Something has been troubling me recently: how much should we give?

I’ve had the same discussion with friends over and over and over.  If we earn money, and spend our money on stuff, on things, are we complicit in a system that keeps others poor?  If we spend more money on coffee in a month than it would cost to provide one of the 45,000 people who die every week from preventable water diseases with fresh water, do we bare some responsibility for their death?

It came to a bit of a head a little while ago, with some of my friends and I vowing to spend a month living on $30/week for groceries (but still paying our bills, because we don’t want to default or anything) and forgoing anything that isn’t absolutely necessary for a month.  We’re going to donate the money we save to Charity:Water, who do amazing work proving access to clean, fresh drinking water to those who most need it.

Imagine my surprise when, the very day after we hatched this scheme, I stumbled upon The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer.  It addresses this exact issue, and does it far more eloquently than I ever could.  Even the blurb on the Abbey’s bookstore website is compelling (and sums up the book nicely, as no passage I could find in the actual text did):

What if I told you that you can save a life, even many lives? Do you have a bottle of water or a can of soda on the table beside you as you read this book? If you are paying for something to drink when safe drinking water comes out of the tap, you have money to spend on things you don’t really need. Around the world, a billion people struggle to live each day on less than you paid for that drink. Because they can’t afford even the most basic health care for their families, their children may die from simple, easily treatable diseases like diarrhoea. You can help them….

We live in a unique moment in history where the rich can genuinely help the poor to escape relentless poverty. But this will only happen if the rich care enough to make some small personal sacrifices.

Some of Singer’s other ideas are a bit out there… or very out there.  But this book is wonderful.  And Singer himself is donating all his proceeds from sales to Oxfam.  Buy it.  Read it.

Oh, and our “Live Poor” for a month challenge?  You’re going to get REALLY sick of hearing about that…

One Response

  1. Contoversial statement warning:

    The reason that the earth is in such a perilous condition is because of the vast numbers of humans – globally, not simply in certain countries, or certain continents. Our global population has required the consumption of huge resources for the basics – food, water and shelter – and then on top of that, we have the ‘wants’. I know that you talk about this and I agree completely on the issue of ‘wants’.

    This vast overpopulation is why I do not donate to any charity which provides help to the human species. I am not speciesist – I think that the Yellow footed rock wallaby has the same right to life that I do. I also think that technology constantly hampers Nature’s natural balancing mechanisms. The floods, famines and diseases which once controlled the human race are now being defeated.

    So I therefore do what I can to minimise my impact on the earth generally and in all my actions, consider the impact on all species. For this, I will be called “anti-human” and other things. That is fine, perhaps I am anti-human. But I will do what I can to try to balance the overwhelming support for humans by providing support for native wildlife, native flora and native ecosystems. That is my contribution.

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