5 Ways You Can Improve the World With Almost No Effort
There is a certain point at which problems just seem insurmountable. What the hell are you going to do that will suddenly fix world hunger or global warming, or stop people from fighting wars? You're not a billionaire or a politician. It's easier to just throw up your hands, go back to bed, and let someone else take care of it, especially since naps are fantastic.
But the good news is that for absolutely no effort or cost whatsoever, you can make profound differences in the world. These are meaningless little things that you probably didn't even know made an impact at all, and they can be easily scheduled in between your nine daily siestas.
Keep Your Damn Cat Indoors (Before It Obliterates the Ecosystem)
This being the Internet, most of you adore cats. And what's not to love? They're easy to domesticate and are one of the lowest-maintenance pets out there. The trouble is that your beloved kitty's fondness for catching pests can become a huge problem the second you let your snookums outside. How huge? Well, cats are now listed among the world's top 100 invasive species. And yes, we mean domestic cats -- not feral. So, yeah, your putty tat's pwedatowy pwowess is way less adorable once McFluffin starts decimating local ecosystems.
"Now I am become death, the destroyer of- OH, STRING!"
The problem is that most of us tend to vastly underestimate the impact of domestic cats in the wild. Thanks to human breeding and protection, their population density is actually 100 times higher than feral cats in the same environment, and most ecosystems simply aren't prepared for those numbers. Domestic cats also have fewer risks from predators, as they have safe homes to retreat to whenever, say, stray dogs enter their territory. That means domesticated outdoor cats have all the benefits and hunting skills of feral cats and none of the drawbacks that force other animals to be more cautious. The result is basically a natural apocalypse every time cat owners open the front door.
But maybe you're convinced that your outdoor cat isn't an insatiable killing machine -- after all, you feed the little guy. Why would he feel the need to hunt?
See, that's what everybody thought. So they did an experiment: A University of Georgia researcher tied small video cameras to cat collars and obtained nearly 2,000 hours of footage of kitties roaming the suburban wilds. They watched as these well-fed cats hunted prey ranging from mice to chickens, not even bothering to eat them. Yep, these cats were specifically hunting for pleasure, often hiding the evidence, all the while roaming through forests, across rooftops, and deep in sewage systems. Just murdering everything they saw.
Even worse, these cats are putting endangered species at risk. Cats in England kill an estimated 275 million animals annually, and this U.S.-based report compiles sources implicating domestic cats in the extinction of 33 bird species, on top of a kill count of 1 billion birds. Overall, this knowledge changes one's perspective of the Internet Cat Video Festival, which now comes across as a heartwarming death cult.
So keep your freaking cat indoors! If you're already feeding your cat, letting it outside only creates a feline serial killer that murders for pleasure, decimates local wildlife, and occasionally even risks its own life for cheap thrills. At the very least, it's easier to hug your tabby when you know it hasn't been rolling around in bird blood and your neighbors' feces.
"I made his cat watch."
Sneeze into Your Sleeve
For all of our medical advances, some of the world's biggest killers are run-of-the-mill viral infections. Respiratory diseases like influenza and pneumonia are the third most common way to die worldwide, as they take out up to half a million people per year (and you're doubly screwed if you live in a poorer country). And let's face it: We suck at disease prevention. We live our lives like we're still completely in the dark about how these things spread -- we go to work sick, we cough on each other on the train, we don't think to disinfect shit like our keyboards and doorknobs unless somebody sneezes on them right in front of us (and hell, probably not even then).
But the truth is that you don't have to wear one of those sterile space suits if you want to stop the spread of your unholy pestilence -- it just takes a few really simple and almost effortless steps. Washing your hands frequently is a great start, but here's one that's even easier:
When you feel a sneeze coming on, smash your face into your elbow and sneeze directly into your sleeve.
Note our selection of the word "smash."
You see, there are three ways respiratory diseases like the flu can be transmitted: through the air, water droplets, and physical contact. Coughs and sneezes create overlapping transmission opportunities, as they're a triple whammy of infected air and snot droplets that blast out of your pie-hole and splatter onto nearby surfaces. Blocking a cough with your hand or a tissue isn't entirely effective, since the air rushes around your fingers or directly through the tissue. But more than a few researchers have found that using your upper arm or elbow as a sneeze guard actually restricts more transmission avenues than any other method short of locking yourself in a bunker until your cold passes.
Scientists reviewing high-speed video footage of people coughing noticed that your arm does a few unique things that hands and tissues can't quite achieve. To start, it drastically slows down the speed of air exiting the body, which lowers the velocity of droplets trying to get as far away from you as possible. It also splits and redirects the airflow so that droplets have limited directions to go instead of the usual "anywhere within noseshot." Finally, it keeps drippy snot wreaths off of your pristine mitts so that viruses aren't being rubbed on doorknobs, faucets, and light switches by your dirty, filthy paws.
Oh God ... we're the damn dirty apes!
"Sleezing" isn't a foolproof practice, and it's no substitute for vaccination -- but it's enough to make scientists and medical professionals worldwide sit up and take notice. Everyone from the Center for Disease Control to the freaking MythBusters have endorsed sleeve-sneezing. And all it requires is an arm -- preferably your own, but a total stranger's will do in a pinch.
Recycle Your Old Phones
One reason why electronic gadgets will never be as cheap as, say, candy bars is that they contain precious metals. Obviously these metals are considered "precious" for a reason -- there is a limited amount of them in the world, and obtaining more of them is a huge pain in the ass. Specifically, it requires massive, highly elaborate mining operations that, oh by the way, create tons of waste products.
"But at least I can poop and watch Castle simultaneously."
Gold mines in particular have been compared to nuclear waste dumps, thanks to their ability to produce deposits of cyanide and other pollutants. So there's quite a bit of environmental baggage attached to your shiny new iPhone, and odds are you're going to dump it for a new one in a year or two. The same goes for your laptop -- where you find circuit boards, you find elements that had to be ripped out of the Earth at great cost to people and the environment.
The good news is that even if your phone or computer is outdated, the minerals used to make them are still periodic-table fresh. The gold, copper, silver, palladium, and other precious metals contained in aging electronics can all be melted down and reused as raw materials for the electronics of the future. Circuit boards, for example, contain anywhere from 30 to 40 times more copper than what you'd get out of the equivalent weight of mined ore. Gold is even better, since circuit boards hold up to 800 times an equal amount of gold ore dug up from underground mines. Technology manufacturing has already done the work by putting these resources in one place; the only thing left to do is recycle them once we've finished.
"Scrooge McDuck ain't got nothin' on me!"
"But wait!" our theoretical cynic out there asks. "It's not like recycling would eliminate the need for mines. Surely we're not getting rid of electronics quickly enough to meet the demand." Well, the demand is pretty high, but you're underestimating just how disposable our technology is. Anywhere from 100 to 130 million cellphones are tossed into the trash each year in America alone. Considering that 1 million phones produce about 35 kilograms of gold, phone recycling has a higher output than many gold-producing nations. The problem? Only 1 percent of those phones are recycled.
And that's just phones. The EPA reports that in 2009, approximately 2.37 million tons of electronics were discarded into the waste stream. That includes televisions, computers, printers, and even computer mice. Recycling these items could provide incentives to cut down on the environmental waste produced by mining operations and prevent electronic waste salvagers in developing nations from risking their lives for a pittance.
"You have 8 pounds of gold and you lost three fingers. Here's some expired McDonald's coupons."
So what is the laborious and expensive process to recycle your old gadgets? Well, it involves dropping them in a box, for free, the next time you're out buying something. Within North America, retailers like Best Buy, Staples, and even Walmart will collect most, if not all, of your used electronics (just do a search here for a location near you), meaning you could literally donate your out-of-date computer the very day you pick up a new one. There's basically no reason not to do it, other than pure spite.
Donate Your Placenta
Many of you only know about "stem cells" due to the controversy they cause, particularly in the U.S., where the funding of stem cell research has been criticized by abortion opponents. But if you're not sure what exactly they are or why they're important, in short, stems cells are special cells that can turn into any other kind of cell, which has massive implications for medicine (note: you are made entirely of cells).
And there are many ways to obtain all kinds of these life-saving stem cells. For example, did you know that a specific type of stem cell is produced in huge concentrations within the human body and used in a variety of life-saving medical procedures, and right now we're tossing them in the trash?
"Sounds great!" you're thinking. "Where are they?" We'll give you a clue: You A) throw it away in terror after your baby is born and B) make a pact with everyone in the maternity ward that it will never be mentioned again. We're talking about that demon pepperoni that feeds your bundle o' joy and your nightmares after childbirth: the placenta.
Yes, before you go tossing out (or chowing down on) that bloody flapjack that popped out of your or your significant other's nethers, know that science has discovered that the placenta is actually chock-full of perfectly good stem cells that can be used for medical research and treatment. The placenta and umbilical cord contain hematopoietic stem cells, which is a fancy name for cells that can literally create blood. They're the same type of cell that's extracted from your hip during bone marrow transplants, except the placenta conveniently flops out of the body during childbirth, rather than having to be painfully drawn out with a needle.
"Nurse, I distinctly said the BIG needle!"
The discovery is a big freaking deal, by the way, as hematopoietic stem cells can treat blood disorders like sickle cell anemia, immunodeficiency diseases like HIV, multiple forms of cancer, and more. It's been predicted that 1 in every 400 Americans will need hematopoietic stem cell treatments over the next 70 years. Thankfully, mothers are already producing a free side of stem cells with the birth of every bouncing baby.
So if you're pregnant, you're fully capable of contributing to a very necessary medical cause. All you need to do is follow this simple two-step process: 1) Find out if your birthing facility of choice accepts hematopoietic stem cell/cord blood donations and 2) tell them you want them to keep your placenta and umbilical cord. Congratulations! You have helped one person's life while simultaneously bringing another into the world. Just resist the urge to use your placenta as a spa facial or enjoy a lotus birth. (Seriously, don't click that Wikipedia link. It's like Basket Case, but real.)
It's basically a neonatal chain gang.
"Wait, really? Smile? That's your goddamned world-saving advice, Cracked? What are you, Mr. Fucking Rogers? GO PLAY WITH YOUR PUPPETS!"
Look, if you follow Cracked on a regular basis, then you already know that it doesn't pay to be an optimist. We've already written about how the very concept of being happy is flawed at best, and how the life expectancy of optimists is generally shorter than that of pessimists. But you shouldn't bury your good mood in a shallow grave just yet. While maintaining a perpetually cheery demeanor may not benefit you personally, it works wonders on literally everyone else around you. According to science, smiling improves the lives of everyone in a real, measurable way.
While scowling just makes people want to punch you.
In one experiment, a group of researchers arranged for 800 random passersby to be smiled at as they walked through a supermarket. Immediately following the smile, the individual would encounter someone who had "accidentally" spilled a stack of computer disks onto the ground. Researchers recorded how the unwitting volunteers responded and compared it to data from a control group that hadn't received a smile before the encounter. Even accounting for variables like gender and attractiveness as motivating factors, people who received a smile were 10 percent more likely to help the person.
Roll that around in your head for a minute. All it took was a single smile to make 10 percent of people more considerate to a person in need. Now think about all the prodding and reminding it takes before a person will even consider doing something as worthwhile as donating to a food bank. And just a few more smiles could make all the difference.
"Smile, Corporal, and the whole world smiles back. That's when you shoot the sum' bitches."
And that's just the start. It turns out that genuine smiles have a "halo effect" that benefits anyone who sees them. This effect makes you more altruistic, increases your ability to cooperate with others, and even enhances your memory. Seeing that facial expression just makes humans work better.
When you see a smiling face, even if it's just a photograph, your brain's orbitofrontal cortex and hippocampus start going bonkers. That's your brain forcing itself to remember more details about the other person, like their name, their appearance, or where you met. Think about the last time you walked down a crowded city street. What do you remember? Odds are you've already forgotten most of the neutral faces you passed, but a smiling face is going to stick out in your mind for a long time afterward.
"Honestly, it was her smile that really stood out to me. That and the bloody, dismembered head she was carrying."
Basically, these studies prove that "When You're Smiling, the Whole World Smiles With You" isn't just a catchy song, but a verifiable scientific fact. Now go out there and grin at everyone in a 50-foot radius. It'll be like you're emitting a cloud wherever you go that magically forces everyone in the vicinity to be better people. And it costs you nothing.
Marshall Lemon is a librarian and news writer for The Escapist who likes the idea of being a part-time superhero. You can follow him on Twitter.
For other ways to save the world, check out 6 Terrible Ideas That Science Says Will Save the Planet. Or discover 5 Ways People Are Trying to Save the World (That Don't Work).
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Weirdly Specific Moments in Every Seth Rogen Movie Romance.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn why you're dooming us all by holding in your farts.
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