The first dimension of wellness I want to talk about in the event of my experience in Kalu Yala is intellectuality. I was learning so much everyday that verbalizing what I was learning and my thoughts was difficult. But now, a year later, I can look back and process my learning more digestibly. The biggest intellectual learning was on sustainability.

All my life I’d known, if I want to eat, I just go down to the store and buy it. If I don’t want something anymore, no problem, I can just throw it away. How convenient is this plastic to hold all the things I buy. I don’t have to worry about how much water I use, it’s always there somehow. I just turn on a nob and warm water comes out every time. I don’t have to worry about how much electricity I use, I can just turn on the light whenever I need it, for however long I need it. It’s like I have an endless supply of food, water, electricity, stuff to buy, and I can just throw it away if I don’t need it anymore. I don’t even know where ‘away’ is. The farthest I see is my garbage go is the large bin outside my house. The closest I see to where all the stuff comes from is the store 5 minutes away. Or I can just pay a company to give me an ‘endless’ supply of hot water and electricity. Why does it matter that I recycle anyway? Why does it matter that I turn off the lights? Why does it matter that I drive less? Why does it matter that I turn off the water? Why does it matter what I eat?

Because in the end, everything comes from nature. Because climate change is already affecting people living on islands such as Guna Yala, an island a part of Panama. Because I met a friend who is from this island. Because my grandkids will ask, what did you do when you saw all these environmental problems leading to harder living conditions that affect us now? And now, climate refugees are asking, why aren’t more people doing something about about the air we can’t breathe, the rising water levels - taking away our islands - our homes, the destruction of our forests and our oceans? Don’t they see it’s about human life?

Honestly, before my internship with Kalu Yala, I did not understand why sustainability is important. Growing up in Portland, I’ve been taught all my life to recycle, to turn off the water, to turn off the lights, to use public transportation, and to eat fresh food from local farms. But, I never understood why these things mattered. The world is interconnected in complex systems. One action depends on another and one action affects another.

Everything comes from nature; and the more we consume, the more we deplete our Earth’s limited resources. The more we use, the more we have to extract, and the more we throw away. The more we throw away plastic, chemicals and oils into the oceans and rivers, the more we kill our ecosystem and water. Then, the less clean drinking water we have. Now, these are just two of the many negative externalities. I am not a science expert at all, and I don’t even know the technical terms to explain in depth the problems resulting from our harmful actions on our environments. However, I do logically understand that everything we consume comes from nature, and the more we harm nature, the less we will have to consume. This includes everything from food and water to your electricity and clothes. And this is why sustainability is important - “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs," because this Earth with its finite gift of resources is our only home.

Contrast living without walls, sleeping in a hammock, rinsing off in the river, walking barefoot, owning 20 clothing items for 10 weeks, eating food grown from nearby farms, walking for my commute, seeing the sunrise and sunset every night, seeing the stars every night, ending the next to a fire with laughter and conversation to living inside walls, sleeping on a queen sized bed, taking a hot shower everyday, walking around in shoes on cement, having a full closet to choose an outfit from, eating chemically processed foods, driving everywhere I need to get to, never seeing the sunrise and sunset, only seeing three stars out every night, and ending the day feeling isolated.

After coming to Kalu Yala, I realized how disconnected I was to nature and humans by having all the walls, concrete, cars, and technology around me. I didn’t care about how I consumed because I was disconnected from seeing the environmental problems.

Not only is mother nature affected by our negative consumption practices, but humans also. We keep on buying things from China not realizing that over these past two decades we have polluted their air so much that city populations must wear masks outside and we now sell them cans of fresh air. We have released so much greenhouse gas emissions that sea ice keeps on melting at a faster rate than ever before and now people are being forced to leave their homes from the Maldives and Guna Yala islands, to name two. These occurrences prove the fact that, “whatever we do to our Earth, we do to ourselves.” Except the people that have the lowest carbon footprint, are facing the most dire consequences.

So what am I to do now being back living in a Western American city? Well, I’m writing my thesis about this, and I’ve outlined eight ways we personally can move towards more sustainable consumption. Yes, governments need to move toward clean energy grid systems, but citizens need to demand differently and start now. So these are the eight personal things each person can do which will change what governments and businesses supply us because we change our demand.

1. Buy Less

2. Buy vintage or second-hand

3. Buy Local

4. Eat Vegan

5. Downsize

6. Buy eco-friendly products

7. Cut out repetitive purchases (i.e. plastic water bottles)

8. Move towards collective ownership instead of individual ownership

These are not easy. We want cheap, we want fast, and we want convenience. However, at this point doing what is best for the planet and people is simply a human responsibility. It’s not about saving the planet; it’s about being responsible human beings to each other and nature. Our individual choices add up to collective impact, whether that is positive or negative.

Sustainability is all about closed-loop systems instead of linear systems. Let’s close the loop on our consumption, so we only take as much as we’re given, and we reuse what we take, so we create zero waste and don’t over consume to the point of nothingness. Creating closed-loop systems for our world economy and business is the government’s and business’ responsibility, but the change starts and happens from consumer demand, at the grassroots and local level.

Join me.

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