Friday, October 17, 2008


OK, I apologize in advance for the general venting that is about to occur. But, in my defense, people really bug me sometimes.

I posted my post 'Take 30 Seconds to Save Sea Turtles' at another website and got this response:

Is there evidence anywhere that any shallow internet poll has ever actually determined any government policy? I don’t mean to be rude, just blunt: what possible reason would a foreign government have to respect your wishes?

It’s mostly the laz-ee-boy attitude that I think gets to me, the idea that it might be possible to stop resource waste or whatever by sitting comfy in an office chair and oops, look what I just did! saved the world with a mouse click again!

Is that even feasible? In the real world, I mean. Could educated people believe such tales?

I don’t really know, but what seems more reasonable is to examine the motivations behind the Bahamanian exploitation of the sea turtles. If it is money, then offer to pay them more to let the turtles be. If it is a technology thing where their nets cannot differentiate, then offer them free technology which can. If it is a deep-seated cultural symbiosis with the sea turtle, offer a troupe of anthropologists to try and bend their traditions a little. There are oodles of ways to make a difference, but c’mon now, a mouse click will change a politician? That defies credibility.

Mind you, how can I expect to sit here in my comfy office chair and change the activist policy of a science blogger with a single painless comment?

Firstly, what the hell is the harm in trying? I know some people are so busy that they really feel that the time spent clicking a button to donate to world hunger or testing their vocabulary to donate free rice is simply too much time wasted. But for most of us (especially those with the time to write five-paragraph long comments to a blog post), it probably won’t destroy our schedule. So why not?

Secondly, it is obviously better to tackle an issue at its core. Last I checked, however, not everyone has the resources to solve every problem that they care about. For example, I can’t single-handedly stop the Bahamas from killing turtles – I can’t bribe them, I can’t provide some new technology to solve whatever problems they have, and I can’t magically become a group of anthropologists to make a difference. In fact, I can do almost nothing. But almost nothing is still not nothing – I can send a letter to a guy and see if it makes a difference. After all, if I’m not the only one who sends a letter, and, in fact, thousands do, then it might occur to the politician that something is terribly unpopular, and if politicians know something is terribly unpopular, they might make the logical leap that they might look like a better person for stopping it, which is incentive in itself, since if they ‘look better’ they might become more popular, making it more likely that they’ll keep their job as a politician a little longer. If I am the only one who sends a letter - well, shit happens, and nothing will change.

Finally, it’s not like I’m deluded, and it is definitely not ‘lazy’ to do small acts to try and make a difference in life. I don’t think that the letters will change anyone’s mind and suddenly end the senseless killing of turtles - just like dropping off a can of tuna at a food drive doesn’t feed every starving child in Africa or wherever food is being sent. But isn’t it better to do something little, even if it makes almost no impact, than do nothing and say “well, what I could’ve done wouldn’t have been much anyway”? Carrying your own bag to the grocery store doesn’t stop millions of plastic bags from choking marine life, but it does stop one bag from doing it.

It’s like the story most people have heard about a wise man and boy/girl/whoever throwing starfish into the sea. He asked the person, “why are you doing that?” They said “Because, the sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.” Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “Do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!” To which the person responded “It made a difference for that one.”

I’m not saying everyone has to go try and save the sea turtles or collect bottle tops for breast cancer. But wouldn’t it be nice if everyone did one little thing every day to try and make a difference? If you won’t be that person, fine. It's your life and you don't have to spend any time thinking about anyone but yourself if you don't want to - after all, I didn't force you to read my blog. Just don’t try and convince other people not to do whatever little part they feel like to change the world. Like Ani Difranco said in one of her songs, (which, for the record, is one damn good song called "What If No One's Watching?")

“If you’re not trying to make something better, then as far as I can tell, you are just in the way.”