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Facebooking while Rome burns

March 25 2010 | Culture Shifting, Jim's Blog,
by Jim

History can be tragically funny. Many times it makes people's choices look ill-advised... even stupid. Think about that for a second, how many times have YOU thought about a historical decision and said out loud... "what were they thinking?" Sometimes these come from business… like Ken Olsen, computer business maven and CEO who in 1977 said…
“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.”
Other times we have a complete inability to see future cultural relevance as was the case when Decca Records rejected the Beatles in 1962 with…
"We don't like their sound. Groups of guitars are on the way out."
And other times our lack of foresight deals with our health and lives, the surgeon general said the following in 1969…
"For the majority of people, the use of tobacco has a beneficial effect."
We’ve heard these kinds of things before. We smirk and think ourselves smarter than those in the past. We think we are more enlightened… and move on with our day. We head back to email, watch a Tivo'd American Idol or trade virtual farm futures on Facebook. We are so heads down on the things that compete for our time and suck up the minutes in the day... we miss the real story. We are making similar mistakes as generations before did due to our infatuation with whatever is current. We are Facebooking while Rome burns. That’s not me turning up the shock value to get your attention. It’s me connecting the vectors of our past choices to real-time trends. I’ll point to one example to make my point, our oceans. We have all taken as much out of the oceans as is humanly possible and what we've put back is toxic. Yesterday the world, all of us, made a catastrophic choice about blue fin tuna. This isn't a one-off bad decision or the first time we've made bad short term decisions with massive long-term ramifications... Google "fisheries collapse" and read the myriad of stories from around the globe. You may not hear about this within your circles as it's bad news on a scale that I'm not sure we're able to comprehend, but when fisheries collapse... that means they don't come back. You may also disagree that we had anything to do with that decision after all we're not the ones taking fish out of the sea... we're just... consumers. I'm suggesting our consumption decisions feed commercial markets. We are the ones driving these kinds of collapses. If it isn't enough that we take and take and take from our oceans... we're giving back. Unfortunately we tend to take the good and give back... bad. You can look at the small decisions we make such as flushing old pharmaceuticals down the toilet (somehow thinking a magical filter will trap them before they hit the ocean). This kind of thinking has led to fish flipping sexes off the coast of urban areas. And our collective choices aren't all small... take the hemispheric scale the problem of plastics in the ocean as become. A year or so ago we all heard of the Garbage Patch, the "Texas-sized" floating goop in the Pacific Ocean. But this is 2010, now there are five gyres of floating... plastic crap. Here's my point. The problem is us. The problem isn't someone else. The problem isn't another government in a far, far away land. This is our planet. This is our legacy. We'll leave it to our children. We can't think of ourselves as clever or enlightened and blame the Japanese for the collapse of blue-fin tuna as we're probably going to go out for sushi within the next few weeks. We'll debate the value of oil over a beer and then drive our massive SUV 30 miles home. It's easy to point to others and their faults and why they are wrong... it's much harder to look at ourselves and see that WE are the ones that need to change. I drive a Mini and I'm thrilled to get 40 MPG on the highway... yet I drive 40 miles to and from work. Rock stars and celebs wax lyrically about how green they are and then get back into their fleet of tour buses and semis. This is OUR world. We need to lift our heads from the diversion du-jour and plug in. Change is about each one of us understanding we're playing a high stakes game... and proactively ratcheting back the odds via our choices. Americans, with less than 5 % of the global population, uses about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources—burning up nearly 25 % of the coal, 26 % of the oil, and 27 % of the world’s natural gas. China, India and the rest of the developing world are, literally, sprinting toward our lifestyle of consumption. For a metaphor of the future look at the single-use plastic bottle. Convenience for five minutes and an environmental problem for a lifetime. This may not be a story with a happy ending, but this IS a story we are the authors of. We need to understand the factors that could lead to societal collapse. We're writing this era's chapters, let's make them matter. Seek to understand what is at stake that goes beyond our personal interests and then engage. There is a myriad of causes and organizations you can join or support. Find one that refl ects the part of the world you love and plug in.
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