It’s striking how value-defining pearls of wisdom come to you from the darndest places. I have the TV comedy show “My Name is Earl” to thank for the impetus to think about my environmental and financial stewardship. The show is about Earl - a ne’er-do-well, petty crook who wins a $100,000 lottery and gets immediately hit by a passing car and ends up in the hospital with no winning ticket. While incapacitated, he finds karma through the Carson Daly show. With a new sense of purpose, he creates a list of bad things he’s done and proceeds to fix each one.

On one such quest (”Robbed a Stoner Blind”), he finds himself forced to live in a dung hut with hippies and learns about global warming. Appalled, he goes back and zealously works to “fix global warming”. While picking up trash off the street, he notices that his actions are cancelled by his ex-wife. Ever-observant, he quickly finds out it’s not just his ex cancelling out his efforts, it’s the whole town! Earl resorts to flattening tires and breaking electrical boxes to stop people from destroying the planet. Alas, a panic-stricken Earl, then hears on the news that China is scheduled to be the biggest polluter in the world. He was being cancelled by the whole world!

It is this same incomprehensible vastness of a problem that overwhelms us to inaction, lulls us to inattention. After all, where do we even begin to fix a colossal problem like global environmental degradation? How do we stop China and India from exponentally expanding their pollution footprint? For that matter, how do we convince the developed world to take aggressive steps to curb their own emissions? How do we solve absolute poverty in the world? How could we possibly show first-world consumers that their $17 billion / year spend on pet food contrasts with the almost-equivalent $19 billion / year to eliminate hunger and malnutrition across the world (WorldWatch)? We can’t though we whip ourselves into a frenzy.

The answer, as Earl finally realized, was to do what little you could. He decided to be Earth-friendly for five minutes a day. Perhaps that’s the best way to affect change - to have the peace and discipline to control what is in your power to change and to not get all knotted up by the rest. That’s what Gandhi concentrated on. That’s what Mother Theresa concentrated on.

So what am I going to do personally? Take my ten minutes a day:

  1. One minute to put plastics, cans, and glass in separate recyclable bins. (Added benefit: wife loves you)
  2. One minute to turn off lights in rooms I don’t use
  3. Three minutes to stifle the agony of not going to Starbucks for a $4 latte, but instead make coffee at home (five minutes) which I can carry in a washable mug. (Added benefit: take the $4/day I save and put it towards a monthly contribution to clean water or food supply for people in a third-world country. My $4/day would pull two people from hunger and malnutrition in a world where 1.1 billion people in the world live on less than $1/day and where mothers bake clay chips for their children to eat so it keeps their hunger at bay.)

So there it is. I am a little ashamed to say I have a lot more Earl in me than Gandhi. But at least I won’t be a total sloth!