For the first time in history, it is now within our reach to eradicate world poverty and the suffering it brings. Yet, around the world, a billion people struggle to live each day on less than many of us pay for bottled water that we don't even need. And though the number of deaths attributable to poverty worldwide has fallen dramatically in the past half-century, nearly 6.3 million children under five still die unnecessarily each year. The people of the developed world face a profound choice: If we are not to turn our backs on a fifth of the world’s population, we must become part of the solution.
Peter Singer wrote The Life You Can Save (Random House, 2009) to show that our current response to world poverty is not only insufficient but ethically indefensible. He argues that we need to change our views of what is involved in living an ethical life. To help us play our part in bringing about that change, he offers a seven-point plan that mixes personal philanthropy (figuring how much to give and how best to give it), local activism (spreading the word in your community), and political awareness (contacting your representatives to ensure that your nation’s foreign aid is really directed to the world’s poorest people).
There’s a growing movement of people who are passionate about ethical giving and effective poverty relief. Inspired in part by Peter Singer’s ethical arguments, these individuals strive to live their lives in order to maximize their ability to give—and ensure that their donations go to charities with proven records of helping the global poor. Peter Singer’s most recent book The Most Good You Can Do (Yale, 2015) introduces a wide-ranging cast of individuals who have made conscious decisions to prioritize effective giving as they negotiate their career choices, family lives, and relationships with those they love. None of these people see themselves as moral saints; nor do they feel that they must make sacrifices in order to live by their ethical goals. The Most Good You Can Do shows that each of us can find ways of bettering the lives of the global poor—and that doing so often holds substantial personal and psychological rewards for those who chose to give.
Each of us has the opportunity to make a huge difference in the lives of others, without diminishing the quality of our own life. The Life You Can Save and The Most Good You Can Do show why we should see our global giving as an important ethical choice, and demonstrate how we can make our charitable aid more effective. Peter Singer’s message is ultimately a call to action—action that you can take today.
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