Living Among the Many

April 21st, 2011

“I have understood the population explosion intellectually for a long time.  I came to understand it emotionally one stinking hot night in Delhi….The temperature was well over 100 degrees and the air was a haze of dust and smoke…The streets were alive with people.  People eating, people washing, people sleeping, people visiting , arguing and screaming…. People begging. People defecating and urinating….” -Paul Ehrlich

Often when I travel through huge metropolitan airports, I am struck by the sheer number of fellow humans on their way somewhere, all of them seeking and striving,  dealing with their own huge web of relationships and emotions,  wanting, needing and consuming like me. It is a wonder, I think to myself  that this little blue planet could contain so many demands, so much complexity.

Yet I have never traveled to the most populated countries in the world. I have never witnessed a true reflection of the billions of people trying to make a life on the planet. This year, the collective human population on earth will hit 7 Billion. This is up from 2 Billion in 1930. World demographers expect that this number will swell to 9 Billion in some 30 years.  How many lives can the earth support is the question that demographers and politicians of the most populous countries have been asking.

One in seven people on the planet currently live in slums that are made of cardboard or worse. Billions of people go hungry every day and the problem of clean drinking water has already begun to overtake the fears of  depleting energy resources. The number of people currently living in extreme poverty is 1.4 billion. This is bad, but not as bad as things were in 1981, when there were 1.9 billion people. That was about 4 in every 10 people in the world, whereas now fewer than 1 in 4 are extremely poor.

There might be no more meaningful way to recognize the Earth Day celebration this year but to join in the work  described by Peter Singer in his recent book  “The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty.” A serious and thoughtful philosopher and bioethics professor, he was quoted saying:  “If you have bought a bottled beverage in the last week, then you can afford to help end human suffering.” He has been named as one of the most influential people in the world and awarded the title of Humanist Laureate.

Since 2009, when he launched his website millions of people have pledged to contribute a percentage of their income to help reduce extreme poverty on the planet. Read about the idea and why to pledge here. Recognizing that we are all one of billions and taking responsibility to care for the planet by caring for the people who inhabit it,  is a profoundly positive and loving way to live. Use Earth Day as the anniversary date of your pledge.

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