When I moved to Thailand six months ago, my lifestyle changed dramatically: a different culture, food, language and climate. Prior to this, I’d been trying to live more sustainably: consciously endeavouring to live a less impactful life through my decisions. My idea of sustainable living was swiftly challenged in moving to Thailand, where language and cultural barriers does not always permit me to live as I’d like.
I can’t choose to buy organic vegetables, palm oil free products, fair trade chocolate or organic cotton t-shirts. I can’t buy eco-friendly detergents or washing powders (maybe the one with a fish on it is a green option?). I can’t buy free-range eggs or meat, or easily reduce or avoid meat consumption: everything seems to have meat in it (even ordering supposed vegetarian options can come graced with unidentified meat). The availability of market vegetables makes vegetarian cooking an attractive option though. It’s difficult to refuse single-use plastic: purchases are rapidly bundled into bags before I can stammer “mai ow” (I don’t want). I can’t choose electricity from renewable sources (around 60% of Thailand’s electricity is derived from natural gas (60%), with a mere 3% sourced from renewables). Even recycling is not assured (although I’m told that people hand pick recyclables from rubbish bins for recycling). Apartment living does not easily permit food waste composting, although I’m exploring opportunities to do this. Lowering my carbon footprint is difficult as I’m responsible for emitting 1.08 tonnes of carbon each one way trip between here and my home base in Australia.
If I can’t do any of these things easily, am I able to live a less impactful life here? Reconsidering my approach to sustainable, conscious living has made me appreciate that it is not simply about choosing the most eco-friendly, ethical or socially responsible product. For me, sustainable living is much more than just being a conscious consumer. We are constantly told that if we choose the right brand, we will be supporting businesses to ‘help people’ and ‘save the environment’. Perhaps this is partially true and I don’t want to demean do-gooders changing things through this means. But I believe that simply changing consumption modes won’t solve our problems. Our excessive consumption. Our need for endless material goods.
While I can’t choose to live exactly as I’d like to here, I am leading a more simple lifestyle. Days revolve around biking to school, teaching youth, food shopping at local markets, doing yoga, reading, writing and participating in our community life. It may not be the most eco-friendly lifestyle, but I’m buying less and living more simply.
The ways we can live sustainably or consciously may differ in different geographic and cultural settings. In some places it is very easy to select and use sustainable food, clothing, energy and transport, where in others there are structural or cultural boundaries that inhibit individual behaviour choices, even if awareness of sustainability issues is high. Overall, consuming less, living simply will put us on a path towards living more sustainably.