Blog Action Day: American Apathy and Compassion
Twenty three percent. That's the percentage of global energy consumed by U.S. citizens, which only has 5% of the world's population (source: World Resource Institute). If the rest of the world consumed as Americans do, it would take 5.4 earths to meet our resource needs (source: Global Footprint Network). Better hope those moon and Mars programs get funding!
In all seriousness, we as Americans have become incredible consumers of the world's resources. In addition to energy, we eat more meat than any other society. American meat consumption accounts for 59% - that's right, 59% - of the country's agricultural products (feed). Think about that. Of all the crops we grow, 59% to raise beef, chicken and other meat stocks, while only 33% is used for actual food (source: World Resource Institute). The carbon emissions resulting from all of the extra grains grown to feed animals astounds me.
Forget about gas guzzlers. What if we only ate meat once a day, or even every other day? Can you imagine the positive impact on our national carbon footprint (not to mention our waistlines)?
Yet, when we find ourselves faced with every day decisions about changing our ways -- from walking vs driving, from a spinach omelette vs. a pastrami sandwich -- we as a country seem to turn our back on the world. The American Dream of fulfillment (anything we want, anytime) has turned into a vicious boomerang punishing the world. We turn a blind eye on our habits.
With a major climate bill stalled in the Senate, and the world's most important environmental conference since Kyoto looming, the country seems poised to continue our national environmental irreverence. Is there compassion for the world we live in?
Four Great American Barriers to Change: Apathy, Hopelessness, Cost and Politics
What would George Washington say if faced with our environmental crisis?
Legitimate or not, one always finds a rationale behind the American anti-green pathos. Here are the four that seem to occur most frequently...
1) Despite the obviously accelerating climate crisis and the very real and terrible consequences climate change represents, we find ourselves constantly distracted, from healthcare and economic issues to poverty and war. All of these are meaningful issues, but because the environment is smoving towards cataclysmic crisis over a period of decades rather than an immediate state of danger, it's easy to set it aside. Besides, that NY Strip sure looks good right about now!
2) Further, one can feel powerless to affect change with such a massive issue. How can one person do anything to turn this around (here are five changes I've enacted to reduce my carbon footprint)? When hope is not apparent, when you feel your actions are inconsequential, why bother doing anything? As a society, we must do a better job encouraging individuals and their positive impact on the climate.
3) The high cost of buying more sustainable goods seems to be a deterrent. The good news here is that we are looking at a short-term problem. More and more companies view green and sustainability approaches as a means to boost their social responsibility programs. As time continues to pass, we now see sustainability actually driving new innovation and profits (source: Harvard Business Review)!
4) Finally, we have conservative and sometimes religious politicians that want to deny or minimize the impact of climate change. One could lament for years about bipartisan politics and theological ills. Whatever the motive, our earth has become politicized instead of nurtured. As a result, we see the environment as a battle ground to fight about liberal vs. conservative, long term planning vs. free economy, and science vs. religion.
Politicians know they can avoid supporting the climate because their constituents get distracted by short-term issues. Yet do any of these conflicting philosophies actually run counter to caring for the environment? Can't you be conservative, love free economies, believe devoutly in God, and love the Earth with caring actions, too?
In all of these four reasons, one can see a travesty of justice: The only loser remains our immediate future.
In the Woods...
Regardless of reason, one must look into their hearts and ask themselves, do I want this? Do we really want to continue consuming voraciously in this mindless fashion?
Sometimes, it takes a simple walk in outside. That's my recommendation for those who don't know what to do today.
Putting one foot in front of the other, we move through our gorgeous world. As we walk in our local parks and forests, a sense of peace seems to inevitably rise within. The great American transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "In the woods, we return to reason and faith." In that sense, walking in our natural world we arrive.
It is in such a meditative moment that one could think about this issue. Do you love your life and this world? If so, are you doing everything you personally can?
Do not minimize the power of your actions. Consider Care2's rendition of the Butterfly effect:
The "Butterfly Effect" reference is to a story about the flap of a butterfly's wings in the Brazilian rain forest, that moves the air, that redirects the breeze, that alters the wind, and eventually leads to a hurricane moving up the east coast of America. A small change that results in an incredible outcome.
Will you become one of the growing body of Americans whose compassion will turn the tide of apathy and inaction? Will you take just one action today to preserve our climate?