Evolution is the underlying theme of my novel Free Ralph! An Evolutionary Fable.
This is the fourth in a series of essays exploring that theme, published in Sevananda's
Co-Options newsletter.

Only One Person Can Save the World . . .
And It’s Not Barack Obama!

“Small changes add up.” – The New, Improved Law of Evolution

by Stephen Wing

“I’m only one person! What difference can I possibly make?”

Tell that to the ants whose colony you’ve just crushed in one careless, colossal step. Tell it to the raccoon whose life you’ve just saved with a twitch of your steering wheel.

Tell it to the mutant organisms whose groping experiments in adaptation over the ages eventually led to the evolution of homo sapiens. Tell it to the mutant humans who first envisioned representative democracy, women’s suffrage, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the movements to end apartheid and save the spotted owl.

Tell it to the millions of African-Americans who cast their hard-won votes for Barack Obama, the thousands of bright young people who worked on his campaign. Tell it to the children whose future depends to a frightening degree on Obama’s ability to resist corporate pressure – which depends in turn on the pressure he receives from ordinary individual voters like us.

Evolutionary time is vast, measured in millions of generations. But look closely and you’ll see that it’s made up of trillions of individual lifetimes, each a potential fork in the road where evolution might have branched off in an unprecedented new direction.

In our own time, that new direction is known as “sustainability.” Until now the influence of an individual organism was limited to the evolution of its own species. Today, the fate of thousands of species depends on homo sapiens branching out in a sustainable direction. And like every previous evolutionary fork in the road, that potential rests entirely in the hands of individuals.

I believe that deep down, we all realize this. Protesting that we are “only one person” is an attempt to squirm out from under the awesome responsibility we bear for our planet’s uncertain future.

The petroleum dependency, PCB pollution, and solid waste nightmare spawned by the plastics industry have accumulated one disposable single-serving container at a time. These problems will only be solved as one person at a time wakes up to the need to refill, re-use and recycle.

Yes, the interlocking global crises we now face are the product of interlocking global systems of finance and manufacturing and transportation. But those systems are fueled not so much by oil and coal as by the small, individual purchasing decisions we make every day: in the grocery store, on the internet, at the gas pump.

Buying a corporation’s products is our personal endorsement of its raw materials extraction, toxic discharges, disposable packaging, the wages it pays in the Third World, its downsizing, corporate raiding, stock price manipulation, lobbying by campaign contributions, etc., etc. All of it is there in our shopping bags whether we notice the extra weight or not. In the global economic machine the corporations have engineered, our nickels and dimes and dollars are the only endorsement that counts.

Yes, reversing the momentum of overpopulation, overdevelopment, pollution and climate change will require massive political and economic shifts at every level, from local to international. And where can the political will to push them through our corporate-dominated democracy possibly come from? From nowhere else but our individual voices and votes – our emails and phone calls to reluctant representatives, our protest signs, our signatures on petitions, our sacrifices of time and money.

Natural selection, according to Darwin, depends not on the similarities between individuals but on their uniqueness. If we live our lives as complacent members of society, following custom and fashion and tradition, our species and many others may well go extinct. Only by acting as unique individuals – as “only one person” – can we set a new course for evolution on planet Earth.


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