Image of homelessness from the now-defunct Italian blog Moving & Learning
If you’re a progressive and/or environmentalist you know it’s not always easy to be good. Sometimes you have to make really tough choices, where you feel uneasy no matter what you do. Here are ten that I find troubling. If you’ve faced them and have found a way to deal with them, I’d love to hear from you.
- Choosing Your Charities: There are a hundred good causes always asking for money, and hundreds of people on the streets asking for change, busking, washing your windshield, selling those 50 cent newspapers etc. How do you choose? Who do you give to, and when? Local or global? Health or social service? People you know raising money for luxuries or organized fundraisers supporting the really desperate? Cash or a good meal?
- Local vs Organic/Humane/Fair Trade Foods: It’s so hard to find stuff that’s both. Between fresh local stuff that could well be tainted with melamine and other toxins, and long-distance, shipped-by-diesel ethical foods that might have no nutrition left, which do you choose?
- Government-Assisted & Centralized, or Community-Based: On the big-ticket issues where inequality is at critical levels, like education and health, most progressives like the idea of universal, free-for-all programs. But at the same time community-based unschooling programs, and community-run clinics that use volunteers to stretch dollars, have a lot of appeal and they’re the antithesis of massive, state-run programs. And what is your position on voucher programs, that basically give people the money (or equivalent) and leave it up to them how to spend it (on food, on their choice of schools etc.)?
- City Versus Country: Country is healthier, and better for the soul, but (unless you telecommute and are very self-sufficient) city is more ecologically sustainable, more land-economical. The suburbs are no compromise — they’re the worst of both worlds. So where do you choose to live?
- Immigration Policy: At current rates of immigration, the US population will soar to one billion by 2100, and the Canadian population to 100 million. Many people believe we have no right to keep people out just because of where they had the misfortune to be born. But such populations will wipe out our last remaining wilderness, increase pollution proportionally to their numbers, and devastate our forests and farmlands. So do you opt for human kindness or ecological sustainability?
- Stopping at Zero: Those who don’t care about our environment, or don’t know any better, have no compunction about having large families. What should we do about such people? Compensate by having none, or just one, of our own? Make it clear that we find their conduct irresponsible and reprehensible? Even if they’re good in other ways, or the loved ones of our loved ones?
- Watch or Turn it Off: The news is mostly bad, and mostly unactionable, so there’s a tendency to shut it off and not subject yourself to more grief — you know what’s happening, and don’t need to be reminded. Or do you? Is there something in that news that is your undiscovered cause, something that you can do something about, something that you really need to know?
- Make & DIY, versus Buy: There is much to be said for self-sufficiency, both because it’s ecologically sustainable and because it’s pleasurable to learn to do things for yourself. But the trade-off is the time it takes you to learn and practice, and the fact that someone else may have this as their only skill, their only way to make a living, and if everyone does it themselves, they’re out of a job.
- Made in China or Doing Without: There are many things, from clothes to computers, that are almost impossible to buy from local or even domestic suppliers. So the alternative to buying something shoddily (and environmentally irresponsibly) made by slave labour in China for some giant multinational corporation, overpackaged and shipped thousands of miles, that will end up in the landfill in six months, is not to buy that item at all (unless you have the time and skill to make it yourself — see #8 above). What are we willing to live without?
- Choosing How to Spend Your Time: This is probably the toughest dilemma of all. So much needs to bedone. But we need to focus on where we can make a real difference, and on causes that we not only care about, but enjoy working on. Life is too short to do work you don’t love. And you need time for yourself and those you love, too.
Thoughts? Other ethical dilemmas? Let me know your take on all this.
PS: Help me pick a new subscribe-by-email tool: R-mail, the tool I have been using to allow users to subscribe to How to Save the World by e-mail, has been down for awhile. It may be time for me to switch. If any of you have used RssFwd, Zookoda, or FeedBurner for this purpose, please let me know.