What The Good Guys Are Doing

Sometimes I feel like a motorist driving past a spectacular wreck. It’s hard not to rubberneck. And these days, government sure looks like that wreck–here in Indiana, where a gerrymandered legislature focuses on everything but the common good, and in Congress, where the wheels have come off the legislative vehicle, and the entire enterprise looks more like one of those old Keystone Kop movies than a genuine effort to govern.

It really is important to remind ourselves that–while we are craning our necks to look at the destruction–other cars are moving properly down the highway. While the local and national members of government’s lunatic caucuses are attacking democratic institutions and neglecting pressing problems, a wide variety of “good guys” are devoting their time and resources to solving those problems.

Recent headlines have reported the extension of broadband Internet access to millions of people, the eradication or control of several diseases around the globe, multiple acts of charity and philanthropy, and scientific progress on a variety of threats to the environment. You can probably point to many more nuggets of good news.

What triggered this post was a story I came across detailing the work being done by Matt Damon, the movie star, to address the threats posed by lack of access to potable water.

Evidently, when Matt was young, he took multiple trips around the world with his mother, and witnessed what life was like for communities living with the global water crisis. Then, while filming a movie in Sub-Saharan Africa, he spent time with families in a Zambian village who lacked access to water and toilets. Those experiences “inspired a commitment to helping solve the global water crisis. In 2006 he founded H20 Africa Foundation to raise awareness about safe water initiatives on the continent.”

While his foundation brought water to families in need in Africa, the A-list actor realized he needed more expertise to solve the world’s water and sanitation crisis. Fortunately for him, a partner who could help Matt do more, faster, was a meeting away.

In 2008, during an annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York, Matt met Gary White, an engineer from Kansas City who had gained an international reputation as a water and sanitation expert. Realizing the global impact they could have together, Matt and Gary’s organizations came together to create Water.org in 2009.

In their book, The Worth of Water, Gary and Matt invite us to become a part of this effort—to match hope with resources, to empower families and communities, and to end the global water crisis for good.

My visit to Water.org prompted a google search for other efforts focused on water–especially efforts to clean Earth’s increasingly polluted oceans. There are, it turns out, several: The Ocean Cleanup is a non-profit organization developing and scaling technologies to rid the oceans of plastic. (The organization uses what it calls a “dual strategy”– intercepting plastic in rivers to cut the inflow of pollution, and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean and won’t go away by itself.) The Ocean Conservancy is studying the effects of climate change on the oceans of the world, and working to ensure that the oceans get the government funding and attention they require. The Ocean Rescue Alliance is conserving reefs through restoration, research, eco-Tourism, & education.

There are several others, and that’s just efforts directed toward the planet’s oceans. Scientists are working on a wide variety of technologies intended to ameliorate the worst effects of climate change; multiple non-profit organizations are addressing daunting social ills. In short, there are a lot of very good people doing very good things and ignoring the wreckage that is America’s current, overwhelming political dysfunction.

There are, of course, reasons that this blog focuses on that dysfunction rather than on what the “good guys’ are doing. The most obvious is that–as a former professor of public policy–governance and policy are my areas of interest.

That said, it is also the case that government remains the pre-eminent mechanism through which people and communities can act; a non-functioning government negates or hobbles the efforts of those good guys. The lunatic caucus in the U.S. House threatens everything from citizens’ civil liberties to world peace; the chokehold of the GOP supermajority in the Indiana Statehouse prevents urban Hoosiers from exercising local control and undermines  public schools in rural areas, among many other travesties.

I will continue to focus on the wreckage that is America’s current political environment, but every so often,  I do want to recognize that there are a lot of “good guys” out there, and that many of them are making a real difference.

If only we had a government that was helping, rather than hindering….

18 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this good news story. Another area where there are smart people doing good work is the developing Hydrogen power sector. For a bit of daily news about this topic, I check this site:
    hydrogenfuelnews.com

  2. And yet… Americans with way too much time on their hands piss away over $7 Billion per year on illicit drugs… which drives the immigration problems at our southern (not northern) border.

    When are some of those good guys with money and real influence going to work at changing what is recreational to those who need to have their pain and/or boredom assuaged?

  3. Nice article, and just what I need to face the day today.
    It is important to keep an eye and ear on the tragedy of our current government and its inability to function for the good of We the People, but it is also vital to learn about all of the good that people are doing, in spite of that dysfunctional government.
    It is important to find and keep a balance.

  4. Interesting choice — water. Our captured local government in Indiana voted to strip more wetland protections yesterday to develop the land. This is allowed to happen because the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) is the most corrupt department in Indiana. Has been for decades. IDEM has allowed all our waterways to become polluted.

    This is despite stellar “good guy” efforts like the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) in Indiana.

    It’s an abuse of power from gerrymandered districts with boilerplate laws from ALEC to 23 states. We don’t need the EPA telling us what to do! We don’t need to protect our remaining wetlands when developers can make money off the land instead!

    Abuse of power and ignorant voters who think they are supporting a conservative political party versus a liberal one combine to make a mess in Indiana. As this blog notes weekly, the Republicans in this state are not conservative. They are corrupt stooges.

  5. Todd, I would note that any number of regulatory bodies are limited in the good they can do based on the laws which come from legislators.

    None of Indiana’s regulatory agencies get to make up laws. They have to enforce what they are mandated to enforce and have no other authority. Any number of those agencies would love to do more to help various, obvious issues but are restricted by the law as written.

    If you think IDEM (or any other regulatory body) isn’t doing enough – might I recommend getting laws passed which allow those bodies to do more? You might be surprised how often complaints about how XYZ didn’t do ABC come down to “they’re not allowed”.

  6. In Washington D.C., floating bottles, cans, and trash have been a pollution problem for decades. With the 2018 start-up of a combined sewer overflow (CSO) Tunnel System along the Anacostia River, and integrated trash-capture system, the Anacostia in 2024 is much cleaner.

    As of Dec. 2023, more than ten thousand tons of trash were collected by this Tunnel System and hauled to landfill, and more than 16 billion gallons of untreated combined sewer discharge was diverted to full treatment at the wastewater treatment plant.

    This customer-financed system is generally applauded by D.C. customers who appreciate a cleaner Anacostia River.

  7. Todd,

    Nice description of how Republicans screw up everything they touch. Republican-led bureaucracies are masters of corruption and Incompetence. Maybe they could use some corrupt, corporate-paid Democrats to make things better. Right? You know, one corrupt party screws things up while another corrupt party does things right.

    Imagine that world…

  8. We are each born with some unknowable amount of time and spend some of that developing from those around us intentions and capabilities. As our time balance works its way down, we make decisions, driven by our intentions, to invest the capabilities we were given and the possibilities we encounter in creating memories for ourselves and others, as well as temporary rearrangements of the raw materials of the universe.

    Our intentions include spending our gifts on our temporary selves and investing them in more lasting change affecting others. We tend to do both.

    All of that is an oversimplification of the purpose of life. That’s the most fundamental issue.

    Intentions turn possibilities into memories.

    My story is that as I accumulate more moments behind me, I increasingly consider what will live on beyond my time allocation.

    My strongest intention is to do unto others as I would have them do unto me.

    We get too soon old and too late smart.

  9. I tune in to “CBS Sunday Morning” every week, for the opportunity to spend an hour and a half listening to journalists whose hair is not on fire. It’s a bucolic time that actually makes me feel better about life. The host is Indy’s own Jane Pauley. I recommend it!

  10. I always think of this story as I try to help people and the earth in different ways.

    This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

    The story may be confusing but the message is clear: no one took responsibility so nothing got accomplished. Sometimes you just have to do what you think is right whether anyone else does it or not.

  11. I think you’re short-changing the IN legislature.
    “STATEHOUSE (Feb. 6, 2024) – The Indiana House of Representatives advanced legislation co-authored by State Rep. Jim Pressel (R-Rolling Prairie) that he said would remove regulations on child-run lemonade stands and support young Hoosier entrepreneurs.” (Insert sarcasm emoji here.)

  12. Speaking of water- this is from today’s IBJ:

    Republican state lawmakers have quietly fast-tracked a contentious bill that will further strip protections on some Indiana wetlands. It’s the first piece of legislation to head to the governor’s desk during this session of the Indiana Legislature. House Bill 1383 reduces wetland protection by shifting some Class III wetlands—which are currently protected—down to Class II, which have far fewer safeguards. Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, who sponsored the bill, says it will reduce impediments to buying homes or running businesses without significantly impacting the state’s wetlands.

    Not significantly impacting wetlands is a bald faced lie. Indiana was 24% wetlands at the time of statehood and is now 3% wetlands.

    My cousin and her husband live in a fishing cabin on the East Fork White River south of Washington, IN. It is humble but beautiful. So far, flooding has come very close but not touched them. A reduction in wetlands could cause worse flooding because wetlands are like a sponge to absorb excess water in times of flooding and to replenish the water table which holds it until times of drought. My cousins don’t need worse floods. It makes me crazy that our Republican legislators are in the pocket of real estate developers only who only care about the almighty dollar and not the people downstream.

  13. Leslie, I’m sorry to hear about your Cousin’s fishing cabin. I agree that wetlands need protection here in Indiana and that the building/construction of real estate seems out of control. At least where I live is. I don’t know what can be done to aid the situation other than educating people on the benefits of the wetlands and having a petition people can sign and bring before policymakers. If you know of one, I will happily sign it.

    I know where I am they are tearing down forest and prairies and it’s a shame. I don’t think local people can even afford the places they are building near me which makes me wonder why they are even developing apartments, condos, and homes local people can’t afford. Where I live we don’t have enough business/industry jobs to employ whoever will live there. They will all have to commute in their rich SUVs. A lot of our small businesses in town too have shuttered and gone away and yet the roads are being widened and round abouts are being put in for an expected increase in traffic.

  14. Thanks, Suzanne. I appreciate your kind words.

    The irony of all of this is that my cousin’s family are probably Trumpers. So many people in rural Indiana don’t realize they are being bamboozled.

  15. Thanks to Pete for his positive comments. There is a lot of good action beyond words being done in our world. Finding it helps me to stay positive in what might otherwise be seen as a negative place. Look around and all of us can find something good.

  16. It has long been my inner sense that one day all Americans will get to the promised land. The old demons, bigotry , tribalism and religious separatism have societal strings that die hard.But they will die. Younger Americans have less of these traits. The trick is keeping the rats fighting to abide in a sinking ship from dragging the future down with their drowning past.

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