“I ordered a venti and they only gave me a grande.” “My phone is almost dead and I forgot my charger.” “Netflix won’t buffer so I can’t watch the next episode of Parks and Rec #firstworldproblems.” All of these seem like major inconveniences. How could I possibly survive without my daily coffee fix, my phone, or finding out what happens between Ben and Leslie? Obviously none of these scenarios are preferred, but if they are the worst things that happen to a person, they can hardly be considered “problems.”
Genocide. AIDS. Unclean drinking water. These are problems. While people in the United States are tweeting about their chai teas having too much chai and not enough tea, 663 million impoverished people in the world lack access to clean drinking water (United). They also don’t take to twitter to vent about their problems, considering their lack of access to iPhones, the internet, and electricity. Not only this, but also because their time could be much better spent trying to find food to keep their families alive and prevent their children from being one of the 3.1 million per year who die of poor nutrition (Black).
But it’s not as if we, in first-world countries, aren’t doing anything to help. A quick scroll through a Facebook news feed often results in a couple stories about atrocities happening overseas, and these posts usually have thousands of likes and shares. But if we all seem so supportive of helping those in need, why haven’t we all banded together to solve the problems yet? It’s because most of us truly don’t care. It’s not that we approve of, or are indifferent about these horrors; they just don’t have any impact on our daily lives and it would take too much effort to change.
As a college student living in the United States, a poor, malnourished child in Ethiopia doesn’t immediately affect my life in any way. This is the same mindset that is often used for anything from eating unhealthy foods to justifying a lack of action in fighting climate change. Daniel Gilbert, a psychology professor at Harvard, says that people don’t feel the need to take climate change seriously, because “we see it as a threat to our futures — not our afternoons” (Gilbert). Humans are inherently bad at weighing instant gratification against long-term benefits. We would rather enjoy feeling a little pleasure today and suffering major consequences tomorrow than suffer slightly today and reap major rewards tomorrow.
Humans’ inability to delay instant gratification can be easily seen in our diets. Along with the future health implications of eating a diet high in sugar and fat, a meat-heavy diet can also have severe negative repercussions. In Kip Anderson’s film, Cowspiracy, he discusses the environmental impacts of eating meat and other animal products. “Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation,” and “Growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56% of water in the US” (Livestock’s, Jacobson). The information exists, yet it isn’t attracting nearly as much attention in the fight against climate change as other, less impactful factors like transportation, which accounts for only fourteen percent of greenhouse gas emissions (Global). Animal agriculture is a large contributor to climate change, but very little is being done to combat it not only because humans are bad at planning for the future, but also because we are stubborn.
It is easier to change technology than it is to change human behavior, and due to this, little is being done to limit consumption of meat. It’s easy for the average American to limit their environmental footprint in that area of transportation, because they can rely on a small group of engineers to design more fuel-efficient engines for the cars they will eventually buy, but limiting meat consumption is an entirely different story. No outside force or engineer can make meat cause less pollution, so it is up to each and every one of us to change our diets if we truly want change. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Not because climate change isn’t an urgent problem or because humans are incapable of working together to achieve such a momentous goal, but because those who have the knowledge and power to change haven’t felt enough of the effects of our actions.
This brings us back to first world problems. Third world countries are the first to feel the effects of climate change, and the United States is just beginning to feel them (Mendelsohn). The largest impact climate change has had on the United States so far is the drought in California, which has forced residents to take shorter showers and go without watering their lawns. While citizens of California are complaining about how the drought has ruined their lawns and morning routines, people in some of the poorest countries in the world are struggling to find enough water to survive. We are lucky to live in such ignorant bliss, but someday, someday soon, our actions will catch up to us and our “first world problems” will actually be problems.
Black, Robert E., Cesar G. Victora, Susan P. Walker, Zulfiqar A. Bhutta, Parul Christian, Mercedes De Onis, Majid Ezzati, Sally Grantham-Mcgregor, Joanne Katz, Reynaldo Martorell, and Ricardo Uauy. “Maternal and Child Undernutrition and Overweight in Low-income and Middle-income Countries.” The Lancet 382.9890 (2013): 427-51. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.
Jacobson, Michael F. “More and Cleaner Water.” In Six Arguments for a Greener Diet: How a More Plant-based Diet Could save Your Health and the Environment. Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest, 2006.
Gilbert, Daniel. “If Only Gay Sex Caused Global Warming.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 02 July 2006. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
“Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data.” EPA. United States Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.
“Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options.” FAO. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 29 Nov. 2006. Web. 13 March 2016.
Mendelsohn, Robert, Ariel Dinar, and Larry Williams. “The Distributional Impact of Climate Change on Rich and Poor Countries.” Envir. Dev. Econ. Environment and Development Economics 11.02 (2006): 159. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.
United States. WHO/UNICEF. Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water. N.p.: n.p., 2015. Print.