Saturday, November 19, 2011

The power of our money

Coca Cola's been in my news stream a couple times lately. One article was about the Grand Canyon. Because 1/3 of the park's waste is single-use plastic water bottles, park officials set up water refilling stations and crafted a policy banning plastic bottles. As renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben points out here, Americans throw away 80 million plastic bottles every day. I've seen this statistic several times, and I can't seem to wrap my head around it. All that petroleum, electricity, water, and land for plastic bottles? Even if we recycle them, we save a fraction of those resources. And how simple to just refill a container with water that comes right into our houses. Not like we are walking miles to the stream or community pump.

So in walk the Grand Canyon park officials with a plan to reduce waste in the park, and bring down costs as well. Not so fast, said Coca Cola, which blocked implementation because they make a lot of money selling their products in the park. Coca Cola donated $13 million to the National Park Service, and the parks didn't want to risk losing a major donor. You can read about it here.

Does that make you angry? I'm livid. The other article was about Coca Cola and other corporations blocking the implementation of new school lunch guidelines. Never mind that obesity will be the costliest epidemic in American history, and that one of three kids born in 2000 will become diabetic, largely due to their consumption of soda and other high calorie, low nutrition foods like pizza and fries. Those are big contracts for these companies, and they are not about to lose them to the "nanny state." You can read about that one here.

Corporations like Coca Cola have a lot of power in this country, but their power sits on a house of cards. If people get so pissed off over their abuse of influence and stop buying it, they will simply wither and die on the vine. I don't want Coke setting environmental policy, or funding my country's elections, or exporting their government subsidized high fructose corn syrup all over the world, or having any influence whatsoever on children's school lunches or the national parks. I would rather pay higher taxes and fully fund the parks and schools than see Coke's outrageous profits fund our public places.

I would rather go thirsty than buy Coke or their water brand Dasani, and luckily my city's water is delicious. I have a metal reusable water bottle that saves me a lot of money. It saves my city money too, because my recycle and garbage bins are that much emptier. It saves health costs for me down the line. Even one soda a day doubles my risk for diabetes. And Diet Coke is no better - aspertame is a dangerous and addictive chemical that, itself, leads to obesity and diabetes by stimulating the hypothalamus.

I can imagine a country where we think about the power of our money, about how it shapes the world we live in. Was that new cell phone made with minerals that fund war in Africa? Was that chocolate bar made with cocoa grown and harvested by enslaved kids? Is that milk inexpensive because the corporation is filling cows with antibiotics and growth hormones? Is the money we spend at WalMart making a few people as rich and powerful as countries, while undermining our local economy and earning power?

We have some good choices. This weekend a historic bakery here in Youngstown is filled with artist studios and all the money the artists earn stays in our community. This isn't just a plug for my artist friends, although I think the world of them, and I think art is one thing that makes Youngstown such a great place to live. But all of our purchases should be mindful. Bank transfer day was a great start. Why should we patronize the megabanks that brought the world economy to its knees and did so much damage to our neighborhoods? Let's empower our money to rebuild our country, by seeing each purchase as an investment in the community we want to live in.

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