The Potted Plant, Grey Water and Corporations

posted in: Environment | 0

Let’s admit right from the start: this is not an obvious connection. Just as it’s not obvious that we, in our excessively individualistic and commercial mindset, will notice and shift in time when disaster is barreling down on us.

     First the potted plant: It’s an old and beautifully flowering hibiscus, repotted a few times and now about three feet tall with a “wingspan” of three to four feet. Just about as heavy as I can carry up and down three flights of stairs twice a year. In mid-spring I carry it outside. In mid-fall, I bring it back to its south-facing, third-floor window. This year, perhaps because I moved it out of direct sun into partial shade, perhaps because we had fewer lower spring temps, it’s become a blooming maniac, with lacy blooms measuring four to six inches across.

     I left town over the weekend and forgot to water it immediately the day I returned. This morning, when I  climbed the stairs with its huge pitcher of water, it was sadly woebegon: droopy leaves with many yellow ones hanging limp.

     We are all, more or less, potted plants. Let that sink in a moment.

     According to “my weather guy,” this September is the second driest on record, following a set of extremes, with (thankfully) lots of rain in the spring, but very very little from July until now. Let that sink in (what little there is to sink). White Bear Lake, so my friend who lives there reports, is so low that various town and community groups toss back and forth notions for raising the level. A few days ago I sat on the Minnesota side where the Mississippi widens into that lovely expanse slightly reminiscent of Switzerland called Lake Pepin. The water level was significantly lower than I’ve ever seen it–exposing a spit of land much further into the lake, with a long bloom of migrating white pelicans. 

     In my fear for the imminent demise of trees and shrubs, I’ve been watering almost daily at various trunks and roots. As I walk the neighborhood and see newly planted boulevard trees with leaves either already crinkly brown or dropped, I occasionally put a slip of paper in the nearby household’s mailbox. “Please consider watering your boulevard tree….” these tiny missives conclude with “A concerned neighbor.”

     I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about “grey water.” Some western states allow water from showers and washing machines to be deviated into tanks for watering lawns. I tried to have this made part of the Saint Paul DFL platform four years ago, but was told it would be too costly to retrain licensed plumbers to do this. Now I’m thinking about asking someone who’s handy but not “a licensed plumber” to make the shift in our water flow.

     We obviously need a much bigger fix than my single household.

     Now to the corporation. When corporations achieved the status of “persons” in the Citizens United suit, and even before, they exercised immense influence on our lives in the United States, often more than government at any level. Not persons, not really, corporations are huge conglomerates of very very rich executives (note the emphasis on execute) at the top, and widening pyramid of underlings. With the hybrid status they now enjoy–wealthy conglomerates plus “persons”–corporations and their “bottom line” mentality strive for the greatest possible revenue at the least cost. This has led to such changes in U.S. trade policy as the North American Free-Trade Agreement which allows corporations to out-source jobs to much lower paid populaces (India, Mexico, etc.) than those (often unionized) in the U.S. These out-sourced jobs not only lower manufacturing costs for many US corporations, but also deprive U.S. citizens of work.

     As corporations ceased needing to abide by U.S. environmental (or any other) regulation, they developed what I see as hubris (i.e.pride) of a dangerous sort. They began to market (for instance) huge cars, SUVs, and trucks, just as the message of global warming was beginning to take hold. When what we needed were much smaller cars, with higher (much higher) mileage standards, we were treated to ads linking American icons–the West, the rancher, etc–with these huge new vehicles.

     Fast forward to my block this relatively quiet Sunday morning. Up and down the avenue sit huge behemoths. Yes there are a few hybrids like ours. But mostly the “family car” has gone the way of wringer washing machines. For no good reason except corporate greed. And the gullibility and determined ignorance of the American consumer.

     We are potted plants in the hands of these corporations, who are after all “persons.” Persons who care little for the well-being of the plant/planet as a whole. Who would just as soon wreck mountain tops, river banks (for mining and fracking), who often operate far from their corporate office where just maybe local protest might curb their excesses.

     My weather guy, Paul Douglas of the Strib, notes that at a recent gathering of weather reporters to discuss global warming, a Saint Thomas University expert noted that a magnolia tree was blooming on the Saint Thomas campus this past MARCH. Paul says in essence, that environment changes predicted to be in place by 2090, are already occurring.

     I am very much afraid we will not act at all, much less act “in time.” Remember, we are potted plants. Luckily my potted hibiscus belongs to a real-live, singular person who now feels guilt, who promises to be more vigilant. Who will in a few moments trot upstairs to the third floor with another pitcher of water. We, who are real persons, need to take the reins away from these pseudo-persons called corporations and demand that our governments at all levels make the extreme changes necessary to allow our survival. Then we need to walk, ride our bikes, take public transportation or buy hybrids or plug ins. And no, I own no stock in Toyota or Honda. 

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