Tuesday, December 4, 2007

What will you do with your one wild precious life?

Today, our marketing professor posed this question as a topic for discussion on our last day of class. I sat there staring at the screen in front, feeling sure about myself and my future. Some of my classmates quietly whispered their indecisions on interniships, careers, marriage, etc. Ha, I thought, I'm glad I've got it figured out- I'm going to be a triathlete, pouring all my energy after college into training, eating, sleeping, and racing with hopes of a successful career. If it doesn't go as planned, then I'll take my degree and find a job (where, and in what exactly....I'll figure that out then).

Anyway, sufficient to say I left class with an empty, desperate feeling. What the discussion about our future individual lives, and that of our entire generation, led to struck a desire in me to make a difference and find opportunity in areas that in the past I had felt too miniscule to effectively influence.

So what was it that caused this?....

Professor began by showing us slides on the state of America in 1968, with Nixon as President, the Vietnam war, the Hippie movement, racial riots/crime, etc. We had a bad President (some would say the worst), a war in a country that more than half of Americans probably could not point to in a map...sound familiar?

Are we any better off today? Are all of our technological advances really making life better? Next few slides: Take for one the sky rocketing population nearing 7 billion, 70% of which resides outside of the US and developing countries. It was 3 billion in 1960- we've more than doubled in only 4 decades! Our resources clearly cannot and will not support this exponential growth.

We all had our opinions on the key areas of concern, namely hazardous waste and alternative energy sources. If everyone lived at the US prosperity level, our resources could only back up 2 billion people. But if we all lived at N. Africa's level, it could support 40 billion!!!

So what can we do? You're probably thinking "duh, this isn't news". True, no one can claim ignorance to this problem. We are all going to be affected by it, either directly or indirectly. Already many celebrities and politicians like Al Gore have pointed to "going green". But as class went on and we talked about profit maximization and the fact that we are all, as individuals, selfish survivors, the incredible danger we're in became clear.

Before, I had rationalized that, in time, enough people would want to change and cut down that extra use of gas or bag of groceries, begin to recycle, spend only on material things that are necessary...wow, who was I kidding? When would this likely, if ever, happen? We could potentially be dying off as a civilization by the time everyone concurred.

No, this is not meant to be a bottom-up solution, but rather top-down. Capitalism leaves little room for improving our current situation, yet it's not really the system itself that's to blame, but the characteristics of the people who influence our economy the most. It's not in the best interest of CEOs of oil companies to improve on solar energy; nor in the manufacturers of all our modern commodities to tell us to buy less. How about the food industry cutting supply to the US' more than 2/3 obese population? Maybe then we could feed countless villages in third world countries.

If there's going to be change, it has to come from regulations, restrictions, capping the supply- changes that affect everyone because as self-maximizers we're not likely to sacrifice if we think others aren't doing so as well.

Hence, the thought of big powerful names and businesses that are truly the ones that can effectively begin the process toward a better world for us, our children, grandchildren, etc, overwhelmed me. In the past it didn't bother me to feel like my one self would not make a dramatic difference because numerous others were already in the process (bad, I know...reminiscent of the rationale behind those who don't vote). But to realize that even those many "tree-huggers" won't effect sufficient change because bureaucracy rules- that impacted me inmensely.

Lesson of the day: where there's a problem, lies great opportunity. I have yet to figure out by what means I will make a difference and focus on this problem. One thing, however, is for sure: I know micro scale changes like collecting cans will have little to no tangible effect, so whatever I do, or anyone else does, needs to be at a macro scale. My generation has better education and enhanced awareness relative to age (ironically thanks to the information era- its mechanisms and existence supporting the problems addressed), so it is up to the diligent leaders/entrepreneurs to seek business opportunities that better our disposal and usage of hazardous waste, that promote alternative sources of energy and put pressure on oil/gas companies....in other words it takes a small number of us to find our way to the top of capitalism's hand and wave it in another direction.

A long spill, but really, aside from the benefit of "making a living" that hours behind that desk or in my case hours on a bike yield, what will, or do, you do that contributes significantly not only to your life but to future ones? It's leaving a mark vs. leaving a legacy....I'm fueled to find a way, no pun intended ;)