I love it when something challenges my worldview, and changes my approach to living. Sometimes, I cannot figure out how to weather the change, how to behave in a way that will benefit the universe, rather than becoming a canker.

Which is more important, buying locally, bypassing emissions from transport and production, and avoiding non-living-wage labor from sweatshops in third world countries, or contributing to the suffering of people in those countries and others, where they can’t even get a sweatshop manufacturing job, and must scavenge in the dump, even living amidst the refuse?

Nicholas Kristof’s latest op-ed piece in the NY Times has certainly challenged me with this question. Save the Earth, or save the Humans?

I live a privileged lifestyle. I know I do, and I’m grateful, even shameful sometimes. It was pure luck that I was born where I was, when I was. The fact that I can ask myself, every time I make a purchase, whether it’s more important for me to spend extra pennies on organically grown produce, or to avoid clothing from notoriously inhumane corporations, is pure luxury. I have extra time on my hands, and money to burn.

I believe in stewardship of the planet, in carefully changing the way humans do things to preserve our habitat, our host. But I’m a human, after all, and I also believe in the reduction of suffering. I don’t know, at this precise moment, if I would choose the Earth, and let Homo Sapiens burn (we are, indeed, selfish, prone to greed, power hungry, war-mongering, racist, sexist, exclusionary, do-it-in-the-name-of-God murderers), or if I would choose to raise the standard of living for every human on earth, even if it meant our planet would last only 50 more years.

Perhaps it’s too simplistic, but perhaps it’s exactly as simple as that! Can I help the world better as a consumerist, or as a conscientious researcher of all lifestyle options? This makes my brain hurt.