By Tom Peterson
All social issues are connected. And because all good causes are connected, good actions in one area ripple out to help in other areas.
The butterfly effect is the idea in chaos theory that a small input or change in one place can have a giant effect in another. The name comes from the notion that the movement of air from a butterfly flapping its wings could ultimately be part of the conditions that create a hurricane. It’s a metaphor; a butterfly doesn’t cause hurricanes. But it is true that small world improvement changes in one area can move others forward.
You may be working with disabled children, making your city more livable, helping adults deal with depression, undergirding a people’s right to vote, fighting corporate dominance of the food system. These are all pieces of one hyper-complex system. Any progress you make in your arena will positively impact those nearby.
It’s all connected
People working on one cause usually connect with folks working related causes. This is true in your community and far away. And the connections are accelerating. Let’s start with one big issue of our day: obesity. Or as it is being re-framed, “healthy weight.”
- Obesity is an epidemic. Thirty-five percent of American adults are obese. Add “overweight” and it’s 69 percent. The obesity rate has more than doubled since the 1970s (what’s that about?).
- Obesity leads to many health problems, like heart diseases, diabetes. After tobacco, it’s the second leading cause of death for adults under 70.
- An obese person’s healthcare costs 40 percent more, swelling the total national cost of healthcare. Workplace impacts include absenteeism and discrimination. Obesity-related conditions cost us around $190 billion a year.
- Childhood obesity is equally alarming.
- Two remedies to obesity: eating healthy and physical activity. Not complicated.
- Eating Healthy. Holy guacamole, it is complicated! A million issues. Our biological desire for fat and sugar, our eating habits, eating to fill emotional needs (the need for more mental health services). Federal subsidies of corn (et cetera) that make processed (usually bad for you) food cheap. Access to quality food, food deserts. Junk food advertising. These just scratch the surface.
- One starting point is Michael Pollan’s advice: just eat what your great-grandma ate. Fresh, whole food is good.
- Work in healthy eating often gets people into the local food movement, supporting local farmers and re-creating the infrastructure that was dismantled. Money stays local instead of in the pockets of a few distant wealthy shareholders.
- One form that takes is the farmers market. They have increased from 350 in the seventies to more than 8,000 today.
- Farmers markets are often a jumpstart to place making, to revitalizing a neighborhood.
- Sometimes this leads to youth programs in low-income neighborhoods, developing school gardens. This kind of experiential education is one component to improving learning with giant results.
- Better public education leads to rejecting the silly distrust of and disregard for science. Who’s paying for this PR campaign?
- Better public education leads to higher graduation rates, lower dropout rates.
- This leads to decreased crime and better jobs.
- Decreased crime and better jobs leads to better neighborhoods.
- Decreased crime and reforming the justice system lead to fewer lives wasted in the multi-billion dollar prison-industrial complex. The U.S. is number one for per capita incarceration. The number of people we jailed doubled between 2000 and 2010.
- Higher graduation rates leads to a more educated work force.
- More educated local workforce leads to economic development.
- And it leads to more innovation, better solutions to our challenges.
- The hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone. (Just seeing if you’re still reading!) Let’s go back to the starting point of obesity. Besides eating healthy, the other solution is to get more physical exercise.
- Bike lanes lead to increased riding, and more bike riders are organizing to get more lanes, paths and overall bike friendliness. In Copenhagen 40 percent more people bike to work than drive. Bike-friendly cities attract both an innovative work force and economic development.
- The simplest and cheapest form of exercise is walking. So you may be helping people walk more. As once forgotten neighborhoods become walkable, they increase in value, but more important, they make the quality of life go way up.
- Walking and biking join with mass transportation as Alternative Transportation. Public transportation (buses, trains and so on) is on the rise. In 2013 Americans took 10 billion trips, the highest in 57 years.
- Besides saving money, according to the APTA: “Public transportation use in the United States reduces our nation’s carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons annually. This is equivalent to Washington, DC; New York City; Atlanta; Denver; and Los Angeles combined stopping using electricity.”
- Reducing our carbon footprint is the way to address climate change. So now we’re talking about the survival of the human species!
In case you haven’t noticed, pretty much anything rational we do to improve our quality of life through all of these actions saves funds. I wonder why that is.
In short, you could start at any point of world change. Any place. Begin to map the related ties and you’ll find the same results. The good news is that no matter what you’re doing to improve the world it will spread positive results.
Assignment: Draw a similar mind map from a world-change starting point you’re involved in.
Art: Skeletons, Posada. Bike, Wolliff, Creative Commons.