Endeavours such as Earth Hour perplex me sometimes. We do not need to symbolically shut off lights for an hour, we need to stop using as much of the world’s resources as we want just because we can; not for an hour, forever. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to change policy towards a more sustainable way of living, and even those who are, are human, and undoubtedly find it extremely hard to change some of the basic ways in which we live. So we try our best, and no one is arguing that supporting Earth Hour is worse than not supporting it. Looking at the glass half-full leads to more being done than despairing does. And so, in honour of the Week of Understanding, I want to focus on an admittedly small, but important step that I took towards trying to make the world a better place.
The stats are truly incomprehensible – “a quarter-pound hamburger derived from steers [beef] raised in Central America represents the loss of 55 square feet of immeasurably valuable tropical rain forest” (If You Love This Planet; A Plan to Save the Earth, pg. 60), “It takes 13 pounds of grain and soybeans and 435 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef, 6 pounds for 1 pound of pork, and 3-4 pounds for 1 pound of poultry and eggs” (160). The understanding necessary, then, to correct this horrible progression that can only end with the fatal depletion of the resources this planet has to offer, is quite general. Many choose to focus on the understanding based on expanding our sphere of moral concern (a topic I will return to in a later post) to include non-human animals. By considering non-human animals to have a (limited) set of rights that ought to prevent them from being tortured and ultimately bred to serve the singular purpose of feeding (rich) humans, it is clear what has to follow. No, my no longer eating non-human animals will not decrease these numbers on its own. But if everyone in Egypt thought along the same lines, no one would have shown up in Tahrir Square. The other way to understand these statistics is that we must show a much greater level of compassion for our fellow human beings. If non-humans animals are hard to envision as part of your moral community, consider the immense resource depletion simply in terms of robbing the approximately one billion starving humans on the planet from much-needed food and water.
If the small step of changing your diet seems about as useful for the good of the planet as shutting off your electricity for an hour does, consider that it is better than doing nothing, and that no one lives in isolation: your actions will undoubtedly affect those around you. The mainstream media will not take advantage of its immense power and reach to effect this change, so let us use the Week of Understanding – as good a time as any – to take another small step towards living an ethical life.