of Natural & Applied Sciences and elsewhere to help you with the next steps to keep growing.
Make sure to have your kids participate. Perhaps they’ll take pride in the process and eat their vegetables.
The framework for a sustainable future is available through the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It covers all aspects of society from ecological health, economic welfare, social empowerment, and cultural creativity.
The Guam Green Growth Initiative recently launched to lead the way for locally and culturally effective implementation. We will keep planning ahead through our collaboration between the University of Guam and the Office of the Governor.
Austin Shelton, Ph.D., is an assistant professor and the director of the University of Guam Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant.