A very valid concern about the concept of sustainable living is whether it contributes directly to a higher cost of living. The answer could be different depending on which side of the matter you stand. On the one hand, an overall raise in prices reflecting a system wide mandate for sustainable living might put some up in arms. On the other hand, for those who think environmental sustainability is the only feasible solution for the future, a raise in prices is more than justified considering the benefits. Also, it is a question of short term versus long term. In the short term, it is quite likely that initial costs will be steeper than people are accustomed to paying. In the long term, however, after all of the positives are factored in, sustainable living may prove to be the far less expensive than the alternative.
What does it mean to live sustainably anyway? It could mean different things for everybody, but in a general sense it involves the use of resources. To live is to use up resources. To live sustainably means to use resources in a manner that does not guarantee their exhaustion before they can be reproduced. The resource used the most without regard to its sustainability is energy. Energy use makes everything that modern civilization has grown accustomed to possible. Because energy resources factor into food production, personal mobility and shelter, it underlies the primary needs which humans have.
Sustainable Energy Use
To use energy sustainably does not simply mean using less of the energy resources available, it means using energy that reproduces itself. Human energy and that of a work horse are two examples of sustainable energy. Provided there are the proper inputs of food, rest and shelter, human and animal energy renews itself. One might counter by saying that humans and animals die. This is true, of course, but both are able to reproduce themselves. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, have been shown to be unsustainable due to their limited resources. Once turned into energy, it transforms into power, acceleration, gaseous exhaust and friction, but what caused that energy can never again be used as such. It is sustainable only as long as the raw materials exist to produce it.
Higher Costs for Sustainable Living
To ask the question as to whether sustainable living means a higher cost of living, in the short term, yes. Alternative, sustainable energies must be developed and made efficient on a mass scale which will cost more in the beginning. Developing sustainable agricultural practices that do not waste the land for short term profit requires a smaller scale which means the produce may cost more. The construction of sustainable homes may also come with higher price tags initially. In the long term, however, developing sustainable practices will be good for society and the resource base it requires. Given time, every new technology that is based on sound fundamentals comes down in price, so what may be more expensive today will be affordable tomorrow–in terms of money and applicability.
It is ironic that as complaints are made about the high cost of sustainable living the price of unsustainable present day realities are on the rise. Fossil fuel prices are climbing, unsustainable agricultural practices are costing consumers more and just about everything critics of sustainable living are stubbornly holding onto are proving to be more expensive. Whether the cause is inflation, market manipulation or true scarcity is beyond the scope of this article, but it is evident that civilization cannot afford its addiction to unsustainable living.