What if I told you that you could win the hit television game show “Jeopardy”? You have the body of knowledge required to win Jeopardy if you are able to answer the following question: What is the complete definition of the word amphisbaena? If you are anything like me, you have absolutely no clue of what the definition entails. Unfortunately for me, this is demonstrative of the harsh reality of my inability to become a Jeopardy wizard. However, I do have a solution for my lack of knowledge regarding Jeopardy esque questions through a handy-dandy gadget called an iPhone. Principally, the iPhone is a computer stuck in a phone’s body which has the capability to “Google” any question from essentially anywhere. The modern technological age has paved the way to an ever growing level of accessibility and magnitude of data at the few taps of a finger.
The era of such readily available information has revolutionized research and provided countless benefits to billions of people across the globe. The age of information has shed light on topics which historically “the average joe” would not be informed about. However, such convenient access to mass data is also symbolic of a troubling truth within our society. For instance, despite awareness and access to information regarding issues such as food health, consumers continue to devour products that are detrimental to their health. Furthermore, despite taking a course at Santa Clara University outlying the dangers and atrocities of factory farming and processed foods, I directly witnessed classmates continue to consume such commodities directly before and after class. These were the same students who wrote papers, presented projects, and on a daily basis discussed the dangerous and atrophic nature of factory farmed meat. Continually, the same students who discussed the subsequent in-class reading from Princeton graduate and published author Jonathon Foer,
“Of course, consumers might notice that their chickens don’t taste quite right – how good could a drug-stuffed, disease-ridden, shit-contaminated animal possibly taste? – but the birds will be injected (or otherwise pumped up) with ‘broth’ and salty solutions to give them what we have come to think of as the chicken look, smell, and taste” (Foer).
Despite the preceding knowledge, I even found myself making acceptations on ingesting the very same products—such as chicken— that I disregarded in class. Bringing forth the question: does information and knowledge result in a change of behavior?
Despite cultural awareness and direct access to health risks of the food we consume, Americans constantly stand number one in the world in average obesity (Khan-US Health News). This is further reflective of the notion that information and knowledge are not substantial in altering behavior to create positive change in food consumption and thus our environment. The technological age has not only made finding information faster but has also aided in the development of a culture and generation of consumers who fail to consider long run impacts, morals, and that require a (legitimate) direct threat to generate considerable self change.
Conversely, many point to information as the key in igniting change. After all, if someone is unaware of steroids used in meat production, then how will they know the dangers of such food and initiate change in their eating behavior? In fact, the majority of students in my environmentally-based English class had no idea that for every one pound of beef produced roughly 1800 gallons of water is expended (Food Tank). Without knowing the extreme environmental impacts of consuming beef, no students in the class would change their behavior in regards to their diet and beef consumption. Hence, no change can be generated without awareness and knowledge. Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan discussed the influence of knowledge in reference to world poverty while addressing the UN, “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society and in every family” (Annan). Kofi Annan, although not discussing the environment, was implying that with
out world awareness of global poverty and without access to education that mass poverty would never end. Similar to Annan’s point about poverty, a lack of environmental awareness and education across the globe has allowed for environmental ignorance. Environmental ignorance is evident in American as 51 percent of adults believe that climate change is not caused by human activity (Funk-Pew Center of Research). If half of American adults do not even believe in climate change, how will progress in regards to more specific, yet imperative, threats to the environment such as food production and consumption be solved? Thus demonstrating that without an expanded education and awareness of environmental issues that beneficial progress in the environment is improbable. The ignorance and unawareness of human impact on the environment is why countless novelists, filmmakers, and professors are working to create awareness regarding environmental topics. Without watching, reading, and discussing such works in my environmentally-based English class at Santa Clara University, I would have never known the countless impacts that I directly have on the environment; nor would I know to alter my behavior.
Talk is Cheap
Despite health advisory labels and a modern comprehension of the severe impacts of smoking, why do smokers keep smoking cigarettes? Yes, most smokers are extremely addicted to substances in cigarettes such as nicotine. However, smokers also fail to see the long run impacts of their action. Chances are, in the short run, no momentous impact will affect smokers well-being; it’s not like smokers who smoke cigarettes will drop dead in a week. Similar to the disconnect someone has between smoking a cigarette and the potential of getting cancer years down the road; there remains a disconnect between the knowledge of an individual and their behavior regarding their environmental impact. There is no denying that environmental ignorance and unawareness are serious problems in their own right. Nevertheless, having environmental awareness of the consequences of one’s actions does not solve behavior nor significantly benefit the environment. Witnessing my classmates continue to consume factory farmed chicken is symbolic that understanding how bad something is cannot override behavior, especially when competing with convenience and immediate gratification. Foer eloquently conveys this notion through the metaphor, “While it is always possible to wake a person who’s sleeping, no amount of noise will wake a person who is pretending to be asleep” (Foer). It is quite easy to pretend to care versus the effort it takes to genuinely care, let alone turn care into action and behavioral change.
Seeing is Believing and Understanding
In general, it is much simpler to discuss and debate the morals of hunting versus buying a salami sandwich. Why? Because hunting is directly correlated to killing, while buying a salami sandwich involves disconnect from the reality that you are eating an animal. I grew up hunting wild game alongside my dad who constantly reminded me, “It’s easy to pull the trigger but it’s the work that comes after that’s not easy”. As a hunter who has killed several large mammals—such as deer and wild boar—it still pains me in an indescribable way to take something’s life. Conversely, it never was hard for me to buy a sandwich from the store. Nonetheless, overtime I began to understand what my dad meant from his advice. The handling of the animal once it was killed was by far the hardest part of the hunt; vastly harder than trekking across miles of mountainous terrain packed to the gill with gear. I often found myself gagging and nearly spilling my stomachs contents as I skinned, gutted, and dressed the animals. I literally had to pull every organ, still covered in still warm blood, from the animals. Despite the goriness, I gained an appreciation and further understanding of meat. The way that I perceive meat and the animals from where meat comes will never be the same. I was only able to gain a new perspective of meat by partaking in the immediate (direct) impacts from my actions of killing and processing the meat.
This discovery connects back to the reason why people are incapable of generating change in their behavior from knowledge. Before I ever fired an arrow or bullet, it was effortless to discuss what hunting entailed. It was only after having to physically touch and after finding a direct connection to meat that I was able to fully comprehend that meat is from a conscious life form. All the while, keeping in mind that factory farming treats animals more so like a crop of corn than that of a living creature (Foer). The disconnect between one’s actions and the results that follow are quite evident: whether it is eating beef, smoking a cigarette, or driving a car. Through this disconnect, a gap persists between one’s choices correlating to long run impacts, actions in relation to morality, and more so reflective of how someone’s behavior is resistant to change without direct self impact. This is a gap which simply cannot be bridged by awareness and knowledge.
No Simple Solution or Conclusion
Like countless college students, procrastination persists as a dilemma that I constantly have to battle. Versus studying, it is not hard to give way to the devil who remains eternally perched atop your conscious telling you to stay in bed or watch Netflix. In such moments, I am fully aware of what procrastination entails but more times than not I end up caving to the habit. Despite having an awareness of procrastination, I still tend to think in the short run and end up only hurting myself exponentially by procrastinating. It is substantially more demanding to constantly hold ourselves accountable. Nevertheless, self-accountability remains vital to maintain our ability to produce at the highest level and be the best that we can be in all aspects of life. The same goes for the environment, we either know or have the capability to know the consequences of our actions. Ultimately, signifying that collectively we can alter our behaviors now or continue to procrastinate as the environment gets worse and worse.
The only way to benefit the greater environment is by holding your choices accountable as an individual; such as not eating beef or biking instead of driving. God will not fix our environment, the government will not fix our environment, and privatized industry most certainly will not help the environment. The only person who can make a difference right now is you. The mindset of acting upon knowledge must become as celebrated and ingrained in American culture as obtaining an education. You may believe that it is impossible to make a difference alone, a mentality often seen in voting where many feel that their vote does not count in the grand scheme of things. This deceptive mentality is reflected in the most recent presidential election through the summation of citizens who thought their vote wouldn’t count and choose not to partake. It is commonly known, all politics aside, that the vast majority of Americans from all political denominations believed Donald Trump would never win the race. Nonetheless, you have failed in being self-accountable—in the same light as choosing to not vote—by not individually acting upon environmental awareness. Due to the long-term nature of the environment, most likely you will never witness big picture or noteworthy results from either progress or setbacks correlating to the environment. Despite the selfish nature of human consciousness take a look at your children, grandchildren, younger siblings, and more so the next generation as they are who will reap what you sow.
“Perhaps in the back of our minds we already understand, without all the science I’ve discussed, that something terribly wrong is happening. Our sustenance now comes from misery. We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film. We perhaps know more than we care to admit, keeping it down in the dark places of our memory– disavowed” (Foer).
Like other novelists, I could write a book on the science of our behavior or the environmental impacts of each one of our actions such as consuming beef. This has already been done and that is not the goal of my essay. I am not going to list the ways you can make a difference, as there is no one magical solution or vaccine. There is an immeasurable amount of data on the environment and how we contribute negatively out there for you to find. Google it. It is your moral obligation to hold yourself accountable and act upon what you find and what you already know.
The one thing that unites the whole world is our world. The issues facing the environment and our role within it unites everyone no matter of political support, skin color, origin, sex, wealth, or age. Even if you a dinosaur, who does not believe in climate change, you are still not excused from your choices pertaining to the environment as there remains other directly correlated choices you can control such as through your role in supporting mass meat production. Anyone can talk all they want or soak up all the knowledge in the world but ultimately it comes down to action. If you so choose, keep ignoring the consequences of your actions and sleep good at night knowing that you are a hypocrite. There is no doubt that today is a complicated time; yet thanks to the age of information, holding yourself self accountable to what you know or have the capability to know is very black and white: either you are a hypocrite or you are not.
Looking back the opening narrative and to the Jeopardy esque question, the definition of amphisbaena is a serpent from mythology with a head on each end of its body that can either move forward or backward (Dictonary.com). For the sake of the future, having no in-between, which direction will you choose?
Annan, Kofi. “UN Press Release.” United Nations: Meeting Coverage and Press Release. United Nations, 23 June 1997. Web. 13 June 2017. <http://www.un.org/press/en/1997/19970623.sgsm6268.html>.
“Amphisbaena Definition.” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com. Web. 13 June 2017. <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/amphisbaena?s=t>.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2010. Print.
“Food Tank: Meat’s Large Water Footprint: Why Raising Livestock and Poultry for Meat Is so Resource Intensive.” Food Tank.27 Nov. 2016. Web. 13 June 2017. <https://foodtank.com/news/2013/12/why-meat-eats-resources/>.
Funk, Cary, and Brian Kennedy. “Public Views on Climate Change and Climate Scientists.”Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. Pew Research Center, 04 Oct. 2016. Web. 13 June 2017. <http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/10/04/public-views-on-climate-change-and-climate-scientists/>.
Khan, Amir. “America Tops List of 10 Most Obese Countries.” US News Health. US News and World Report, 28 May 2014. Web. 13 June 2017. <http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2014/05/28/america-tops-list-of-10-most-obese-countries>.
Not Me Blaming Sign. Digital image. Time to Play. Time to Play Foundation,Web. 13 June 2017.
Funk, Cary, and Brian Kennedy. “Public Views on Climate Change and Climate Scientists.”Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. Pew Research Center, 04 Oct. 2016. Web. 13 June 2017. <http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/10/04/public-views-on-climate-change-and-climate-scientists/>. (Public View on Climate Change Graph)