Start the new year by giving back to others

The end of each December heralds the usual quixotic resolution to lose 40 pounds, the customary “Year in Review” articles, the standard rehashing of already irrelevant pop culture references, the habitual pats on the back for another year completed.

But instead, maybe we can strive to be more aware of our surroundings.

Jovanna Tosello | Daily Trojan

For example, we clearly don’t seem to be picky about what we eat. Although more than 4 million people died of starvation and 1 billion people suffered from hunger (a record, according to the U.N.), the United States alone threw away almost half of its edible food — enough calories feed 200 million people through all of 2010.

When we are not wasting our natural resources, we are contaminating and destroying them.

The British Petroleum oil spill, which lasted 86 days, was a voracious spill of more than 4.9 million barrels of crude oil — enough, if refined, to fill 6 million cars — into an already delicate marine ecosystem.

And we attempt to turn a blind eye to how we damage the environment.

According to NASA, 2010 was the hottest year ever documented, with a record high of 128.3 degrees in Mohenjo-daro, Pakistan.

But at the same time, media coverage of climate change plummeted in 2010 — down 30 percent from 2009. “I can’t believe [coverage is] this little,” Drexel University professor Robert Brulle told the Daily Climate causing even him to question his data.

Our ability to glaze over pressing issues apparently extended to the Twitter-verse as well: Lady Gaga generated more chatter than healthcare reform, the oil spill, WikiLeaks, the Haiti earthquake or our ongoing war in the Afghanistan. Currently, Justin Bieber has more than 300,000 more followers than the President of the United States.

And under said president’s jurisdiction, the 2010 U.S. Department of Defense’s budget bloated to $663.8 billion.

The National Science Foundation received a magnanimous $7 billion, barely 1 percent of the DOD’s resources. The Department of Education received an even more generous check of $46.7 billion, a titillating 7 percent.

And the amount needed to financially support the Red Cross’ global humanitarian aid network and other programs? $1.2 billion, a paltry 0.18 percent.

Apathy and misplaced priorities will lead to humanitarian tragedies.

This is why 5.6 million children die from malnutrition every year.

This is why, in just 365 days, millions of people died from preventable infectious diseases.

This is why 5 percent of us use 23 percent of the world’s energy, 13 percent lack clean drinking water, 38 percent do not have the privilege of even basic sanitation.

This is why we, as students, at a university and as a community of scholars, can change what we saw in 2010.

The common stereotype that many USC students come from more affluent backgrounds and live more privileged lives is not exactly false. While reviewing how we spent our 2010, we often forget how others might have spent theirs.

So consider offering more time and skills to altruism. USC offers a plethora of volunteer opportunities, student organizations dedicated to human rights, Greek philanthropies and foundations committed to improving our current living situation.

Interested in addressing the international water shortage and bringing clean drinking water to impoverished communities? Try USC Global Water Brigades.

Passionate about sustainability and eco-friendly designs? Try ALIVE (Always Living In View of the Environment).

Enthusiastic about giving back to the local community? Try JEP or Play Like You.

Bursting with innovative and economical ideas for public health? Try Engineering World Health to create the next $1 miracle.

Comb the Volunteer Center for opportunities.

For the time-crunched, sign up for a one-day commitment on Friends and Neighbors Day. If you have nothing better to do this spring break, why not go on an Alternative Break program to teach children in Guatemala?

If nothing piques your immediate interest, create your own organization to tackle an issue that hasn’t received the attention it deserves.

Another year has passed already. What have you done to improve people’s lives?

Welcome to 2011.

Rebecca Gao is a freshman majoring in global studies. Her column, “Uncommon Sense,” usually runs Mondays.