The last time I went to a tropical island, the showers only ran for 4 hours per day. If you missed that window, you had to wait 20 hours.
If you wanted to “flush” the toilet, you’d have to carry a bucket of ocean water to your bathroom.
This was a necessity. There wasn’t enough freshwater on the island to support the luxury of flushable toilets or 24-hour shower access. Freshwater was delivered by boat, and it needed to get strictly rationed. If you wanted enough leftover for drinking and cooking before the next shipment arrived, you needed to budget.
People elsewhere in the world, though, have become accustomed to luxuries like unfettered access to showers and toilets. And they’ll demand this luxury at any cost, even if their wallets and the environment can’t support it.
Until recently, that was the case in Aruba.
To satisfy demand, Aruba coverts saltwater into drinking water. The process is called “desalination,” and this 70-square-mile island (about the size of Washington, D.C.) is home to the world’s second-largest desalination plant.
But desalination requires a ton of energy. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Aruba’s energy consumption.
To keep people happy, Aruba imports cheddar cheese, Oreo cookies and some curious flavors of potato chips. (Teriyaki-flavored potato chips? Really?) It keeps its roadways well-maintained, offers strong public transportation, and spends a substantial amount of its GDP educating its local children.
(Aruba also imports designer clothes and handbags, which baffles me. Why ship that stuff down to the Caribbean, just so tourists can carry it back to Europe and the U.S.?)
Fortunately, Aruban officials recognized how energy-intensive the island’s lifestyle has become. But they also recognized a concurrent reality: People don’t want to pare back on their lifestyle. People love Oreo cookies and curiously-flavored potato chips.
So instead of sacrificing its quality of life, Aruba decided to make that lifestyle sustainable. In the midst of the last recession, Aruba unveiled an ambitious plan to become the world’s first economy to run entirely on sustainable energy.
In 2009, Aruba built a wind farm that generates about 20 percent of its total energy. It’s on-track to run 100 percent on renewable energy by the year 2020.
Protect Your Most Precious Limited Resource: Time
Sustainability isn’t just a national issue, it’s a personal one. A country’s leaders can tackle waste at the macro-level. But what about waste within our own lives?
How can you create a sustainable life?
I’m not (just) talking about recycling your beer cans. I’m talking about creating multiple self-renewing sources of income.
It doesn’t make sense to ship coal and freshwater to a remote island. That requires too much ongoing effort. It’s much more sensible to build a sustainable solution.
Similarly, it doesn’t make sense to wake up to a beeping alarm, drink stale coffee, battle rush-hour traffic, sit in a grey cubicle under flickering florescent lighting, and then battle even worse traffic back home.
It’s downright ludicrous to endure this agony year after year, until your eyes strain from the computer screen, your back hurts from your corporate-issued chair, and your face gets etched with frown lines.
Sustainable wealth is much more sensible.
Rental properties create sustainable wealth. So do stock dividends, interest, royalties, and businesses that someone else manages.
In short: Investing creates sustainability.
Investing is our ONLY antidote to the hamster wheel. It’s our ticket out.
Learn as much about investing as you can. Hustle, earn more, and apply all that extra money towards your investments. Buy some index funds. Put a down payment on a rental property. Build a small online business, then hire a VA to manage it.
Make just $10 in passive income per year. C’mon, just $10 per year. Anyone can do that.
Done? Okay, great. Now double it.
And double it again.
You see where I’m going with this …
This is sustainability at the personal level. This is freedom from paycheck dependence. This is how you can maintain an awesome lifestyle without polluting your most valuable (and limited) resource: your time.
P.S. The island in my introduction (with the 4-hour showering window and the ocean-bucket toilets) is Seraya Island, off the coast of Flores, Indonesia. It’s one of my favorite places on earth.
P.P.S. I should take a moment to mention that Aruba does a LOT of things right. Their crime rate is close to zero. They have fewer than 30 traffic fatalities a year. They have 96 percent literacy, 94 percent employment, and many Arubans speak four languages: Dutch, Spanish, English and Papiamento. There’s a lot we can learn from their example.