Saving the World: What You Can Do

Two years ago I put together a set of 15 actions that anyone can take to help create a new relater-sharer culture, a new, sustainable, collaborative and egalitarian economy and a new, responsible political system. I thought it would be useful to integrate this ‘what you can do’ list with actions that I have argued need to be done either as top-down political actions (institutional changes to public policies, programs and laws), or as peer-to-peer grassroots collective actions. To do so, I have regrouped the 15 actions into four categories:
  • Personal learning and preparedness actions (things you do alone)
  • Personal actions you do one-on-one (exemplary actions that show the way for others by example)
  • Personal actions you do as part of community (collective actions)
  • Personal actions you do to bring about high-level political and economic reform
The result is summarized in the above diagram. Here is an explanation of the 15 actions, sorted by category:

Personal Learning and Preparedness Actions:

. Learn and Practice Critical Thinking: Challenge ‘established wisdom’, especially when your instincts tell you it’s dubious. Learn your vulnerability to spin, and how to recognize and discount it. Learn to avoid the intellectual fallacies of groupthink and arrogance, but also avoid black hat thinking. Develop emotional intelligence, but never use it to manipulate.
. Re-Learn How to Imagine: The school system and most business environments drive it out of us, and it’s easy to get caught up in your own left brain. It can also be frightening: imagining literally means putting your thoughts into images. But it’s powerful, motivating, educational, and creative. Imagine — picture it — what it happening in Sudan where genocide is happening right now. Imagine what is happening in the factory farms before you decide what to make for dinner. Imagine what you could be doing if it wasn’t for your boring, meaningless job. Imagine a better way of doing something, a better way to live. Imagine what could be. Your instincts will tell you what to do next. If we can’t imagine, we can do anything. That’s what got us into this mess.
. Reconnect With Your Senses and Instincts: Spend time both in nature, away from civilization, and with people, listening and talking about things that matter. In nature, reawaken and reconnect with your senses, focus each sense until you really see, hear, smell, taste, feel, connect with the rest of the living organism called Earth. Open yourself up to the joy, and learning of nature. Pay attention. Re-learn to wonder. Reconnect with your instincts, listen to them, and don’t let other people tell you you’re stupid, crazy, irrational, or immoral. If you’re unhappy it’s for a reason. Your gut feeling, your intuition, is written in your DNA, and it’s the source of knowledge that allows every living creature to know what to do. And it worked for man for the first three million years of his life on Earth as well — before language, before laws, before codes of right and wrong — and these were arguably the most successful, leisurely, and happy years of man’s existence. Listen to them, and they’ll tell you what to do.
. Be Good to Yourself: You’re not going to be any use saving the world if you’re depressed, unfit or stressed out. Don’t take the problems of the world personally, or blame yourself for them. Understand that at the heart of the modern age is a core of grief but don’t let that grief consume you. If news or failure to accomplish something gets you down, go out and do something you enjoy. Eat healthy and stay fit, but don’t make a religion of it. Learn how to prevent illnesses instead of waiting for them to occur. Spend time with people who like you, and accept their compliments warmly. Love yourself, realize that you can do anything you want to do. Appreciate that you’re part of the solution, and that makes you extraordinary.

Personal Actions You Do One-on-One:

. Listen, Learn, and Teach Others:  Have the courage to talk openly to people about things that really matter to you. Ignore the raised eyebrows and comments about your seriousness and intensity — you’ll find most people care, too. Then listen, don’t preach. Leave behind one practiced, important (to you), articulate idea or thought with the other person, like planting a seed. Learn to tell stories — it’s the only effective way to teach. But share what you know. When you’re talking to someone who strongly disagrees with you, listen, don’t try to convert them. There’s a reason why they feel so differently from you — ferret out and really understand what that reason is (don’t assume they’re ignorant or stupid). Then sow a single seed of doubt. And read quickly and selectively, but don’t let it keep you indoors, or away from people. The real learning is outside. So travel when you can, but forget the hotel chains and chain restaurants. Live with the locals, talk to them, try different things, listen and learn.
. Volunteer: Rather than sending guilt money, go out and spend time helping those suffering or in need. Pick a charity that you really care about — the soup kitchen, the animal shelter, whatever. Get involved, and talk to the people you’re helping. Don’t get talked into fundraising activities — really get out there and do something with your own two hands. You’ll learn a lot, you’ll feel better, you’ll make a difference, and you just might find out something important about yourself, about what needs to be done, about your purpose, about who needs your gift now.
. Stop at One and Encourage Others to Do Likewise: Consider the virtues of a single-child family. Learn why children in such families are the happiest and most successful. Better yet, adopt. Explain to others why you’re doing this, without being preachy about it.
. Be a Role Model: Talk to others about, and show others, what you’re doing, not just what you’re thinking. People are far more inspired by a good role model than a good speech. And if people tell you you’re a good role model, get out there and flaunt it in the right places — if you’re a woman engineer, go out to the schools and tell girls what a great career it is. If you’re doing half the things on this list, you’re a great role model — inspire others to follow your example.
. Infect Others With Your Spirit and Passion: Love openly, completely, as many people as you can. Be emotional, except in those very rare occasions when dispassion is needed. Smile excessively. But refuse to tolerate cruelty, suffering, unfairness, bullying, jealousy, apathy, despair, cynicism or hate, in yourself or others — alleviate it, disarm it, discharge it, whatever it takes to stop these negative emotions and activities, and appreciate that they’re signs of sickness, not evil.

Personal Actions You Do As Part of Community:

. Share Your Expertise & Knowledge: If you have talents, specialized know-how, or technical or scientific skills and knowledge that could be useful in solving birth control, clean energy, disease prevention, conservation, animal cruelty, pollution and waste, local self-sufficiency, non-animal foods, ‘more-with-less’ product streamlining, self-organization, collaboration, consumer and citizen awareness and activism, animal communication, conflict resolution, mental illness, and other issues contributing to environmental deterioration, create exchanges and spaces where others can access what you know, contact you, and collaborate with you and with others to solve these problems. This work is essential to making Sustainability Information Exchanges work: Using shared, citizen/consumer knowledge to wrench power from irresponsible oligopolies and corporatists, and creating peer-to-peer networks that will render them obsolete.
. Find and Do Meaningful Work: Each of us has talents, interests, and time. It’s amazing how many of us spend all our time doing work that we find uninteresting, and which doesn’t effectively use our talents. We become wage slaves, underemployed and bored because we’re convinced or afraid that a better job doesn’t exist. And we work so hard at it we have no time left to challenge that conviction or fear. That’s what the corporatists are counting on. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Find the time to figure out what you really would like to do with your life, how you’d really like to make a living. Then research the possibilities, talk to people who are doing it, find out what’s possible, learn what’s involved in creating your own natural, sustainable enterprise (and don’t listen to accountants or MBAs). If we were all doing jobs we loved, with people we love, and in charge of our own careers, the corporatists would have no staff, and their environmentally devastating empires would crumble. We need to create a whole peer-to-peer economy of sustainable, egalitarian, responsible enterprises to replace them, and it starts with each of us ensuring our genius is ‘on purpose’, and what we do is of meaningful use.
. Use Less Stuff: Consumerism is doubly addictive — you get the fleeting pleasure of acquiring something, and then you have to work harder and earn more money for The Man so you can pay off the debt you incurred to buy it. Learn to live a Radically Simple life — buy better quality stuff that lasts longer, make your own meals instead of using processed foods (and consider a vegan diet, using local ingredients), think before you buy, don’t get into debt (only buy when you have the cash in your account), buy local rather than imported goods (especially stuff from countries that have poor social and environmental standards), complain about excessive packaging, recycle, reuse, buy used, share tools with neighbours, turn off the lights, cover the pool, use energy-efficient lighting, keep your tires inflated, carpool, walk or bike instead of driving — you know what to do. Make a list, draw up a schedule, and do it. And then connect with, and teach others, to increase your own and your community’s resilience even more, while reducing your collective impact on the Earth.
. Become Less Dependent: Learn how to fix things and make things instead of always having to buy replacements. Cut your own lawn and perform other services yourself, so you need less money and are not so needlessly dependent on others. Learn how to teach your children, even if you don’t home-school them. Learn how to prevent, self-diagnose and self-treat accidents and illnesses. Learn how to resolve disputes and grievances without using the dysfunctional legal system. Self-sufficiency is good for your self-esteem, lowers stress, reduces consumption and waste, helps the environment, and is good exercise. And if things go badly for civilization this century, it could be a survival skill.
. Pioneer: If you have the time and the passion for it, pick a new cause, use the Internet to find like minds, do your homework, organize, and do something completely new. Establish an Intentional Community with people you love, self-selected, self-organized, self-sufficient, with people you love, and show the world how much more sense this makes than living in a community of strangers and driving long distances to work for someone you dislike so you can buy stuff you don’t need made by other strangers even unhappier with their lives than you are. Start a community energy co-op. Set up a ‘virtual’ market for local crafts, organic or free-range foods, or whatever needs better local distribution. Establisha community-based business. The new culture will be built bottom-up, one community at a time, and the sooner we start finding community models that work well in a post-civilization society, the better.

Personal Actions You Do to Bring About High-Level Political and Economic Reform:

. Become an Activist: Pick a cause you care about, research what needs to be done, use the Internet to organize, and do it. But follow Peter Singer’s advice to make sure your time is well-spent. Especially the parts about not getting caught up in administration, and not trying to change, or enforce, laws. The most fruitful activism is all about informing and educating people, making them aware of their options, and their power as citizens and consumers, often one person at a time, until enough people have changed their minds or their behaviours to change the system. The next most fruitful activism is the only thing that can bring about political and economic reform: Knowing how the existing system works, why it’s failing, why it is the way it is, and precisely how to change it. This requires patience, expertise, time and persistence. But it has paid off in Europe, for example, where energy conservation and alternative energy programs are light years ahead of North America’s, and where ecological tax-shifting has occurred because it was presented knowledgeably and effectively as a win-win.

I’m a never-say-die change provocateur, but I’ve left activism until last for a reason. I really believe it is the least effective, and most discouraging, thing one can do to try to make the world a better place. The advice from Peter Singer I linked to above is brilliant, absolutely essential if you’re determined to bring about political change, but I know some people who have followed it and still failed. The system works the way it does for a reason, and often that reason is to increase the wealth and power of those who already have a disproportionate share of it, and to throw impossible barriers in the road of anyone seeking to change the status quo, even when that status quo is obscene. As Singer says, “The real battle is for the hearts and minds of people. Keeping in touch with what the public is thinking, selecting a target, setting an achievable goal, getting accurate information, maintaining credibility, suggesting alternative solutions, being ready to talk to adversaries or to confront them if they will not talkóall of these are directed toward creating a campaign that is a practical means of making a difference.” Such work is not for everyone.

And it is not necessary that everyone be an activist. Unless saner minds prevail than the ones making most of the critical political and economic decisions today, we are heading on many fronts for a collision with unsustainability, and the inevitable political upheaval that always follows horrific scarcity and outrageous inequality in the distribution of wealth and power. In such a case the centralized and fragile institutions of our civilization may well not survive, making the struggle for needed political, legal and economic reforms moot. If that happens, billions of people will be looking for alternatives, another way to live, and those who have pursued the 15 actions above will be in the best position to show them how, and to lead our fierce and intelligent species forward to confront what could be its greatest challenge, and, after a long exile, to find our way home.

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14 Responses to Saving the World: What You Can Do

  1. What an excellent, well-organized resource!I see that in an earlier post you and Kevin Cameron were mixing it up over who should write the accessible version of ‘Radical Simplicity’; it looks to me like you might be ready for it!At the very least, have you considered writing up a Squidoo lens on the topic? You have such a wealth of information, and you’ve a gift for synthesizing it in a digestible (and now actionable!) way. Maybe you already have. Hmm. I’m going off to check now…

  2. Ginger says:

    I agree with your assessment of what we can do to change the world as individuals and as part of communities. My own forte seems to be one-on-one and small group activities, including discussion and hands-on exploration of environmental issues and reverence for life/animal welfare. Unfortunately I have not been doing this work for several months due to a major change in circumstances and location. I’ve been hedgerowing, trying to decide what I can and should do now.Over the years I have become disillusioned by activism due to the politics (and increasing emphasis on fundraising) within the activist groups themselves and due to the extremely negative attitudes toward activists. A “loose cannon” or two in an activist group can easily destroy the group’s credibility (just look at PETA). Those responsible for the problems activists wish to solve are quick to derisively afix blame to the activists, calling them eco-terrorists rather than admit to their own destructive actions. I believe that we can be more effective if we act individually or in small groups not branded by the term “activist”.Thank you, Dave, for writing this inspiring post. Your thoughts and encouragement are helping through a rough time.

  3. Great article, little bit massive for non-English reader, but worth to read. Strange, I started to speak about similar ideas (these come in my mind before reading this article) with my boss on the weekly meeting today, and experienced strong negative reaction toward me…

  4. Adam says:

    Dave,Thank you for your website. I stop by on occasion for inspiration and enlightenment. I really enjoy how you take esoteric philosophies and present them in understandable and digestable pieces of information.One comment I have though, concerning your strategy for population growth control…i.e. every couple stop procreating after having one child. I understand if from a numbers game, but if implemented over multiple generations it carries much bigger ramifications. The meanings of brother, sister, cousin, aunt and uncle would cease to exist. And I find that concept absolutely mind boggling to consider. Also, in other than a parent/child or grandchild or great grandchild (etc.) relationship, no one would be related to anyone else.What if instead, the strategy was for every couple to only have at most two children? That way every parent is only replacing themself on this Earth, and all the aforementioned definitions would remain intact. After a few generations, wouldn’t the population growth reach a point of general homeostasis?Thank you again for your time and efforts on this website.

  5. medaille says:

    Adam,I like how you pointed out the ramifications of population reduction. It’s something I’ve never thought about. That said, I don’t think population homeostatis at future population levels of maybe 8.5 billion people or even todays population levels of 6.5+ billion people is really an acceptable goal for our species. Those population levels are still too high to maintain sustainably. The big question I have for you is what are the benefits to the person for having brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles? Can those functions/roles be replaced by others in the community, so that each individual person is relatively unchanged except for the change in labels in those role-fillers. I know a lot of families are becoming increasing disfunctional, but I wouldn’t know the percentage. Those families would benefit the most from having the community fulfill those roles because it would reduce the amount of carrying of bad social traits down through familial generations. In essence, it would help rid society of some of those problems. Regardless, for more “normal” families, I think very little of the benefits of extended families are really caused by the actual sharing of DNA. Most of it is intimacy or closeness, and the social benefits. I think those could be replaced without too much trouble by moving towards more local, community based ways of living rather than nuclear family, globalized ways of living.Have a great day.

  6. medaille says:

    In response to Dave’s post:I’m young and recently invited myself into the activist world. Up until now, I’ve felt fairly apathetic to the change that they could make. Mainly because I think they tend to try to fix superficial symptoms that only have a short-term benefit but don’t actually progress the world towards where I or we think it should go. For me, the activist groups that I’ve started becoming involved in are much less like what I disliked about activist groups. There’s little fundraising. There’s little knocking on peoples doors telling them to vote green or whatever. The benefit I see in activist groups is that they offer the opportunity for like-minds to assemble, contemplate, and discuss. That’s one of the great aspects of the internet, is that it makes it real convenient for like minds to assemble and discuss topics, although social networking still has a little way to go in that aspect. Regardless, I don’t really see the the ease of using the internet to make real physical change to the world. With the internet there’s too much staring at a screen and using your left-brain. Too much isolation of people, when what’s needed is gathering and acting. The real world offers the chance to use that knowledge creatively. I know it took a while for me to start to rise above my programming of being a mere consumer of information, and I think there are a lot of other people out there who have less self-awareness than I do who are still stuck in those loops. It is certainly possible for people to group together and discuss what they’ve been thinking, but especially for ideas that are out of the social norm (which is what saving the world is sadly enough) those conversations at least as I have witnessed tend to stay bottled within fairly intimate relationships. It’s very rarely that I have a discussion with some random person in which I have the opportunity to compare worldviews and come to an agreement with them about how to fulfill a common goal(say sustainable living). Usually for me, it takes a while to get beyond the surface of knowledge of the other person to understand what they need to know in order to be able to communicate effectively with them. Activist discussion groups (which really could be replaced with the label intentional communities) allow for more thorough discussion and planning for how-to change the world. I think that’s where their benefit lies.

  7. Adam says:

    Medaille,I certainly see your point about utilizing the benefits of a community to fulfill familial roles. However, I think there are some intangibiles that cannot be replicated outside of a home. I’m not advocating large, extended families, just the opportunity to learn to share space and resources with a sibling (yet another potentially obsolete term). As for families being more commonly dysfunctional, I think that encompasses a much broader collection of causes and affects than just simply having several people in a family nucleus. And I don’t think having single child families guarantees positive social traits anymore than families with multiple kids. Maybe the compromise is to emphasis single child procreation with adoption providing the basis for sibling relationships. Lastly, out of curiousity, if 6.5+ billion is not a sustainable amount, what is a more “workable” number? Thanks.

  8. etbnc says:

    Suppose we consider that there may be no one right answer to the workable population number. You’ve probably heard about the term “footprint”? The way we live, our cultural habits of consumption, create a “footprint” that we can compare to the footprints of other species and to the size of our entire biosphere. The bigger our footprint, the less room we leave for our life support system.Right now our human footprint is disproportionately huge compared to our own history and compared to what we leave for the rest of the biosphere. Some people suggest our current 6.5 billion human population could be sustainable if we reduced our consumption and waste footprint. Others suggest we must reduce our numbers greatly to allow the rest of the biosphere to recover. The scale can slide considerably depending upon how we choose to live (and let live).If that’s not satisfying by itself, at least it offers some guidance to pick a population target. A number of folks have looked back at our history of pollution and footprint expansion and suggested that our tipping point toward bad outcomes occurred somewhere between 1 and 3 billion humans. So 2 billion may be a convenient compromise.Perhaps we don’t really need to choose a particular stopping point, however, but just choose to stop *at all* …?

  9. Thomas Watson says:

    RE the population issueI too have a strong appreciation for an upbringing with siblings and a desire for population reduction. So what ideal would I like to achieve for my own child/children when they come in existance?Well my ideal would be to live in a slighty more communal but quite small scale grouping of families that would have seperate houses but communal common space, for example, a garden or perhaps even some sort of living room that was shared. Ultimately I would want there to be more adults then children (pop reduction as such) and for the set up to function as a ‘family’, of our own new meaning.Of course, finding the right people with the right attitudes and right timeline would be quite a challenge, as I suspect you would want quite a bit of stablity but the benefits would be worthwhile. ‘Our’ children would have extra siblings, greater diversity in the people they are brought up with. Childcare would be with familiar faces and I would happily volunteer for some sort of child-care roster to look after the children.Of course, you’d want to avoid forming some sort of stupid exclusive community that disregarded its neighbours/community but as long as you made sure of that, I think it would be a great ideal…

  10. medaille says:

    I think another viable option would be to limit the number of children birthed by a couple to one and have more children penalized by a tax burden or something, but leave the option to take in additional children via adoption. There are obviously issues with that, but who knows… it would at least allow for multiple children under one household.

  11. Dave Pollard says:

    This is one of those comments threads that you just want to copy and paste right into the body of the article. Articulate, well-reasoned, and even hopeful. Thank you!

  12. Anonymous says:

    I would like to suggest adding an item to your Personal Actions You Do As Part of A Community section: spend your money wisely. This point pertains to those of us in the first world in particular. The most tangible source of power that we all have is our money. We can speak with how we spend it. If more of us commit to purchasing ethically developed products we can create change with the money we spend on the things we need…which we are going to spend anyway.

  13. Krystal Chapman says:

    This website is amazing! It is truly that easy to just save the planet. Work together. We have solutions to do it, why not! This world and our lives are a gift and it is beautiful. Do anything you can to help!

  14. Sebastian says:

    This is of my interest, since I was a kid I was conscious of how we as race, harm and cause damage to our own home.I’m very occupied all day long, so I would be glad if someone sends me a summary about what actions or measures we we’ll be doing to save our planet.Reading other comments put me to think… are you serious?Of course it will be difficult!we will return to nothing just trying from “afar”, we need to risk our own lifes, make sacrifices if necessary! we don’t need just optimistic people, we can’t just sit down and wait “the morale and laws” defends us forever.You guys need people with conscience, people with strengh, people without fear, people with a realistic reason, you need people like me.I would give my own life to save this planet.We have to stop thinking of us as many individual beings, we need to think of us as an entire entity. The mass we call “Earth” keeps turning, spinning and moving, ignoring individual desires. that’s why we, as human race have to put in harmony to make a difference.We have to give everything we have, for the future of the race, for the future of the world. One last thing, don’t wait a “thank you” for response, these kind of things aren’t made to receive a grateful smile.

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