07/12/2014 11:32 pm ET Updated Sep 11, 2014

World Cup vs. Planet Earth

I like FIFA soccer as much as the next fan. In fact, I often wonder why the marvelous athleticism, dexterity, reflexes, and international color of the game has not led it to catch on any faster in the land of American football, baseball, and basketball. Perhaps the answer is in the question. All the same, as I watch the frenzied World Cup competition approach its apex, I cannot help but wonder why human beings are more interested in kicking balls around a field than they are in the fact that our activities have bought us a one-way ticket to extermination.

Yes indeed, while a very few of us run around to the pleasure of television audiences worldwide, as a species we are, on a daily basis, systematically wiping out all life on Earth, and shrinking the very planet into a dusty, dry, floating raisin -- a bit of lifeless, interplanetary debris. Two examples are California's falling water table and what it means for the future of our most populous state and drilling and fracking-like exploration in Oklahoma that has raised the frequency of earthquakes there from one a year to one a day.

Could it be that we humans really are a lot more closely related to ostriches than we are to bonobos, gorillas, and chimps? Is there something unwise in our nature, the same thing that accounts for the fact that rather than saving for a rainy day, on a daily basis most of us trade time, our only truly valuable possession, for money? Is this the same defect that impels us to compulsively purchase things we don't need with money we don't have, thereby incarcerating ourselves in a jail of a our own making? Surely our corporately owned and controlled world is partly to blame for the inundating flood of messages that drive us to these behaviors, but even our vilest corporate bosses, human beings in appearance if not action, know that rather than wolves devouring sheep, they are merely the lead lemmings in a crazy march over a global set of cliffs.

Is there really nothing that can shake those of us in the developed world out of our torpor, nothing that can tear us away from the beer and the ballgame or the pursuit of faster, gas-guzzling autos and private jets and ever more egregious levels of self-indulgence and luxury and bring us face-to-face with the consequences of our actions, from climate change to extinction? What is it about us that would rather ignore -- or worse, deny -- important truths than engage them, even when our very survival is at stake?

Do we really suppose that soccer games matter when our planet is imploding? Do we really think it matters which of our many, manufactured gods or prophets we worship or claim in our lineage is important? Are we really still more concerned with sexual orientation or skin color instead of restraining our unbridled appetite for consumption and "development," that latter just a razzle-dazzle word for destruction? To those of you who say that you know all this, and it's boring, and you'd rather stick your fingers in your ears only to withdraw them long enough to hear the cheers of the crowd when your team makes a goal, I say that if you applied the same vigor and zeal to saving sentient beings and the rock on which we live, we could play and survive!

If you are on your deathbed, in jail, or paralyzed to an extent that allows you to make no contribution whatsoever to doing something about the human crash course with destiny, I suppose an argument could be made that you are entitled to watch an entire history of back-to-back soccer games until you draw your last breath. But if that's not you, even if you are so poor that you live in an elevated box like Cambodia's lake people, who use the water beneath them as washing machine, toilet, and swimming pool, there is something you can do to help. You can still work for change, create awareness in your local community, modify your spending and recreational habits, demand corporate and political responsibility, agitate, cogitate, meditate, and grow.

Cynical, judgmental pessimists claim that most of us are too self-involved or fearful to face the truth about their habits, their values, their beliefs, or the physical reality of what is going on in the world. That may well be true. It's not the end of the story, though. The real end, the gritty end, the in-your-face end is coming, whether because of social upheaval due to the growing gap between rich and poor, or because of environmental catastrophe. Even if we manage to extend our current, wasteful and excessive way of life for another generation, the real point is it's not all about us! We share the planet, people, not only with each other but with a whole rich array of living creatures, many of whom are intelligent and feeling in ways we may never understand.

So. Please think about your actions. Research the policies of the companies who make the products you buy. Ask yourself if what you're about to buy is something you really need. Contemplate the consequences of your consumption. If you have a disposable income, skip the mall and instead support people who work for a better, more sustainable world. Engage your highest mind. Don't worry so much about yourself. Work for balance and harmony in the world and in your own life. Instead of accumulating wealth or goods, cultivate what we Taoists call the three external treasures of compassion, frugality, and humility.

Go ahead and enjoy the soccer game. Just keep it in context and perspective. There are other ways to step out of what you consider your daily pressures, your daily grind, and in the long run, many of those can be far more productive and helpful to our fragile, fading, third rock from the sun.