RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Corporate Co-Dependents

After a legislative session like Missouri’s last one, where all the incoming information was based on what was good for corporations, it’s time to think about democracy and how policy can get so out-of-step with real human needs. Last session, there were hearings called when people couldn’t get to them because of snow storms, and hearings where citizen voices were cut off so the lawmakers could flirt with the corporate suits. The Joplin Globe nailed it when they wrote, “It’s pretty simple. If you’re an agricultural corporation doing business in Missouri and want something changed, you make a contribution to your legislator who, in turn, introduces legislation that will benefit you.”

They didn’t have to put “agricultural corporation” in there—any corporation tries the same strategy. Citizens think government policy should work for people, but this rarely happens. In agriculture, policy should be aimed to getting healthy food to people but instead we saw citizens lose their right to sue if a polluter sets up next to them.

Or look at education. Anyone that plans to stick around should be working to send the most kids to the best schools at no or little cost. Instead, it’s all speed ahead to cutting education money and saddling ambitious kids with debt … probably for the rest of their lives.

And consider retirement — Social Security. No. Wait. Don’t. Because, if you look at it and get depressed there’s no help for you in the medical policy arena.

The truth is, humans are rarely (or should I say never?) proactive to solve problems before they start. Environmentalists dream of policy makers embracing the precautionary principle, which would examine possible and unexpected outcomes and reject ideas that would get us in trouble. Making policy that way continues to be a cruel dream.

And even when outcomes are proven to be negative or even dangerous, the policies go on. That’s because each policy spawns an increased number of dependent people. So, when the pork industry decided to reject family farmers in favor of industrial-type confinement systems, back in the 1980s, a whole network of dependents came into existence.

Suddenly, the system involved corporations that built metal buildings, and repaired metal buildings, and designed ventilation systems, and dug lagoons. Farmers were put out of business, but there were now scientists figuring out how much feed, how much medication would keep those pathetic swine alive until they can be butchered. All of them producing a crappy pork product plus polluted air and water.

And we were all involved as consumers of cheap pork. Bacon on our burgers and ham in our salads. And, as a bonus, now we have MRSA, that dangerous bacterial infection in hospitals that can’t be stopped by antibiotics.

It’s not about the money. Or, at least, it’s not only about the money. It’s partly about status quo. There’s a power in entrenchment, and we’re all dependents. Take, for example, the nuclear power industry.

In the last couple of decades, we’ve learned that, under certain conditions, nuclear power plants can’t be shut off. Most recently, of course, is the Japanese plant system that threatens to pollute much of that island.

These power plants are sited, for the most part, in remote-ish rural areas. There’s one in my county, and you can see it from high places as far as 30 miles away. One friend lives close enough to another one to get a good view across the river. I asked him how he’d like to get rid of it. “Well,” he answered, “when my parents lived in this house they had three 60-watt light bulbs. Now we light up the whole place—yard lights everywhere, lights in the barns, and I wouldn’t want to give that up. And we have electric heat, electric stove, every kind of computer and appliance. So I guess we’re stuck with that nuclear plant.”

But, I ask, what if he turned off some of the lights? Would it hurt his quality of life? Or, what if they turned themselves off? What if he had sensors on every light that shut it off when nobody was there? Or, what if he could use the same amount of power, but produce it with his own system?

What if he had a wind turbine on the barn and solar panels on the yard lights? What if the waves in his pond powered the lights on his irrigation system?

After all, I’ve read that power lines lose about 30% of production when they transmit the power along the grid. So, why have a grid?

Japan and some European countries are re-evaluating nuclear power. Here’s my prediction: They can find ways to keep the lights on without endangering themselves.

We can, too. All we need is the political will to dismantle the nuclear industry and work toward a nuclear-free future.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2011

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