Big Issues · 31 October 2020

It might be obvious, but most people only care about issues up to the point where they need to make a change in their own behaviors.

I do not normally write about big issues. Or even small issues. But I had an epiphany after watching a video about a big issue. So I had to share that epiphany. (I will share the video link below.) Even if my own revelation is already obvious to everybody else.

Issues stare us in the face all the time. Global issues. National issues. Regional issues. Local issues. Even personal issues. We cannot get away from them. And they beg us to do something about them. Yet even when the issues are just personal and even when we are the only ones who can do something to change the outcome, we often do nothing. We often do not change our own behavior even when it could drastically and positively affect the issue at hand. Whether the issue is personal or global or somewhere in between.

I know. People often fall into despair when they think of big issues. What can one person do? And if the issue might be political in nature, people wonder if one vote really matters. But when it comes down to most issues, the votes that matter are those we make with our money. Dollars or pesos or rubles or euros or yen or whatever monetary unit you use are what matter in any cause. And I am not even talking about using your money to support a cause. How you spend your money is how you support any global, national, regional, local, or even personal issue.

Think about it. If you really support local growers, you will spend much of your monetary votes at local farms or stores that buy their food from local growers. If you really support local businesses, you spend your monetary votes at local businesses as best you can. Sure, there are times when you cannot get what you want from the locals, but if you really care about supporting local businesses, you will spend the majority of your votes at those local businesses even when it might be more expensive or less convenient.

Which brings me to my epiphany or revelation. And I pose said revelation as a simple experiment to demonstrate that it is true.

I would daresay that most people think that global climate change is an important issue. But I would posit that most people are not willing to make one simple change that would have the greatest impact on global climate change. And I have an experiment to prove it.

But first, some data.

courtesy Our World in DataLicensed under CC BY

The video I watched that brought me the epiphany about people not willing to make personal changes to change the world was a video about data. Just data (and I suppose a conclusion about the data). That data is available to anybody who wants it. The data and the conclusion about that data say that the greatest impact we can make on global climate change is to reduce how much land is being used to raise cattle and sheep (and to a lesser extent, other meat sources). Which means that any individual can affect global climate change by eliminating or at least reducing the amount of meat he or she eats. Period.

So here is the experiment to show that people care about issues only to the point where they need to make a behavioral change.

Ask somebody (lots of somebodys if you want to truly test the theory) if he or she thinks global climate change is an important issue. If the person says no, then there is no need for the follow up question. But if the person says yes, then ask the person whether he or she is willing to do something about it. Again, if the person says no, there is no need for any more questions. But if the person says yes, then ask, “Are you willing to give up eating meat? Or at least greatly reduce your meat intake?”

The rest of the experiment is in predicting the results. So here is my prediction.

When you tell people that eliminating or greatly reducing their meat intake will have the greatest positive effect on global climate change, that person will most likely have one of two responses. Or maybe even both. Neither of which is to change personal behavior.

The first response is a vehement denial. “Fake news! The data is wrong. The rain forests of the Amazon are not being cut down to make cattle farms. Methane is not the worst culprit of global climate change.” I would submit that even though you asked a person who thought global climate change was an important issue, that person might even say, “There might not even be such a thing as global climate change.”

The second response is fatalistic in nature. “Oh woe is me. One vote does not matter.” Personally, I think the more honest response to giving up meat to affect global climate change is, “But one burger or one steak or one lamb chop will not make a difference.” But in reality it will. One vote does matter. One monetary unit spent wisely always matters. Because big business is always watching. (Which is an entirely different story.)

Regardless of which response a person gives, the real reason behind the answer is simple. The person you asked is like most everybody else. We only care about issues so far as we do not need to change our own behavior to do anything about them. Period.

Personally, if I had not given up meat and dairy for health reasons, I would probably be in the only one vote camp of denial. It is only one burger. It is only one steak. Surely it will not matter in the grand scheme of things. But if I was to go back to eating any meat besides the occasional fish that I do, I would add it in at the same rate I eat seafood. About once every couple weeks. Or maybe once a week at the most. (I will not do that though because I like my meat-free and dairy-free way of eating.)

I might just be one person, but my dollar votes count. And somebody is definitely counting those single dollar, peso, ruble, euro, yen, and other monetary unit votes. Every single one.

Which brings me back to my premise.

It is often true for me. I am sure it is often true for you. And it is surely often true for us all. We only care about issues as far as it affects us personally. And we will only positively support an issue until we need to change our behavior. I know that seems obvious, but I just needed to point it out.

© 2020 Michael T. Miyoshi

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