A House on Borrowed Time: Rethinking Our Priorities in a Warming World

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By: Naziah Nawawie

There’s a certain comfort in the solidity of a house. It’s a place of refuge, a symbol of security, a foundation for our lives. But American writer and environmentalist Terry Swearingen challenges this comfort with a poignant question: “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”


Swearingen’s words pierce through the illusion of domestic security. In a world grappling with climate change, environmental degradation, and dwindling resources, focusing solely on our homes can feel like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Our obsession with material possessions and an unsustainable lifestyle threatens the very foundation upon which we build our dreams.

The stark reality is that a beautiful house loses its meaning if the air outside is choked with pollution, the water is undrinkable, and the climate erratic. What good are sprawling lawns if they require excessive water in drought-stricken regions? What’s the point of energy-guzzling appliances if they contribute to a warming planet?

Swearingen’s quote urges us to shift our priorities. It’s a call to action for a more sustainable way of living. It’s about building not just houses, but a healthy planet for future generations to call home.

So how do we reconcile our desire for a comfortable life with the urgent need for environmental responsibility? Here are some ways:

Embrace minimalism: 

Do we truly need all the stuff we accumulate? Opting for a simpler lifestyle reduces our environmental footprint. The statement challenges our attachment to material possessions, suggesting we question their necessity. By owning less and living simpler, we consume fewer resources and create less waste, ultimately reducing the environmental impact of our lifestyle.

Focus on energy efficiency: 

Invest in energy-efficient appliances and explore renewable energy sources like solar panels. This approach emphasizes using less energy and switching to cleaner sources. By choosing appliances that use minimal power and installing solar panels or exploring other renewable options, you can lessen your reliance on traditional energy sources that can pollute the environment. This translates to a more sustainable and potentially cost-effective way to meet your energy needs.

Reduce, reuse, recycle:

This age-old mantra remains crucial. Minimize waste, find new uses for old items, and recycle diligently. The three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – offer a powerful approach to waste management. It prioritizes minimizing what we throw away by buying less and using things for longer. When items reach the end of their original purpose, we can find creative ways to reuse them. Finally, for what can’t be reduced or reused, recycling allows us to turn waste into new products, creating a more sustainable cycle.

Support sustainable practices:

Choose products with eco-friendly packaging and patronize businesses that prioritize sustainability. By supporting sustainable practices, you’re using your purchasing power to advocate for a greener future. Look for products with minimal or eco-friendly packaging and consider businesses that prioritize sustainability in their operations. This encourages companies to adopt environmentally conscious practices and reduces your contribution to environmental harm.

Advocate for change: 

Use your voice to hold corporations and governments accountable for environmental stewardship. Advocating for change means using your voice to push corporations and governments to act responsibly towards the environment. This can involve supporting environmental causes, voting for environmentally conscious leaders, and holding companies accountable for their environmental impact. By making your voice heard, you can help create policies and practices that promote sustainability and pressure corporations to prioritize eco-friendly practices.

Swearingen’s quote is a stark reminder that our well-being is inextricably linked to the health of the planet. Let’s build not just houses, but a sustainable future where comfort and environmental responsibility go hand in hand. It’s time to ensure the planet we build our houses on remains a tolerable place to live, for ourselves and generations to come.

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