This year begins in a vastly different place for me. Over the holidays, Gail and I moved from our home of nearly 20 years in downtown Salt Lake City to the suburbs of Jacksonville, Florida. My perspective, however, remains the same. We are equal to the world’s biggest problems if we will simply work to solve them. Together, we’ve got this.
When I think about doing good, I generally think about three areas of concern: climate change, global health and poverty. These are global problems that demand urgent attention.
For years, experts have talked about the need to avoid having our climate warm more than 1.5 degrees. The opportunity to avoid this is quickly closing. The amount of carbon humans can emit is fixed. Scientists have determined the number of tons left in our collective budget to avoid warming past the target threshold. At our current rate of emission, we have 7 years of carbon budget remaining.
As a practical matter, we need dramatic reductions in carbon immediately to extend our carbon budget beyond seven years. It will be difficult and expensive to get to a carbon-neutral level. We need time.
The recent wildfire in Colorado punctuates the urgency for action.
That means that part of the good you can do this year is to find ways to significantly reduce your carbon footprint. Drive less, eat less beef, put solar panels on your home or buy an electric vehicle. Your personal actions matter. If we all cut our carbon emissions together, our individual actions add up. We must also advocate with governments and corporations to do their part—faster.
If you’re like me, you probably feel like you’re done with the pandemic. Of course, the pandemic isn’t done with us. Each new variant we face could be more resistant to the vaccines produced for earlier strains. COVID boosters could become an annual thing like flu shots. Our best chance for having more normal lives is to be fully vaccinated always. When new vaccines are approved and recommended, let’s get them.
The omicron variant is so transmissible that you would be wise to wear an N95 mask anytime you are around other people. If you are in a group of more than a dozen at a service club meeting, a worship service or other event, if you must go, please mask up. Regular cloth masks primarily serve to prevent you from spreading the virus. The N95 masks will protect you as well as your friends. Combining masks and vaccines gives you the best chance to avoid a serious illness.
Of course, COVID isn’t the only global health concern. The opioid epidemic took over 100,000 lives last year. Just a few years ago that it was one-third that level. We are learning that this problem can catch anyone. No one is immune. There is no vaccine. Many of us have loved ones we’ve lost. We should all be paying more attention to this crisis, advocating for health care providers to be more judicious with pain medication and for governments to fund better treatment for more people caught in addiction.
There is good news, too. Preliminary numbers show that there were just five cases of wild polio (four in Afghanistan and one in Pakistan) last year. It is possible that no child will ever get a wild case of polio again! The Gates Foundation developed a new polio vaccine that can help bring an end to the scourge of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) cases. There were dozens last year. The novel polio vaccine won’t mutate like the old oral vaccine used for decades. It is now being used to fight outbreaks of cVDPV, holding promise that 2022 could be the last year a child gets any kind of polio.
Success fighting polio should give us all hope that we have the tools to fight public health problems and win. It takes time and concerted action but we don’t have to live in a world paralyzed by pandemics.
Poverty is growing for the first time in decades because of the dual crises of the pandemic and climate change. Some populous parts of the world are becoming uninhabitable due to the latter. The global economy is in turmoil because of the former. Add to these problems, the clumsy U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the resulting flow of refugees.
Every day, I am inspired by people and organizations who are working to help solve problems of poverty. Nearly one billion people are living in or near extreme poverty, including most of the world’s 84 million forcibly displaced people, refugees and internally displaced people.
Let me be clear. It is not an exaggeration to say that you are helping to end poverty by reducing your carbon footprint, wearing a mask and getting vaccinated. The crisis is so great, however, that we can’t stop there. We must put some of our time, energy and money into fighting poverty directly.
As refugees come to your community, look for ways to welcome them, ease their transition and help them find their footing. Let’s also look for ways to help people in their home countries to help them avoid being displaced. There are many ways to help the people living in poverty here in the United States, too. Let’s not forget the need to address social justice issues at home.
There are countless ways to make a difference in the world. You are almost certainly already doing good. As you think about all that is going on in the world today, I invite you to think about how you may be able to do just a bit more.
Doing good means different things to everyone. Do the good that means the most to you. I’m interested in your thoughts and hope you’ll leave a comment.