We are all a part of the community and environment in which we live.

We have a choice, we can contribute positively to that community and environment, we can just live quietly with minimal impact on the people and other organisms around us, 'not make waves', or we live in such a way that we negatively impact the world.

For myself, I feel that my life would be worthless if I had not used it to make a positive contribution. People can't change their past, but they can try to positively contribute in their future.

How some people can live with themselves when they make negative contributions, such as those who damage the world in their quest to gather more and more wealth or power, I do not understand.

Written 2015/01/06, last edited 2020/11/21
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

This section added 2020/09/18

Community spirit

The reader can look up the definition of community spirit in various online dictionaries or Wikipedia. For the purpose of this page I will define it as a willingness or desire to contribute to one's community without necessarily expecting anything in return, although most would hope for gratitude.

I see many who do demonstrate community spirit, but unfortunately I seem to see far more who just look after themselves, or at best, do very little for their community.

Civic pride is very similar; the desire to be able to take pride in one's town, city or community and a willingness to contribute to making one's town, city or community a place deserving of pride.

There is a shortage of community spirit and civic pride in Australia

At the time of writing this section of this page my wife and I had just returned home from a few days on South Australia's Yorke Peninsula. We spent some time strolling in a number of the public garden areas in the towns on the peninsula, as many tourists would do. The gardens varied from older ones that were badly neglected to new ones beautifully planned and laid out, but perhaps the point that we noticed more than any other was that almost all of them, even the new ones, needed a bit of TLC (tender loving care).

In Maitland, in about the middle of the peninsula, while walking in a park we noticed many people on the nearby golf course. Plainly there was no shortage of people with leisure time. An hour's work weeding from one or two people a couple of times a week would make a huge difference to the town's public gardens. The same could be said for most of the towns we visited.

The labours of a small handful of volunteers has turned what was mostly a patch of marshmallows into one of Clare's greatest assets (see Lions Gleeson Wetlands) and there is also a voluntary labour effort to turn a patch of wasteland in the middle of Crystal Brook into a nice park (see Crystal Brook's Central Park).

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Margaret Mead, American Anthropologist (1901 – 1978)

Weeding is job that requires very little skill. There are many parks and gardens in Australia that would look far better, and could be a source of civic pride for the local people, if a few people made an effort.

I suspect that many would say "It's the local government's job to look after the public gardens. Let them do it." But how many of us want to pay higher rates and taxes to cover the cost?

What do various people contribute to society?

People of limited means are forced to work for a living for themselves and for their children; their income producing work and the responsible raising and education of their children is a large part of their contribution to society.

The wealthy may make a contribution, a few make a great contribution, but they do not need to make a personal contribution to society in order to live comfortably; and I hold that many of them make a negative contribution by using their wealth to corrupt government and disrupt the proper functioning of society for personal gain and that, further, this is a crime against humanity.

As individuals our consumption is largely proportional to our income and our adverse impact on our environment is largely proportional to our consumption. Consumption is a negative contribution to environment and hence society. The greenhouse emissions we are responsible for are closely related to our consumption.

In the West many older people spend a lot of time in retirement. This is a part of life in which there is great opportunity to make contributions to our communities and our world.

While this page deals more with the contribution that can (and should) be made by 'ordinary people' I believe that the broader subject is one that needs to be discussed by those interested in ethics in our society.


Donating blood plasma
Donating plasma
Before money was invented there was a barter system. If someone wanted a service or a product from someone else they would have to provide a service or product in return. Everyone (at least everyone who was able) had to contribute if they wanted something from the group or society in which they lived.

With capitalism, a person who has capital (perhaps in the form of a company that was inherited from his parents) does not need to make any personal contribution. He can sit back and receive all he needs from the contributions of other people. Where is the justice in this?

Even if that person built up the business himself, once it is built up he can donate money and feel he or she need no longer make a personal contribution to society.

A personal contribution

Donating blood or plasma (photo on the right) is an example of a personal contribution. At the time I took the photo I was told that only one in thirty Australians donate blood or blood products, yet it is easy, takes only an hour or so and is practically painless.

The "sweat of one's brow"?

In my community I see several very different types of contribution toward getting things done at the community level:
  • there are those who chase donations or grants to pay someone else to work and cover the costs of the materials needed for that work;
  • there are those who are active in the organisational side of organisations such as Lions, Apex, Rotary, etc., etc., spending a lot of their time going to meetings on local, regional, state and perhaps even national level.
  • and there are those who go and do the work on the ground themselves, perhaps independently of any organisation and perhaps at their own expense.
In the Australian society of the twenty-first century all of these can be productive, I suppose they may all be necessary and some people fit into more than one of the above groups. Is one more creditable or more to be admired than the other? Perhaps the person who is able to find abundant funding is able to get more done than the 'worker'? It seems to me somehow that the person who is willing to actually do the work themselves is more to be admired, but surely the person who does several of the above has to be the most productive and most to be admired (for example Beat Richner a Swiss doctor in Cambodia).

Contrast – the wealthy capitalist and the volunteer

The wealthy person donating some of his ample money can be contrasted to the millions of volunteers who mostly have very limited financial means but give massively of their time to help other people and to do good works generally.

See also my page on Corporate greed.

Negative contribution



Capitalism, of the type that has come to dominate the world in the early twenty-first century, has failed to produce a just and fair society. One of the main problems is the concentration of wealth into a few hands and the poverty of vast numbers of people. The poorer half of the world's population own less than 1% of the total wealth while the top 1% own about a half of the world's wealth, and the disparity is increasing.

With wealth comes power; the poor are disempowered by their lack of money. Their poverty itself makes it hard for them to overcome their poverty, while the wealth of the wealthy gives them great power to influence politicians and the political system in order to amass ever more wealth.

It is the people with the most power in this world who are doing the most to stop society taking serious action on climate change and the closely related problems of ocean acidification and sea level rise. Those in control of fossil fuel companies such as Exxon have been publicly and very vocally denying anthropogenic climate at the same time as being fully aware of the facts. Those who have big money invested in the status-quo are the ones who are most resisting the much needed changes away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy. Those who are keeping the coal industry going are responsible for millions of human deaths each year.

Also, people consume more or less in proportion to their wealth and as consumption increases so do the resultant greenhouse emissions; so wealthy people are responsible for far more per-capita emissions than are poor people.

How much income is enough?

My wife and I live in Australia. We own our home outright and we are in reasonably good health for our age (around 70). Our combined annual income is around $40-50k and we can live on this quite comfortably. If we had more we would not be more happy.

The bosses of big corporations and the big capitalists have incomes in the millions of dollars per year. They do not needed anywhere near so much money; research has shown us that more money does not lead to more happiness.

Too much?

A person generally spends in some sort of proportion to his income. Spending (not investing) generally involves consumption and excessive consumption is one of the main causes of the many environmental problems that the world has.

Is stealing always wrong?

When one person has far more than he can ever need and another person doesn't have enough to feed his family, I would hold that it is justified for the poor person to steal sufficient from the wealthy to buy food and clothes and to pay his rent.

How is it justified? If the poor man steals from the rich man he can feed his family – that is good for them. The wealthy man would not suffer because he would still have quite enough for his needs. He need be no less happy. The poor family gains, the rich man does not suffer.

You might reasonably ask: what if all the poor people stole from all the wealthy people? It might then come about that wealth of the world was more evenly spread; the wealthy would lose some of the power that they previously had from their money and the poor would live a little better.

Plainly, using the utilitarian justification above, for a man to steal from another who was little or no better off would not be justified.

You might reasonably say: isn't this advocating anarchy? Yes, it is, but perhaps some anarchy would be better for the world and for the great majority of the people than the present great disparity of wealth and power?

Attitude to wealth

The twenty-first century attitude to wealth seems largely to see it as something to be sought after and to see the wealthy as 'successful' and people to be admired and emulated.

We should be despising the wealthy for their greed! We should be looking at how much good they could be doing if they were to put that wealth to work improving the lot of the poor or doing good works for the environment or other worthy causes. The wealthy are especially despicable when they use their wealth to corrupt the political system for purposes such as advancing the coal industry, when that industry is causing enormous harm to the planet through climate change.

In the USA (I am not generally an admirer of the USA) there is at least a tradition of philanthropy among the wealthy, but this seems to be largely lacking among the wealthy in my country, Australia.

Making the world a better place

"I aimed to make the Earth a better place – and failed miserably"
Professor Harry Messell
What I think Professor Messell meant by this is that he believed the world to be a worse place in his old age than it was in his youth; so he had failed to make it a better place. However, had Professor Messell not lived at all the world might have been an even worse place in the early twenty-first century than it is. His efforts probably slowed the decay of the world environment; the world was a better place for Harry Messell having lived than it would have been had he not lived.

In many ways the world is becoming a worse place year by year; see How our civilisation is unsustainable. But we can all try to make the world a better place and, while the world might still steadily become a worse place, our efforts will at least slow the deterioration.

Contribution can provide a purpose for living

I suspect that most people, at least at some time in their lives, look for a purpose. While we are young we are learning and maturing. Later many of us have children and see our purpose as helping them develop into well rounded adults. A career can, I suppose, provide something of a purpose.

Perhaps after our children have become independent adults and after retirement is when we most look for a purpose for continuing to live, something to make us feel that we have a value.

I believe that contributing to society, trying to make the world, or at least our community, a better place, can provide that purpose.

How might retired people contribute?

I could go into a philosophical discussion of what constitutes happiness as compared to pleasure here, but will not take the necessary time and space. But I will point out that contributing something to one's society provides a far greater and lasting feeling of satisfaction than playing golf or sight-seeing. It provides one with a feeling that one's life is worthwhile, one is not just a burden on the rest of society.

Luxury campervan at Bowman Park
Luxury campervan
Photo taken in late December 2018
When a person retires he/she should still contribute, and a great many do. There are many service clubs and there are many things that a person can do on their own.

A retired person is well placed to be active in movements to push for a better society including becoming involved in environmental activism.

It is very easy for a retired person to clean-up his local area; all it takes is some time. They could also get involved in revegetation projects, local parks and gardens, helping people recover from disasters such as bushfires, working for charitable organisations, etc.

'Grey nomads' are very well placed to contribute as they travel around.

But do they contribute?

But the question needs to be asked: are those people who travel around enjoying visiting places, staying at free camping areas (such as Bowman Park in the image on the right), spending as little as possible and contributing next to nothing to the areas they visit, being unconscionably self-indulgent? (A couple of links: Regional communities question if grey nomads are getting free ride; Volunteering is good for nomads, and the communities they help)

Just in my personal experience, the Lions Gleeson Wetland in Clare (a popular wine region in South Australia) and Bowman Park also in SA, and a popular stopping place for free campers just out of Crystal Brook, could both use more voluntary workers. Weeding in particular is often needed and pretty straight forward. (Contact me at if you'd like to help.)



Tourists are sometimes accused of spoiling the places that they love to visit. If you improve the place, perhaps by picking up some rubbish left by other tourists, then you can know that you have left it a better place than you found.

Your choice

You can 'pass your time' by hitting a golf ball around a paddock, rolling a ball across a lawn, travelling; or you could contribute something to your local community. And, of course, there is nothing wrong with doing all some part of the time.

In a world that is threatened with the disaster of climate change and other threatened disasters there is a great deal that we can all contribute toward a better world.

For example, if you want to help slow climate change and ocean acidification and reduce the number of illnesses and deaths due to the air pollution resulting from the burning of fossil fuels you could do several things, including:

  • Put 5kW of solar panels on your roof and you could save the world about 8 tonnes of CO2 per year;
  • Or help get a 20 turbine wind farm built by spreading the facts on wind power and you will have played a part in saving the world from several hundred thousand tonnes of CO2 per year.

Much of my spare time is spent at Gleeson Wetlands in Clare, South Australia. In early 2014 it was unattractive and covered with weeds, since then it has been turned into a beautiful garden area that is an asset to the town. I can assure you that doing something for your community provides far more personal satisfaction than does some sort of pass-time that achieves nothing. (Also see Bowman Park and revegetating Crystal Brook Central Park.)

The people who have worked to achieve this have made this small part of the world a better place.

Gleeson Wetlands, Clare, South Australia

Related pages

On this site...

Blood donation

Crystal Brook's Central Park

Some thoughts on death


Some thoughts on euthanasia

Clare's Gleeson Wetlands

Self or all? Selfishness or altruism?

Suicide as a rational decision

To oppose wind power is to support fossil fuels, including especially, coal, a compassionate person would not do it.

Walking for climate change awareness: cleaning up the roadsides at the same time.

Why I support the local wind farm and why any other compassionate person would do the same.

External sites...

Why Do Human Beings Do Good Things? The Puzzle of Altruism", by Steve Taylor; he suggested that the answer could be empathy.