Should we be unable to generate a list of our own, one of Britain’s major newspapers has just helpfully published a list of the most important things we humans might worry about for the next ten years.
Climate change: The world has made literally no progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions since the first Kyoto agreement, and scientists are warning us of increasing deadly droughts, floods, water and food shortages, acidic oceans, air pollution, uncontrolled fires, and mega extinctions of up to 25% of all mammal species possibly within the next 50 years. Oh, and 2014 has been the hottest year on record.
The global spread of a viral epidemic like SARS or Ebola: The Black Plague swept over the world, reducing populations by 50 -75% of the population when it struck. It is not inconceivable that a virus could jump on the back of our global communications systems today and outpace the ability of scientists to develop a cure or immunization to outwit it.
An implosion of failed states and states being taken over by religious fanatics. Theoretically religion is supposed to make us better, more loving, more caring. Again and again, though, it is the reason for torture and killing. Western countries today look with horror at the terror being visited on peoples in Africa, Europe, America, and Asia by Islamists. But Christians have more than a thousand-year history of doing exactly the same thing. In fact, ethnic cleansing and rampant racism in our own back grounds suggest that we are even now not immune to persecuting those who are different from us.
Economic collapse: An economic collapse similar to the one that shook the world in 2008, only bigger and longer and more universal worries some economists the way climate change worries climatologists. Governments are still facing the problem of what to do about banks and other financial institutions that are too big to fail, and big corporations spent vast amounts of money lobbying state officials to make sure that legislation will not damage them. Meanwhile, the gap between the richest and poorest is growing, not closing, and recently economists have produced research suggesting that this might be an endemic tendency of many modern capitalist societies, including America. Historically, situations like these fester and simmer, until one day blowing up into outright rebellion and warfare. Endings are not necessarily happy ones.
I think these are worries worthy of concern. Great concern that singly or together they could even lead to the extinction of the Homo sapiens. My problem with worries, though, especially when the worries are big and serious and global as these, is that they tend to turn people off. We look at them and quite realistically realize that not one of us as a single person can solve any of them. So we either deny they are happening at all, sink into despair or anger, or hope that God will do something about it rather than leaving it to us.
But the whole point of democracy, of community, or responsibility is not to say a single voice doesn’t count. It says that lots of single voices is what change the world. To give into the temptation of helplessness is the very thing that will contribute to our worst worries coming true.
What can I do? Lots of little things that will change the world if a lot of us do them. In relation to the environment, I can use my vote to make sure that I don’t help elect a climate-change denier or someone so indebted to big business that they won’t support reductions of fossil fuels and support renewables; I can sign petitions supporting policies that I think will support work toward a creating economies that don’t destroy the environment; I can do my best not to waste energy, turn off lights I’m not using, install solar panels, buy an energy-efficient car. Ride a bicycle.
We can’t solve any of these problems by ourselves. Just as we couldn’t create any of them by ourselves. We are just single human beings. But for better or worse, what each of us does adds up.