I previously posted on distance, and I wanted to continue in that light. The original idea was that as things become further from your direct association, we care less about the consequences. I feel that is being used by businesses to make money because they know that we really don't care enough if the consequences, no matter how devastating, are sufficiently distanced from us.
I am sad today because I have been involved in the killing of 9 innocent, hard working men. I'm pretty sure it has received national press, but this morning mine officials announced that the 6 miners who were trapped in a cave-in may never be recovered. Additionally, there were 3 miners killed in a collapse during the rescue efforts. I pray for them, I sincerely hope that they find the missing miners alive, I also recognize that I contributed to the mine collapse and their probable deaths.
You see, I live in Utah (although I feel that responsibility stretches far beyond the state and national borders) and I use electricity. 95% of the electricity I use is generated from the burning of coal. If I used less electricity and thereby decreased the overwhelming demand for coal, those miners wouldn't have had to be mining under dangerous conditions. If I didn't demand that my electric bill be lower, that mine could have spent more money on safety precautions that could have saved the miners.
Can I trace the electricity in my home back to the coal that those miners were mining, or even to that mine? No, there's no way I could do that, so it's distanced from me. Therefore, I'm not responsible, right? I am absolutely responsible. I'm not the only one, but as a consumer of electricity and as a part of society that demands inexpensive power, I am responsible for the demand for electricity and the demand that it be inexpensive (promoting less safe mining practices).
I know people (as in the 4 that read this blog) are thinking that you can't live your life like this, dwelling on every distant consequence of your actions. That is my point exactly, we have to live our lives conscious of the distant effects. Our actions have consequences, often devastating consequences. Frequently it is the actions of many that have devastating consequences, but that is not a license to also participate in the actions.
I don't drive a car frequently because I know of the devastating consequences to the health and fabric of our society. Does the fact that I (1 person) don't drive a car have an impact on the world? No. I know very well that my effort is not nearly sufficient to make any global changes. But if I drove my car I would have to live with the fact that I (yes, me personally) caused the health and societal problems associated with automobiles. Am I being a little hard on myself? Maybe, but if we continue to distance our personal choices from the effects, it is going to continue to have devastating consequences.
When I get in a car, I think of the exhaust and the diseases it causes. When I drive, I personally contribute to the cardiovascular disease being suffered. When I leave the lights on in a room I am not in, I am personally contributing to the poor working conditions of miners around the world. When I flush the toilet I am taking from the limited reserve of fresh water on this planet and adding it to pools of human excrement so that others have less to drink. We all carry a heavy burden. This life isn't just about our pursuit of happiness, it is about enabling others to also have happiness. That is a heavy burden, but one worth supporting.