By Colleen Francke
Last year, a record $52.4 billion was spent on Black Friday weekend, occurring from the Thursday of Thanksgiving to the Sunday after. This number exists due to the 226 million consumers who shopped in stores and online, according to CNN.
But what does all of this mean to us?
It means that Thanksgiving break is upon us. It means that in a little more than a week, we will most likely be surrounded by family, eating our favorite Thanksgiving delicacy and enjoying the company of one another.
It means that come midnight Thanksgiving night, some of us may be swallowing cups of coffee and putting pen to paper to construct Christmas lists while standing outside of Target, ready to knock over anyone who attempts to pass once the doors are opened and chaos ensues.
I am not attempting to write another article in the endless line of articles about the meaning of a holiday—that we should always remember what it’s really about and not get caught up in other trivialities on a day such as this. Those sentiments are all well and good, and I do believe that we all need to embrace Thanksgiving as a day to realize all that we have been blessed with.
But it is on days like this where we should not only be acknowledging what we are fortunate to possess, but more importantly, to address what others are lacking.
There are approximately one billion people on this Earth who do not have access to clean drinking water. While we will be using purified water to drink, cook and clean this Thanksgiving, there are countless people across the globe who will be doing the same—only with murky water, laced with harmful bacteria and other less than satisfying additions to water that we will never have to experience.
According to friendsofwater.com, the cost to provide clean drinking water to half of that one billion who needs it would be between $10 and $30 billion a year. With simple math, we can then assert that it would take between $20 and $60 billion a year to provide for virtually everyone currently lacking clean drinking water on Earth.
Now, let’s rewind. Per year, it would take a massive sum of money to essentially eradicate the world water crisis. There is no question about it. This number, alone, seems intimidating and daunting—the amount of money unachievable, the situation impossible to overcome.
But last year, in just four days, we were able to spend that much money on toys, clothing, jewelry and other frivolous items that seem enormously important during the Black Friday brigade.
Is there not something wrong with this picture? We deem giving everyone clean water unfeasible, and yet in less than a week we shamelessly spend enough to fix a problem our world continues to face—one that has proceeded to worsen as the population grows. While only 2.5 percent of the water covering 70 percent of the Earth is fresh, we are hardly being wary of the need to preserve this precious source of life, as well as distributing it to those in need.
Two hundred and twenty-six million consumers made that $52.4 billion Black Friday spending record. Maybe you were one of them—I am saddened to say that I was—and there is no shame in wanting to get a bargain for a Christmas gift.
But, we must remember the disparity between need and want. We may feel as if we need to use this time of year to consume, obsess and pine for coveted goods, but that is not something necessary. That is something we have been taught to want.
What we need to do as a society this Thanksgiving is to pause and reflect. We do not need to harass a Wal-Mart employee for the latest Wii game. We do not need to suffocate in dressing rooms because a skirt that comes in 12 different colors is two for $20. We need to remember those who do not even possess one of the most overlooked of life’s basic resources—and we need to make a change.
I cannot fathom what $1 million looks like, so I cannot envision what $20 to $60 billion looks like. But I can think of the times I’ve felt thirsty in the middle of the night and simply turned on the faucet and filled a glass of water. I can remember having water gun fights as a kid and carelessly wasting precious water. And, I can imagine the millions around the world who are slowly dying of thirst.
We can put no price on a glass of clean water for an individual who’s only ever drank mud. So maybe this year, before you run to Dunkin Donuts and then proceed to knock down the door of Best Buy at 12:01 a.m. on Black Friday, consider what is truly more imperative—the iPhone 5, or improving lives—especially when we may even have the power to save some.