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  • Writer's pictureLaura Perry

Dying for Dollars

I freely admit to being a child of the 1970s. I totally bought into all the back-to-nature, love-the-earth, give-a-hoot-don't-pollute stuff they taught us. That Native American man with the tear rolling down his cheek in that TV ad still haunts me.

Then I grew up and I found out how little that kind of thing really matters when it comes to making decisions in the business world. Sure, we can recycle our household waste, but industry still creates many times more waste than consumers do. We can maintain our cars carefully, take public transportation where it's available, ride bikes... but industry still generates way more air pollution than people's cars do.

And then there's this idea that success equals endless, compounding production and consumption, as if the earth's resources were infinite. Sustainability? Not a word that shows up in most corporate annual reports (thanks, in large part, to U.S. laws that literally require corporations to put profits above all else, including the common good).

The system is beginning to crumble around the edges, certainly. People are pushing back in large numbers. Some states now allow benefit corporations, which is a step in the right direction, though there still aren't very many of them. Many consumers are doing their best to support small local businesses in order to keep their money in the local economy rather than allowing it to be siphoned off to some corporate headquarters elsewhere.

But there's only so much power the individual has. I've watched in horror as the intersection between corporate greed and horribly expensive health care destroys the beautiful woodland right behind my house. When we bought this place 18 years ago, we talked with the farmer who owned the adjacent property. He was well known for refusing to sell out to anyone, for any reason - he even fought the county when they wanted to buy a tiny parcel to put up a water tower. He assured us that he wouldn't be one of those "greedy bastards" who sell the family farm to a developer for a tidy sum and walk away as the countryside is wedged full of even more "little plastic houses."

Eighteen years later, he has sold the land, all except for a tiny patch that his house, and his son's house, rest on. Why? Because medical bills threatened to bankrupt him. His wife had a protracted illness before she passed away a few years back, and soon after, he began having health problems himself. Without insurance (he's a farmer, remember) there's really nothing else he can do except sell the family land to a developer who has cut down the woodland that harbored a herd of deer, at least three different kinds of hawks, two kinds of owls, several red foxes, and heaven knows how many songbirds and small animals (not to mention the pasture that housed the farmer's small herd of cattle, which he loved - and so did I). And what will they build? More overpriced houses that we don't need. But it's OK, because the developer is making a bundle and the city of Woodstock gets to annex more property into its tax base. It's all about progress!

Intersectionality is important in all sorts of issues: racism, sexism, prejudice of all kinds. But it's also important here. I never would have thought that the lack of a national healthcare system would be a factor in the destruction of the environment. I wonder how many people around the country have had to sell off the land that's been in their family for generations in order to pay medical bills. Last I checked, medical bills are the number one cause of bankruptcy in this country. But as long as they aren't an issue for the corporate CEOs, I doubt anyone will do anything about it.

#ethics #health

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