A little bit goes a long way

Oscar Abello

What we can’t forget about real historical change, if such a thing exists, is that before the levee breaks it may take a million years to fill the reservoir behind it. We like to think a moment can be captured in a photograph to be remembered through the ages. A moment is much more than that. If you want to be a part of real change then you have to go beyond the photograph. You have to sacrifice a little corporately-constructed sanity and fight the current of the mainstream if you want to build a reservoir for change.

Fighting the current takes a multitude of small, sometimes microscopic, steps that will not always lead to visible results. Read that again: not always visible results. There will be immediate results; you just won’t see most of them.

For example, could you imagine eating one less pound of meat per year? Probably not, since who’s really counting – but let’s just say that once a week, when you feel like eating meat, you consciously decide to fight that urge. Just once a week you deny yourself that meat, and it adds up. Let’s say you do manage to reduce your meat consumption by about one pound per year.

It takes about 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat. That’s from the cow’s drinking water; the water used to grow the cow’s feed; and the water used in cleaning, preparing and cooking the meat. Now think about the one billion estimated people in the world who lack access to safe, clean sources of water. If you’re left wondering how eating a pound less meat will lead to easier access to water for those billion people, all you need to remember is a little basic economics: when you demand less water by demanding less meat, the price of water worldwide feels pressure to fall. If enough people eat a little less meat, perhaps the price of water will fall enough to take a bite out of that billion people who need access to cheaper water.

The idea here is that it’s the tiny things like eating a little less meat per year that fill up the reservoir. You don’t even have to give up meat – just attempt to eat it less often, and in time the changes will reveal themselves somewhere downstream. You might say that’s wishful thinking, but we’re all connected through this thing called the market mechanism, whereby forces of supply and demand can be disastrous or glorious.

Maybe you’ve heard much, maybe too much, about the disasters of globalization. These tragedies are very real, but we can’t submit to the fantasy that we are somehow powerless. The United States forms the world’s largest single market of goods and services. When our economy sneezes, poor nations get the flu. As the largest player in the economic game, everything we do as a nation and as individuals in this nation becomes magnified on a global scale.

Corporations depend on you, the individual, wanting more and more of the same. Change means they have to spend some of that profit on new investments as opposed to yachts, golf outings and outrageous new homes. Call them selfish, but in their minds investment is a sacrifice of current consumption, and sacrifice hurts. I’m not saying we shouldn’t ask them to sacrifice anything – they should – but I’m also saying we all need to be prepared to sacrifice something, and for us not-so-rich-folks the sacrifice is not so big – just a pound of flesh.

Take yourself seriously in this consumer society, and the world will begin to see the glorious side of supply and demand. We will never get to a perfect world, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be walking down that path together. You might not feel like you have much power to bring about change, but that’s merely a function of living in this corporate-dominated world – a world that fears change but a world that is only a state of mind. In that state of mind, things like racism, poverty, hate, war and other tools of oppression are used to control you – tools that make you feel powerful or powerless depending on who and where you are; chains that hold you back and keep you from filling up that reservoir. Well, it’s only a state of mind. Break free.


Oscar Abello is a junior economics major from Philadelphia, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].