05 March 2010

What Matters Most?

5 March 2010

The question, "what matters most?" has been addressed by many august personages, and each seems to espouse certainty that their chosen specialty is the first and most important need. And who could argue that we must attend to the world’s children, women, air, water, oceans, and animals; all seem to be in crisis. And of course, we in the developed world, especially in the USA, sit back lamenting that we certainly can’t act unilaterally, because it would cost us too much; furthermore, even if we change our ways, those Chinese will just continue polluting, and our righteousness will be rendered irrelevant. So we might as well continue in our indulgences; after all, they are comforting, and one person’s profligacies really don’t matter, do they?

I argue that they do matter, and greatly. Individuals must be responsible for their own actions -- this is part of living in a society. That means being responsible for the impact of one’s purchases. Toilet paper is the most mundane but real example: one brand promotes deforestation, climate change, habitat destruction, and another supports recycling. As it goes for the individual, so it must go for a nation. The world simultaneously admires the USA for its innovations and culture, and scorns us for our hypocrisy in being the world’s largest per capita consume and polluter as we lecture everyone else about the errors of their ways.

I think what matters most is for us as individuals to start being responsible for the consequences of our actions, and as a nation. I suspect that the other cultures of the world, who look to the USA for leadership, will gladly follow. Furthermore, rather than cripple our economy, it will drive a renaissance of American leadership.

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