Two old friends met after not having seen each other for years.
“Bob!,” said Frank. “It’s been such a long time. How’re ya doing?”
“Well, Frank,” replied Bob, “I guess I’m making a living.”
And that was the typical opening of a dialogue between old friends, former neighbors, former co-workers, or members of a church or synagogue. Indeed, that was part of the social glue that bonded people in an earlier time. What is missing from that exchange today is one little item: the truth.
Much of America’s Gross Domestic Product used to be based on manufacturing. This process included taking raw materials from the soil and gradually converting them into finished products that would be sold around this country and, later, around the world.
In the “glory days” when America’s manufacturing was the behemoth of its economy and of exceptional importance and reputation around the world, no one cared about how we poisoned the air we breathed, the water we drank, or the soils we farmed. Our sole goal in this period from 1936 to about 1960 was to dig, convert, finish, and sell. We had no purpose other than to expand our markets and enhance our profit and loss statements.
On September 27, 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, an environmental science book that studied the horrifying effects of our use of pesticides. Based on years of studies, Carson found out that the big chemical companies (DuPont, Monsanto, and others) had been assiduously lying to us in their marketing efforts to get us to use more pesticides.
While Carson was an early “canary in the coal mine,” she was not alone. The following year, Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall published The Quiet Crisis, which described the dangers of pollution, overuse of natural resources, and dwindling open spaces. Along with Silent Spring, Udall’s The Quiet Crisis is credited with creating a consciousness in the country that led to the environmental movement. Udall was a staunch supporter of Rachel Carson and her work. Stewart Udall once stated, “Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact, plans to protect Man.”
In The Quiet Crisis, Udall discussed two myths that formed the backbone of American thinking about Man and his environment.
- The Myth of Unlimited Natural Resources. Because Europeans coming to North America had no idea of its magnitude, they felt that its natural resources were unlimited. As a result, they believed they had carte blanche to plunder, pollute, abandon, and move on. Only when we reached the shores of the Pacific Ocean did we realize that our terrestrial borders were fixed. However, the mentality of abusing our land was already deeply engrained and we felt we still had no real limits on what we could do to extract gold, oil, coal, and other vital resources.
- The Myth of Scientific/Technological Supremacy. Arising out of the Rationalist Movement within Europe’s Age of Enlightenment, we thought that no matter what problem Mankind created, there would be a scientific or technological solution to it. It was that sort of thinking which prompted America’s military to develop dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, commonly known as DDT. That pesticide was sprayed all over the place — rivers, lakes, ponds, steams, any and all kinds of standing bodies of water — in order to eradicate the malaria-carrying mosquitos that were annually causing millions of deaths around the globe. What our scientists didn’t know was that DDT was affecting birds. When DDT-affected birds laid their eggs, the shells were either incomplete or were so thin that when the mother birds lay on their nests their weight crushed the shells, thus killing their offspring. As a result, there were fewer birds and, in turn, there were fewer enemies of pestiferous insects, meaning there was more crop damage and monumental losses to agriculture.
The same principle held true with thalidomide, a tragedy which caused many thousands of children in Europe and the United States to suffer from phocomelia, resulting in the shortening or absence of limbs.
The large pharmaceutical companies (“Big Pharma”) suffered from revenue losses from the banning of many dozens of their drugs by the FDA and its European, Asian and Australian counterparts. In order to combat the threat to their bottom line here in America, Big Pharma started to partner with corporate farms, such as Archer Daniels Midland. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a “Toxic Trio” of Big Food, Big Farming, and Big Pharma started to band together, providing us with high-calorie, high-sugar, high-salt and highly-processed foods that push more and more of us down the path towards obesity, diabetes, cardiac failure, and early death.
So, in the pursuit of profits, the “Toxic Trio” formed an unholy alliance where Big Food companies (McDonalds and the other national or international chains) joined Big Farming (ADM, Conagra, General Mills, Dow Chemical, Monsanto, J.M. Smucker) and Big Pharma (Bristol Myers Squibb, Amgen, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer) in creating a “toxic stew” of pesticides, chemicals (anti-bacterial, growth hormones), and genetically-modified organisms which are fed to the U.S. population with light regulatory oversight.
The result? About three out of four people in the U.S. is obese. More and more people are headed to the cemetery at a faster and faster pace. Our quality of life is deteriorating. More and more people are suffering from inflammation, anxiety, ADHD, autism, and many other disorders that were only marginally present 50–60 years ago.
Now, monolithic producers such as Tysons are putting out huge amounts of highly-processed chicken that bears little resemblance to the barnyard fowl we thought we were getting. Raised in factory farms, these birds are incubated, raised and slaughtered with only one goal: profit.
Likewise, beef and pork products are raised under inhumane conditions, pumped full of anti-bacterial medications, growth hormones, and other chemicals.
Parents these days give their kids w-a-a-a-y too much milk. With all the garbage in milk, it’s not surprising that girls as young as nine and 10 are now displaying secondary sexual characteristics (development of breasts, pubic hair) and are starting their menstrual cycles at 10 and 11 instead of 14 or 15, as was the case for many generations. That’s all because of the diet full of growth hormones.
But it’s not just the foods we eat; the makeup and clothes we wear; or the fragrances we use. It’s also the vehicular traffic; the construction patterns; the workplace tools; and the spewing of nitrogen and phosphorous into our soils and waters, the plastics that go into our landfills, rivers and oceans, and smog that goes into our air.
The chemicals to which we’re exposed have turned our bodies into repositories of toxins, and they persist in their effects.
Why do We do These Things?
We are an immature society. We haven’t, as a general rule, really developed philosophical skills or tendencies. We value the latest goodies and gadgets, trinkets and toys, but we haven’t really learned on a broad, society-wide basis to value human life above all else. That would explain our addiction to cell phones, to cars, to trucks, to material acquisitions, to “bright and shiny objects.”
We assume that we are the same as our jobs — at least that’s the prevailing view — and we feel that our identities are severely threatened if we lose our job. So, many of us will make moral compromises in favor of keeping our jobs and losing our humanity. We say we value our children and grandchildren, but when it comes to making the sacrifices that would give them a real chance to survive and even thrive, we abdicate our responsibilities there in order to keep our jobs.
Instead of saying, “I’m making a living” the honest answer is “I’m making a dying.”
What’s the Solution?
People act in accordance with how they’re incentivized. Reward someone for being a liar and a corrupt buffoon, and you’ll wind up with Donald J. Trump. Reward them for honesty and integrity, and you’ll have the many good people who are challenging Trump (Sens. Harris, Sanders, Booker, and Warren, for example).
There’s been substantial talk, and detailed plans, about the Green New Deal. Is it perfect? No. But does it give us a chance to massively fight the Global Climate Crisis, revive our economy, put many people into great occupations and professions of which they can be proud, and restore America’s leadership in the eyes of the world? Absolutely.
I would argue, therefore, that pursuing the Green New Deal is the paramount obligation of the new president, of Congress, of every statehouse, and every mayor in this country. I would argue that the American people have an extraordinary opportunity to boldly lead the world by the sacrifices they’re willing to make, and the new direction they’re willing to take, in saving this planet — and themselves at the same time.
And it’s their opportunity to truthfully state: “I’m making a living!”