After my alarm went off this morning, I went over to the shower and turned on the water. It ran for a minute or two before it was hot, while I did my ritual morning pee. I took a shower, toweled off, got dressed, and made some eggs for breakfast. Then I took the trash out.
So, it was a pretty normal morning.
Now on one hand, this is anything but normal — it is the miracle of the modern world. All of this — the water supply, the sanitation system, the food, clothes — coming together with such ease like never before in human history. There isn’t sewage running down the street. I don’t need to walk miles to get fresh water like much of the developing world does. I don’t need to make my own clothes or raise chickens or hunt for food, like human beings have done for millennia. It’s amazing.
From another perspective, this is anything but normal for a different reason. And that is: that I don’t see the impact of my actions, the impact of the systems that I am a part of. For almost all of human history there was no hiding our impact. In fact, to do so wasn’t even an option because we didn’t have the technology. These days, it’s easy to hide.
What do I mean by the impact?
Let’s look at my morning again.
I live in San Diego, practically a desert, so where does the fresh water for my toilet and my shower come from? How much water was used while it heated up? What happens after I’ve used it? Who made the towel that I dried off with? Under what kind of conditions? Is it from a factory that pollutes our rivers? What about the eggs that I had for breakfast, where are they from? After I threw the garbage down the trash shoot, what happens to it? I assume a landfill, but where?
I don’t know.
But is that my responsibility? Shouldn’t the city and state officials be managing things like the water, sewage, and trash? Probably. But how good of a job are they doing? Is it sustainable? And who is looking after the other systems — the towel, clothes, and eggs?
The scale and complexities of these systems is unprecedented in human history. It can be daunting, overwhelming, and a source of confusion and despair. It is a full time job managing just one aspect of one of these systems.
So it’s hidden.
In some part, it’s hidden because that makes it easy. It cuts down on the complexity. It’s user-friendly!
“Pipe the sewage away, I don’t want to be anywhere near that.”
“Don’t tell me about the eggs, just box them up and sell them to me.”
“Just keep the water flowing, I have enough to worry about.”
But fundamentally I don’t think we hide it because it’s easy. I think we hide it because we’re uncomfortable with the truth.
If we’re honest, we can see that we avoid knowing about these things. They can be painful truths. What kind of conditions do the chickens live in where the eggs come from? What’s the status of the fresh water supply to desert cities like San Diego? What are the environmental standards like in India where my towel was made? If we knew the answers to those kinds of questions, we would naturally make different choices.
I remember being upset with organizations like PETA and documentaries like Forks Over Knives that used shock and awe to scare people into action. Showing terrible video clips of different aspects of these systems we’re talking about.
But recently I realized it wasn’t shock and awe. It was just the truth of what’s happening. And the truth was painful to me. The “shock” was simply the gap between what I saw in my day-to-day living and what was happening in the hidden peripheries of the systems that I participate in. Hidden peripheries like cow lots in Texas or conditions in Bangladesh or the lack of sanitation in Haiti.
You might think that my morning had nothing to do with that. It was only a short shower, a small bag of trash, and 2 eggs. What’s the big deal? But it matters. All of the little actions of the individual add up to a giant effect.
Our world is being deeply impacted by our accumulated actions:
· More than 1 million species are at risk of extinction. By mid-century, as many as 30–50% of the total species found on Earth will have disappeared.
· Sea levels are rising at the fastest rate in 3,000 years.
· Tropical forests are being destroyed at a rate of about 31,000 square miles a year — an area equivalent to the state of South Carolina.
· Approximately 9 billion chickens and 39 million cows are killed in the U.S. each year. (Cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.)
· In just 55 years, humans have managed to wipe out 90% of the ocean’s top predators including sharks, bluefin tuna, swordfish, marlin, and king mackerel.
These and many other facts don’t need to end at being painful truths. Consider that pain is your own soul calling you to action, calling you to new clarity and vision. These can be opportunities to make a difference in the world, to contribute, restore, and heal. Each of our actions is a vote for the kind of systems that we want. Our actions are votes for a certain kind of world, a certain kind of future.
It’s possible to shed more light on the impact that each of our own individual actions have on the world.
It’s possible to bring more transparency to the systems that we participate in.
And it’s possible for each of us to have a new global awareness.
I think that is the real opportunity of our generation — to redefine “home” and to redefine “family” to include the whole world and all of the beings in it. The same technology and systems that can be used to destroy our planet can be used to connect and restore it. Our lives can contribute to that in small and large ways.
Let’s stop ignoring and running from our impact on the planet.
Let’s own our impact and create something new.
Let’s create a sustainable, beautiful home for our global family.
If you’re looking to learn more, check out some of the powerful documentaries that have come out recently. I’m thinking of Kiss The Ground (Netflix), David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet (Netflix), and The Biggest Little Farm (Amazon Video). Take small inspired actions and build some momentum in your life in creating a more sustainable world.