Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

So Many Problems, So Little Time

Which problem should we focus on? There are so many to choose from. Let’s start with climate change, which is causing problems all over the world already – from heat waves and droughts to massive floods, from calving glaciers to monster storms and (paradoxically) even colder temperatures in parts of the world at times during the winter.

This last can happen because the pool of dense air that normally stays in place over the North Pole has warmed enough that it isn’t quite as heavy, allowing it to become dislodged by the jet stream and shuttled south, where it hits the Midwest, for example, with brutal cold.

Or we can talk about gun violence, thousands of children killed by guns every year, and more than 30,000 deaths overall each year. This is an epidemic of disastrous proportions that, if it were caused by something else, like a virus, we would be panicking over, but since it’s a byproduct of something as sacred as guns, we don’t do much about it.

Then there’s the opioid crisis, which kills tens of thousands more every year – people who get hooked on prescription drugs pushed by companies like Purdue Pharma (owned by the Sacklers) as well as those who got into drug abuse via illicit paths.

We could concentrate our energies on air pollution too, which kills about 4.6 million people each year, according to the World Health Organization. Despite this, we continue to emit massive amounts of particulate matter, toxins like mercury and lead, which is a neurotoxin that never goes away. It has no half-life like uranium, so once it’s out there, it will continue to be there for our children and grandchildren and beyond.

Perhaps we should focus our efforts on water pollution, which may be a greater problem in the developing world than in the US, although we have our own issues with increasing levels of nanoparticles like plastics in the water as well as drugs flushed down the toilet and of course continuing discharges of pollutants by farmers, manufacturers and miners.

Maybe we should focus on sick and dying children in hospitals and hospice care. Or we could concentrate our efforts on children and adults with disabilities, giving money and time to Special Olympics and other charities that do tremendous work.

We could devote our energies on combatting AIDS or cholera or malaria, or we could concentrate on the overuse of antibiotics in livestock (as well as people), which is accelerating the evolution of bacteria, making it more likely that we will encounter far deadlier germs in the future.

There are so many worthy causes out there, more than we can ever sink our teeth into. We have to pick and choose what stirs us in the moment. But which ones are the most important? Which ones will we not regret focusing on when we’re old and knackered?

I suppose we have to pick the few that feel most urgent and that fit best with our personalities and emotions. They all deserve our attention. We have far more problems than we can solve in a lifetime, so we have to tackle them a few at a time – money over here, time spent over there.

The one thing we can’t do is throw up our hands and say, “It’s hopeless. I may as well not even try.” Because then it will be hopeless. Then the problems will be insurmountable. So pick a cause – any cause – and jump in. The water’s not too bad. Yet.


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