What to Do?

I was reading the findings from David Suzuki’s latest environmental awareness campaign. It’s a series of conferences and town hall type meetings called “If YOU were Prime Minister…”. It’s a good idea in terms of expanding the discourse and engaging lots of people in an important, even critical aspect of our public life. It grabbed me in part because I’m with my parents this week and listening to lots and lots of people confidently saying all this ‘green stuff’ is just a fad, global warming is alarmist, Fox News said that Al Gore’s movie was wrong on the facts, and besides he uses too much electricity…etc.

I made a feeble attempt to tell my father and his friends about global warming: I wanted to share with them that one of my clients working with the meteorological agency for a major nation was told there’s no longer any doubt among serious scientists that the phenomenon is real, that it is at least aggravated by human beings and is portending bad stuff if we don’t change our ways. Their response was “Everyone has their opinion”.

I watched myself back away from the conversation to keep peace in the family, but felt the same sense of powerlessness I sometimes feel in other discussions when it seems our point of view is becoming more important than our commitment to action. It seems to me to reveal a growing resignation, a belief that nothing we do makes much, if any, difference anyway (so why bother?).

Part of the problem is there are so many problems. Where do we start? Where are the points of leverage? How do we deal with the endless commentaries and backyard conversations that do little more than aggravate our anxiety and further numb us from moving into action? Are we becoming a spectator society where we’re satisfied to just witness the mess and argue opinions with little or no commitment to facts or resolution of our diverse views and experience?

Suzuki’s campaign, like many others, is trying to mobilize enough people to focus on what he sees as important to make a difference. I also want to mobilize enough of us to take on many of the ‘intractable’ problems that seem to plague us, as well as focus on the social impacts of an aging society. I call the ‘biggies’—the environment, poverty, hunger, corruption, public apathy, corporate greed, AIDS and pandemics, water and food supplies, ‘peak oil’, refugees, terrorism, genocides, trafficking in human beings, nuclear proliferation—my list of ‘horribles’. We talk about these mostly life-or-death-critical things over dinner, and at the end of the conversation wring our hands and declare how ‘horrible’ they are.

There is no shortage of things to do. The challenge is to choose. Do something today.

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