...But a great deal of the suffering [in the world] is "surplus" -- not inevitable. Every child will eventually die, but it is not inevitable that hundreds of thousands of children go to bed hungry every night, or that millions die young every year of hunger or hunger-related diseases...
...Dolphins will die, but they do no need to choke to death or drown as a by-product of our catching tuna...
...If all this "surplus" unnecessary suffering were happening in some parallel universe where we could see it, but not affect it, that would be one thing. We would, doubtless, feel sad, pray for the welfare of these unfortunates, and go on with our lives. However, this kind of suffering is happening in this world and furthermore [much of it] is happening as the direct result of the habits, choices and ways of living in which we, in the developed, high-consuming world, engage. To a degree beyond the understanding of most of us, we are a direct, if unwitting, cause of much of this misery. For us to meet the cause of much of this suffering, we need only a mirror. We just don't know this because we've gotten so used to the carnage and depletion of resources that have been required to support the way of life we have created.
What I'm saying may sound harsh and hard to let in, but stay with it. It took some courage, and sensitivity to your own resistance and denial to get this far!
Obviously, we don't torture or kill animals like an adolescent picking wings off a fly. we don't arrange for lakes to be poisoned, snatch food from babies' mouths or make 'hit lists' of species we want to see exterminated. In general, we hold ourselves to be decent, reasonably loving and considerate people. We wouldn't consciously ravage the Earth, set ourselves up for a painful death, or commit our children to a life of suffering.
Yet we are doing it. If we could experience directly the results of what we are doing, and understand the causal connection, we could not go on as we are. I am not selling some action plan in this essay or trying to convince you to do anything, or get you to feel guilty. I simply want you to know what is happening and the part we play in it. And I believe, as you come to know, understand, and care about what we are doing, you will know what to do.
There are many enemies to awareness. Many of these are within us, the fear of facing the guilt over what we are doing, and the changes that will be ethically necessary for us when we do know, just to name two. The sheer momentum of habits of action and thinking keeps pulling us back to the familiar old ways that have worked in the past. It is very hard to let in the understanding of our inextricable involvement in causing this pain.
We want to deny it: "It's not really happening this way, and anyway, I have nothing to do with it." We want to blame the victim: "They bring it on themselves.!" Or at least, we want to blame someone else: "those evil multinationals..." (or fast food joints, or oil companies...). we plead helplessness: "I've got my own life to live; I can't handle it." And we retreat to resignation: "What can one person do anyway? It's just the way the world is."
But avoid it as we might, nothing really works to insulate us totally:..... It is so hard to believe how or even that this [the effect of media] is happening. Humans have lived successfully on the planet for millennia..... we are now operating far beyond the limits of what we really know about how the world works. Newton once said he was "only a boy playing on the seashore... while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me." This is certainly true of us.
There are also forces at work outside of you to blunt awareness. It is in the apparent, short-term interest of many companies and most politicians to keep you consuming unconsciously. McDonald's, rightfully suspecting that children might not be such avid consumers of meat if they realized Bossie had to be murdered to produce it, has suggested that hamburgers grow in hamburger patches and are eager to be consumed! If hamburger chains arranged to slaughter a cow a day in front of their parking lots, or were required to store in each outlet an appropriate amount of the destructive tons of manure produced as by-product of beef, or required to acknowledge publicly their methane contribution to global warming, or list the species made extinct in the process of rain forest beef production, consumption might go down.
...The press agents who plan a "dis-information" campaign to keep DuPont producing the ozone-destroying CFC gasses don't want you to understand the chemistry of ozone loss. And surely they must begin by actively not knowing themselves. So they search for, buy, and trumpet dubious "research," confusing the issues. Our former "I am an environmentalist" president, fearful of losing a few votes if he took a stand, continues to hold out for our right to destroy the climate in the face of pressure from most of a civilized world, far more willing than we to cut down on CO2 and CFC production, even though they already produce far less than we. The United States, led by the men we elected, has stonewalled attempts to reduce global warming and ozone loss. If we really paid attention to our nation's track record, we would be filled with shame.
... Even the increasing flood of advertising on "environmentally friendly" products is as much a distraction as a help. Much of this "green merchandising" is of questionable truth and of no great significance even when true. It is mostly public relations image management telling us what they want us to believe -- and what we want to hear. Yes, some products are marginally less destructive than others, but the sheer mass amount of consumption is a far more important problem than the details of what is consumed.
A naive adolescent, hearing this offer, might be ecstatic, but you would not have to be very mature to realize the danger. As soon as you had paid a couple bills, you'd want out of this necessarily dangerous deal. No matter how disciplined and rational you are, if you had to stay in this situation, you'd soon be buying up a storm. You'll all be bankrupt soon, so you might as well go down in style!
A situation in which behavior that seems immediately beneficial to the individual, but destructive socially -- and to the individual in the long run -- is called an incentive trap. The world is full of these and they present some of our worst dangers.
In the Sahel region of Africa, cattle are wealth. Obviously it pays the individual owner of a herd to augment his by a few head. When everyone does, the area is quickly overgrazed, and the Sahara moves a few miles father south. The use of mercury in gold mining in the Brazilian Amazon has been made illegal because of the long-term health hazard of mercury in the biosphere. however, alternatives are very expensive, so everyone winks at the black market in mercury. j This is a particularly vicious incentive trap, the children of the miners will be among those who are neurologically damaged, but the use goes on.
Fed up with the local public school? No problem; send your child to a private school and watch the public school, deprived of your support, deteriorate a little more. Water doesn't taste good? Buy a purification system and watch the public supply get worse. In a hurry to do an errand? Drive, and add to the greenhouse effect. Our society is riddled with these traps.
Would you be the first to reduce your herd, send your child to that inferior school, drink that bad water, or walk to your errand? Nobody is, and the world slowly sinks.
You might, as an experiment, examine how many of these traps you can find that involve you.
The whole world is sharing one credit card and we're all on a binge with it!
Next time you take a bath, don't drain the water. Keep it around. Have everybody in your family bathe in it. Invite some people off the street to join in! hey -- let your dog join the fun! Now, do you want to give your infant daughter a bath in it? The would be unthinkable, wouldn't it? Sorry to gross you out, but this is essentially what we are doing to our lakes, rivers, and oceans. We dump our wastes -- chemical, biological, and medical -- to the point that one river in Ohio caught fire one day some years ago. Jacques Cousteau says the oceans have ten to twenty more years before they are unlivable for many creatures...
[Page editor:They say that experience is the best teacher. Try some of these experiences, or just visualize them, so that you know from experience what the planet is experiencing:]
Next time you go swimming or take a bath, try holding your head under water for ninety seconds. Comfy? Feel the escalating panic as the body demands oxygen, and cannot get? Feel the rapidly mounting terror? In well under sixty seconds, most of us would do anything for a shot of oxygen. As we destroy the rain forest and endanger the phyto-plankton, we are playing dice with our two primary sources of the oxygen that this experiment shows to be absolutely necessary for life....
Has your house ever been broken into and trashed or your favorite ossessions stolen? Has this ever happened to a friend? When we clear-cut an old-growth forest, we are ripping off and defiling the homes of millions of creatures...