Watching the latest natural disaster of the week, it struck me that in a strange and sickening twist, life has begun to imitate art, (or at least prime time's version of art.) Since Survivor's first season, the viewing public has become obsessed with what can loosely be referred to as "reality television." The ratings have spawned a whole new generation of programming and a new award category at The Emmys. Having recently watched the taping of one such "reality" program, I can attest to the fact that what the viewers lap up as "real" is actually carefully scripted entertainment.
By contrast, Mother Nature has been providing us with a weekly dose of hard-core reality. The fall line-up began with the City of New Orleans being drowned by Katrina's wrath. The next disaster was the much anticipated, but slightly disappointing, Rita. As if Mother Nature sensed a drop in the ratings, cameras were switched to Central America, where thousands were buried alive in mudslides. October's rating sweep continued with the devastation of the earthquakes in Pakistan. As coverage and viewer attention began to wane, we were brought back to the Western hemisphere, and the mother of all storms, Wilma.
Each subsequent disaster has fought for the public's attention, sympathy and donations. With millions now homeless, it seems inconceivable that those who remain unscathed (and glued to the tube) could possibly provide enough relief for all those whose lives have been shattered forever.
Or so I thought until I watched a seemingly unrelated news story on ABC. According to the report, Americans spend more than $ 18 billion a year on diet pills. The figure was both staggering and oddly familiar.
It took a few moments of cruising around the web to realize why $ 18 billion seemed such a landmark. It is only slightly less than the $ 19 billion experts say it would take to eliminate world hunger, and slightly more than the $ 17 billion that Europeans and American spend each year on pet food. (I also discovered that we spend another $ 20 billion on ice cream and other frozen desserts, and a staggering $ 35 billion on bottled water.)
There is something fundamentally sick and disturbing about all this. As novelist William Gibson wrote,
"The Future is here, it just isn't evenly distributed."
Despite all the advances that we have made as a society, despite the freedoms we have won, the wars we have fought against poverty and disease, the world is in some strange ways even more polarized than it was during the reigns of history's greatest tyrants. At least a despot can be deposed and revolutions can topple evil leaders. But where do we start the revolution when the enemy is us?
Thanks to The Millennium Development Goals we have a place to start. At the turn of the new millennium, the leaders of 191 countries agreed that we have the resources and the political will to eradicate the extreme poverty, hunger and disease that kills millions of people each year in the poorest parts of the world. The leaders set 2015 as the target date to achieve these goals.
"We will have time to reach the Millennium Development Goals," said UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, "but only if we break with business as usual."
I couldn't agree more. After all, we live on a finite planet, with finite resources. Each day those that have (that's us in what's loosely called the Developed world) take from those who don't. Sadly, ironically, it is the have nots who are also most affected by Mother Nature's greatest natural disasters.
I am reminded of the words of 19th century theologian and writer, J.H. Jowett. He said, "The real measure of our wealth is how much we would be worth if we lost all our money." Imagine our worth if didn't lose our money, but shared it with those who have none.
The Hunger Project is a strategic organization and global movement, committed to the sustainable end of world hunger.
William Gibson's edgy and prophetic writing can be found at William Gibson Books
For more on the works of J. J. Jowett visit Classic Christian Books