When Ice Cream is More Important than Clean H2O: The Scale of Inequality & Privilege

"Southern Nights" Photograph by Author

On a late night, like tonight, when all the world is still, and I open my door to gaze at the night sky and listen to the sound of the woods and the crickets nearby, I imagine I can hear the Earth Mother heaving a long, tired sigh. Like every other mother, I’m sure she worries about tomorrow and what will become of her children. Yesterday, as I finished up my evening run, I witnessed a sleepy tangerine sun, yawning as a flock of birds framed its setting portrait. It was a goodnight whisper, like only La Madre Tierra can give.  I realized how very little time I actually spend appreciating the gifts of this Earth anymore. Then and there, I vowed I would go for a walk everyday this summer with no other agenda but to befriend the earth again and take in her splendor. In his book, The Future of Liberation Theology: An Argument and Manifesto, Ivan Petrella offers a poignant reminder of how humanity has balanced out its priorities. I’ve read it before, but there are some passages that always shoot straight for the heart, and for me, this falls under that category. He moved me to reassess my other priorities as well, and I’d like to share the passage with you:

“It would take 6 billion dollars of additional yearly investment to ensure basic education in all developing countries;
8 billion dollars a year are spent on cosmetics in the U.S.

It would take 9 billion dollars to ensure clean water & sanitation for all;
11 billion are spent on ice cream in Europe.

"Guilty Priorities" Photograph by Author

It would take 13 billion dollars to guarantee basic health & nutrition for every person in the developing world;
17 billion are spent on pet food in Europe and the U.S. combined.

Petrella goes on to say that

0.1% of the world’s income… would cover the bill for basic education, health, nutrition, clean water, and sanitation for every single person on the planet.

Imagine that?

Yet, currently, while the world’s richest nations possess only 1/4th of the world’s population, they consume 70% of the world’s energy, 75% of its metals, 85% of its wood, & 60% of its food. (p. 17)

I guess one main ingredient to solving our over-consumption crisis is not just to stop consuming less, or consuming more consciously, but also to start giving back (time and money) to help restore balance, to help heal the earth and humanity from this mess we’ve created. I think, given the above data, we can probably stop making a big fuss about using a little less and giving a little more. It’s a small price to pay for all the gifts this earth has given us. In light of where we lie on the scale of inequality and privilege, it’s only fair. Don’t you think?



Filed under affluenza, change, change, hope, global solidarity, peace, human rights, energy, environment, consumerism, energy, Environment, Environmental justice, global solidarity, green, hope, Mother Earth, over-consumption, Unity

4 responses to “When Ice Cream is More Important than Clean H2O: The Scale of Inequality & Privilege

  1. Nice write and strikes at another point I also tend to harp on about; how limited our time is. Personally, I’m agnostic on a very atheistic slant, mostly because it doesn’t seem to matter to me. I endeavour to be a good person regardless and so the infinite can wait; it is a rare and precious gift to be me, for this short life on this beautiful globe.

    I recent quoted Dick Smith, “…the productivity gains of capitalism are two or three percent per year. They were used, up until the Second World War to reduce working hours, to have a better quality of life. Since the Second World War, we’ve used it to produce more stuff, more junk. Go into a huge shopping centre. Half the stuff that’s there is rubbish, but if you stop buying it you create unemployment and recession.”

    Fundamentally, our economic model insists that we devalue ourselves to the status of mindless consumers or else face ruining the developed world. Hardly the ideal scenario.

    I read a couple months ago Stern’s book, “Blueprint for a safer planet”. He is (in retrospect) depressingly optimistic about Copenhagen, but otherwise it was a real eye opener and fits alongside you point here; to make meaningful headway on tackling (both adaptation and mitigation) as well as improving global equality is likely to require around 2%of the global GDP. 2%!! If the economic model wasn’t so consumer based (as Smith argues) and developed on my humanistic principles, it would be achievable.

    Saying as much creates a terrible amount of hostility from pro-business-as-usual advocates… They seem divorced from the struggles of their ancestors of only a couple generations prior.

    • It really is a rare and precious gift to be alive on this earth expressing our individuality for the time we have. I love how you phrased that. If only organized religion focused less on doctrinal differences and who created what and when, and focused more on the important issues of fostering community and responsible social and environmental habits, then, the world would be a much better place. I am, of course, not saying that all organized religion does that, but unfortunately, a lot of it does. I too lean more towards agnosticism, though more on a spiritualist slant. Also, I must go and read Stern’s book now!

      • My fiancee would be on the same slant as you. It’s good that we both except that it’s a personal journey and so we don’t clash on our religious views.

        Any organisation with large membership could be beneficial.. In many cases, it’s internal politics before wider humanistic values.

        A lot of what you write is very good. I think we’d be happy to cross post relevant material to help get you extra exposure.

      • Yes, you’re right. Larger organizations, in general, tend to introduce status-seeking and other such behaviors that detract from their primary goals. That’s why I think it’s essential to the success of large-scale movements that they spread and grow through the establishment of small, local, grass-roots, community-based efforts, so that people remember they’re true stake in the movement. Thanks for the support! The more readers, the wider the conversation, and hopefully, the actions that follow. 🙂

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