Being an optimist, I tend to avoid the news. I try to focus on the positives, on the good things people are doing. But inevitably, my attention gets drawn towards the numerous struggles facing humanity. And since putting your head in the sand never makes your problems disappear, it seems prudent to address these challenges. We must identify the issues before we can work towards change. We all must do our part, in our own unique way.
Which all sounds reasonable, until I started to delve into it. I quickly realized I wasn’t going to be able to cover all, or even the top struggles, in one blog. I’ve decided to break it down into a two-part series. This post I will look at the issues of Food & Water, Sustainable Development & Climate Change, Peace & Conflict, Global Finance and the Sex Trafficking Industry.
Yesterday I was mindlessly scrolling through the television channels while eating my lunch when a broadcast on CNN caught my eye, and then my heart. The U.N. made a statement that the world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since 1945. 20 million people are at risk of starvation in Kenya, Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia. The devastation of a massive drought, combined with the Terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, blocking roads and stealing aid have combined to create this horrific situation.
The distribution of food and water globally is a challenge that many have already identified and are working towards changing. The problem is one that permeates many of the big issues facing humankind. There is a huge gap between the have’s and the have not’s. In the third world, approximately 36 million people starve to death every year, while in the first world, 66% of Americans are either obese or overweight.
Factory farming, particularly the inhuman treatment of factory farmed animals, is a blight on a supposedly civilized world. The facts are that 37% of CH4 (methane) emissions are caused by factory farming. 41 million metric tons of CO2 emissions are created from burning fossil fuels to produce fertilizers. And 2.4 billion tons of CO2 emissions are caused by deforestation for animal crop feed. I viewed a Ted Talk where the speaker identified that if every person in the world were to commit to a vegetarian diet, even only for two days of the week, the positive impact would be significant. You can read more in-depth commentaries on this issue in Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer or The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan. The efforts of a few folks on the fringe aren’t enough; there needs to be a global commitment.
Access to clean water should be a basic human right. It’s outrageous to me that some people consume bottled water by the caseload while others are forced to drink from contaminated water supplies. I am inspired by the human ability to create solutions, like the invention of portable and inexpensive water purifying systems. But again, the challenge comes to distribution and economics.
Sustainable development projects are emerging. I watched an excellent Ted Talk by Josette Sheeran. She left her successful banking career to travel to Africa and work with the community to educate and facilitate change. Passionately, she explains how every 10 seconds we lose a child to hunger. She goes on to cite statistics proving we have the technologies and systems to end hunger now. It’s about transforming through knowledge. It’s about farming techniques like permaculture. It’s about availability and distribution of nutrition, such as the World Food Programme’s Wawa Mum, a complete meal produced for only 17 cents a packet. Despite these initiatives, there needs to be more support, time, money and education into creating community driven solutions to sustainable food production.
In the oil and gas industry there is a reluctance to embrace the need to develop sustainable energy resources. The current system is highly beneficial for the CEO’s of oil and gas companies and the sheer magnitude of effort that replacing it would require is likely daunting. However, scientists and researchers are hard at work exploring alternatives and there is a growing body of possibilities including biofuels, hydropower, electricity, solar, geothermal and nuclear.
Climate change and global warming are remarkably still debated as to the reality of their existence. Some claim that the climate changes we are witnessing are simply part of the natural range of conditions on the planet Earth over time. This black and white thinking is no more helpful in this situation than any other. The fact that the earth undergoes climate shifts that aren’t related to human interference is acknowledged by both sides. Al Gore explored the impact back in 2006 in the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. More recently, in 2012, environmental photographer James Balog illustrated the magnitude of the problem in Chasing Ice. Even if you don’t believe that global warming is an issue, it’s hard to deny that the way human beings are consuming resources, polluting the environment, and treating the Earth is destructive.
Peace and Conflict have forever been a part of human existence, but that doesn’t mean the goal towards peace isn’t attainable or at least worth aiming for. Ken Robinson reasons that for peace to occur on a global scale, it must first begin with the individual. And yet it is a chicken and egg scenario, for how does a person born into war-torn regions such as Syria find peace within themselves?
In 2008 the United States spent over 1$Trillion on their military, which, by the way, is twice the amount spent by all the other countries on Earth combined. Yet Trump wants to spend more to protect Americans against all others, who are seen as the Enemy. It’s time to shift from the War on Drugs and the War on Terror to a Revolution against Greed and Corruption, Self-Advancement, Entitlement and Exclusionism. To learn more about a real-life example of how to live “beyond politics, poverty and war,” check out The Venus Project.
Global Economy is yet another example of inequality. At present, 1% of the world elite controls half of the total world finances, while the richest 10% controls 90% of the global economy. The fair distribution of wealth is a difficult challenge to overcome. Those ten percent of people are very powerful and connected politically. While there are a few philanthropists like Oprah and Bill Gates, many of the world elite are driven by greed and corruption. They benefit from the status quo, and work to ensure that the current system continues.
While filming one of his documentaries Michael Moore interviewed the chairman of Nike, Phil Knight. He was trying to hold him accountable for using Indonesian teenage girls working in factories for 40 cents a day. Moore suggested that if he were to hire unemployed Americans, particularly those in Flint, Michigan, instead, Nike would still make a profit and he himself would perhaps be, instead of a billionaire, a half billionaire. The Nike chairman refused. After watching I wanted to burn my Nikes. Instead, I committed to never buying another Nike product again, and I haven’t.
The sex trafficking industry is another issue plaguing humanity. It is intolerable and quite frankly, appalling to me that it continues to exist. Clearly there is a market and demand. Apparently abusive and demeaning practices are not limited to animals and the environment, but are considered appropriate towards human beings as well. Particularly women and girls. Please open the links to Ashton’s Kutcher’s video from Facebook and Sunitha Krishnan’s Ted Talk, The Fight Against Sex Slavery to inform yourself of the reality of this horrific situation. You can also check out the movie Whistleblower, starring Rachel Weisz, for an emotionally impacting dramatization.
It can feel overwhelming, when you start to look at these challenges. But it is important not to let the fear or the immensity of the situation keep you from acting, from not taking responsibility. If we all do our part, with the gifts we have, in our little part of the world, we can be the change we want to see in the world. One small step at a time.
So yeah, I’m feeling compassion about the struggles facing humanity.