Exploring a Sustainable Lifestyle with Vera van der Linden

Could you please introduce yourself.

Hello, My name is Vera van der Linden. I am a first-year master’s student, doing the Climate Econometrics master. Before starting my master's degree, I did a minor in Sustainability and Innovation, which inspired me to take a more active role in combating climate change and to inspire other people to contribute in similar ways.


How would you describe a sustainable lifestyle?

For me, a sustainable lifestyle can be defined by all actions you undertake by yourself that reduces your carbon footprint. Lifestyle is often thought of as your personal actions, but I think that the job you work at should also be included in this; after all, that is where you can make the biggest impact. Additionally, I think voting behaviour should be taken into account. Of course, there are also the obvious aspects, such as food, transportation, and the things you buy. Whether you buy electronics, furniture, and transportation devices first-hand or second-hand can also make a big difference.


Do you think mental health/being healthy are also part of a sustainable lifestyle?

That is an interesting question. To answer this, I would like to refer to the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Back in 2015, the United Nations decided on what needed to be done in order to pass on a livable planet. Because this is such a complex problem, they created a large set of separate issues they want to tackle. These goals also include good health and well-being, which definitely includes mental health. I think that has become very clear during the pandemic, where over half the students experienced some kind of mental health issues. So I do believe mental health and being healthy should be included in working towards a more sustainable world. In the end, we want a planet that is livable, which includes people feeling good.


How did you find yourself drawn to the topic of sustainability and living a sustainable lifestyle and can you tell us a bit about your journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle?

My parents are both very environmentally aware. It has been a central part in my upbringing that something can always be repaired and that it can be very good to question whether you need something new, and whether that will make you happy. In most cases, just buying something will make you happy and having the product won’t. If it’s just the process of buying something, then it’s really no use, because you are only buying it once.

When combined with seeing the inequalities around the world while travelling and learning about the threats and dangers climate change is already hurtling towards us from the internet has made me feel a sense of urgency and importance. I feel like somebody should tackle this.

When you look at this globally, I may not tick all the boxes to do this. I don’t have extremely rich parents and such, but I do have things that so many others do not. For every person like me, there are so many other people who are not in a position to make a change, study, or influence people. There’s so many people who can't make a change like I could. So, in a way, I feel that I should.


Could you give some easy changes to implement to live a more sustainable lifestyle?

Yes, there is actually a framework called the 6 RS of sustainability: Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repair. This framework is based on closing the loops of resource uses. Currently, we live in quite a linear economy, where we produce something, then use it and finally we toss it out to buy something new. We don’t care where something comes from and what happens to it after we are done with it. Whereas with a circular economy, the producer will also think about what products will be like at the end of their life. Until we reach this point, we will have to think about everything that is out there and whether we really need it. First you rethink whether you need something, and if so, always consider if you can buy something reused, if it can be repaired, and if a broken item can be repurposed in another way. Doing this can often save you a lot of money and time from buying new things you don’t really need. I like not having to worry about having to need the latest things. It just saves me a lot of time and effort. 

As an example, you can buy a lot of really nice things on Marktplaats - a 60 euro desk from Marktplaats could have a really nice Danish design, whereas the same amount of money at Ikea will get you a barely functioning piece of junk. Additionally, there are a lot of clothing loops throughout the city. These are projects where you have clothing bags and the idea is that you do everything with no money involved. I just get a text from the person before me in the loop and I pick up this old Ikea bag full of clothes in all different sizes. I can then try something and if I like something, I can take it out and also donate some other clothes and finally I text the next person that they can come pick it up again. Finally, you can check your carbon footprint online to determine how much impact things like your food and travel have as well.


On a big scale what difference does a sustainable lifestyle make?

I assume we are all going to be having nice salaries with lots of disposable income, so globally, we will be some of the richest people, and overall carbon footprint rises as your income does, so per capita, we can make a much bigger impact by living a more sustainable life than most people in most other parts of the world. Furthermore, we are the ones who have the financial means to start making smarter choices.

Of course, there will always be big companies and giant polluters that are going to emit a lot, but these companies are able to operate like that because we allow them to. We buy their products, we are the ones driving the miles in cars, making trips by plane and supporting the parties that don’t find it necessary to tax airfare more heavily, even though it’s incredibly polluting. So, I personally think we could have a very big impact if we start living more sustainable lifestyles, start making more sustainable political choices and that living a sustainable lifestyle and including this in our voting behaviour is very important. 


What separates the climate master from the other econometrics master tracks and why did you choose to study climate econometrics?

While econometrics is great, because you learn a lot of maths and techniques, and you get to meet a lot of very smart and interesting people, there is no clear objective you can apply it to. I knew from a young age that, if I wanted to get out of bed every day and be happy, I would need some kind of purpose. I would need to go to my work and have something to point at and think: “This is what I am contributing to”. So, when I found climate econometrics and, since climate change is one of the most pressing issues up until the day we solve it, I decided to make it my mission to contribute to a solution. For me, climate econometrics turned out to be the perfect choice, because I wanted to find somewhere I could make this contribution using what I learned in econometrics.

While studying, I found out that a lot of the research surrounding sustainability is being done by people that have a non-numeric background. This means that, if you decide to study climate econometrics, you will get into contact with a lot of people who know a lot about many different fields ranging from climate, to land-use change, to geology and so on. These people do not have the numeric background that we do, so we have so much to add.

I really hope more people start studying climate econometrics, because I think that econometricians can bring great value to climate sciences. Whether that is by accurately predicting flood risks or by working for insurance companies and advising people about risks to have them make smarter choices.


What are some interesting courses that really define the Climate Econometrics master?

A good example is a course that I did not take, the Climate Impacts and Policy course, where you study the economic side of climate change. I did take Advanced Spatial Analyses, which was a lot of fun. I learned how to use things like map data, which I had never done before. I also took a course on hydrology, so now I know a lot about the weather circulations all across the earth, which is something I never expected I would know so much about!


Is there anything else that you think makes the climate econometrics track unique?

Something I really like about climate econometrics is that it has really cool thesis subjects. There are all sorts of research subjects from many different departments with actual, pressing real-life issues. They have a lot of data, but they don’t have nearly enough people who can handle the data like we can, so they really need your help and expertise. 

You also get a lot of interesting insights. For example, in the first course, we learned about hurricanes and initially I thought the wind speed would be a very important part of the risk. But then the lecturer told us that, while wind can blow houses apart, it is mostly the storm surges, because when the wind is blowing that strongly, it also pushes all the water up onto the land. So, while your house may survive the strong wind, it is not going to survive the five-metre-high wall of water that slams into it.

She also told us that the warning system that is used to help people evacuate in time is going to be adapted to include this information on storm surges to more accurately represent the risk. I left that lecture fascinated with the idea that, when the lecturer will be old and her grandkids ask what she did for a living, she could respond with: “I developed an improved hurricane warning system that prevents thousands of unnecessary deaths each year.” Being able to apply the knowledge that we gained to an area where it is really needed, to me, is the ultimate goal of science!


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