Top 10 Actions for a Better World

February 26, 2008
By
The world is full of tragedies: global warming, deforestation, sweat shops, human rights crises in Darfur, conflict in the Middle East, poverty on the streets of our cities. It's tempting to resign ourselves to fatalism and decide that the problems of the world are too big for us to fix—to insist that nothing we do could make a difference. But this kind of mentality is a recipe for disaster. History teaches us over and over, through events such as the Holocaust and Hurricane Katrina, the dangers of apathy. You don't have to be a hero to make a difference in the world. If you are excited about making a difference in the world but don't know where to start, consider my shortlist of Top 10 Actions, inspired by what I read in The Better World Handbook, a guide to living your daily life in a wholesome, vibrant way that will leave your community, and the world at large, better than you found it.

#1: Buy A Low Emission, Fuel Efficient Car
Cars are a major source of pollutants which contribute to global warming and acid rain. Driving eco-friendly car is a great way to minimize damage. Whenever possible, biking and walking are great alternatives to driving.

#2: Limit Your Work Time
Don't let work take over your life. The average American works 1,966 hours each year. That's 235 more than the United Kingdom, 310 more than France, 392 more than Germany, and 414 more hours than Sweden. Men are working on average 100 hours more and women 233 hours more per year in 1993 than in 1976. Almost 20% of Americans worked 49 hours or more each week. That's a full extra 8 hour day. So next time your co-worker asks you to take that extra shift, politely decline and make some time for your friends, family, a creative project, or a book you always wanted to read.

#3: Buy Less Stuff
Our culture trains us to be consumers, but there are many benefits to frugality. By consuming less, we reduce strain on natural resources and workers. We need less money to survive, and therefore can spend more time meaningfully, with our loved ones or in contemplation. While it's wonderful to enjoy the things we have in life, remember: everything you own owns you. So be aware of the things you purchase. Don't be afraid to fix things that are broken, purchase used things, borrow, and re-use.

#4: Buy Products From Socially Responsible Companies
Take the time to research the companies you buy from on a regular basis. How do they treat their workers? Their competitors? The environment? Every dollar you spend is a vote that indicates your desire to keep a certain company in business; it is your responsibility to make sure your purchase does not come at the cost of social or environmental justice. Look for labels such as Fair Trade and Certified Organic.

#5: Make Time for Loved Ones
Relationships take time. Our fast-paced culture often neglects the importance of quality relationships, placing school and career at the forefront. But life is short, and too often we waste it away on meaningless trophies and material gain. Take time to get to know the people around you, from the barista who sells you coffee at Seattle's to the boy you sit next to in History class to your own mother. You might be surprised at the amazing stories you never knew about the people you see every day.

#6: Eat Less Meat
Albert Einstein once said: "Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances of survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." Producing meat requires tremendous amounts of natural resources and creates a great deal of waste. We use about one fourth of the earth's land to graze cattle. Animal agriculture causes 80% of annual world deforestation. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, but only 25 gallons to produce one pound of wheat. One acre of land produces 250 pounds of beef; the same land could be used to produce 50,000 pounds of tomatoes, 40,000 pounds of potatoes, or 30,000 pounds of carrots. These facts wouldn't be so shocking if it weren't for the fact that nearly 29% of the world's population, or 1.6 billion people, are undernourished: between 50 million people die each year of hunger, many of them children. Nevertheless, we feed 72% of all grain grown in the world to livestock. Due to the high demand for beef in the 1st world, agribusiness has transformed much of Central and South America's agricultural land into pastures for raising beef exported to the United States, Australia, and Europe. The end result is that the wealthy of the world eat grain-fed beef—developing problems such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease—while over a billion people go hungry each day due to a lack of grain.

#7: Recycle
If it can be recycled, recycle it. If you don't, it will sit in a landfill, causing groundwater contamination, production of methane gases, disease, and injuries to wildlife.

#8: Conserve Energy And Water
Electricity is so convenient today that it is easy to forget that it is usually produced by burning non-renewable heavily-polluting fossil fuels. Home energy conservation will bring us cleaner air, cleaner water, a safeguard against global warming, and a habitat undisturbed from strip-mining and drilling—overall, a more sustainable society. And it doesn't hurt that saving energy also saves money too.

#9: Watch Less TV
The television offers some great entertainment, but sometimes it becomes a way to mindlessly waste time instead of truly enjoying or learning anything. When you watch TV, try to consult TV listings and decide what to watch beforehand, rather than channel-surfing and settling on something just because it's there.

#10: Join an Organization You Care About
The problems of the world are overwhelming, but you don't have to tackle them alone. Join a club or organization dedicated to something you care about, whether it's music, conservation, or human rights. Becoming part of a group of like-minded people will motivate and inspire you.

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Thank you for taking the time to read about all 10 actions. I hope they will pique your interest in these issues that most people ignore every day. If so, I invite you to read more in The Better World Handbook.





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