By Donella Meadows
–April 7, 1994–
Fifty one percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49 know that Superman was born on the planet Krypton. Thirty eight percent do not know what the term “Holocaust” refers to. Another 22 percent know what it means, but think it possible that the Holocaust never happened. (This survey was taken before the release of the movie “Schindler’s List.”)
How can a comic-book character be more real to us than history? How do we know what is real? “Schindler’s List” is a movie. It doesn’t make the Holocaust more real. Or does it?
High up in a black locust tree outside my window a robin is singing. For a week the robins have been passing through on their way north. This is the first one to stop and advertise his readiness to settle and nest. The yard is half white with snow, half brown with newly-revealed, squashed, mushy grass. Sixty degrees today, they say. The snow won’t last long.
The primary crop grown in the United States is lawn grass. American lawns cover 25 million acres, an area equivalent in size to Pennsylvania. We spend $25 billion a year on lawn care; we put more fertilizer on our lawns than India puts on its food crops.
The sun is shining on the south side of the house where the crocuses appear first. I wonder if they’re in bloom.
Hey, they are! Yellow, purple, white! What a reward at the end of this long, bitter winter! There are daylilies poking up too, and weeds — creeping Charlie, yellow rocket, celandine.
The average American can identify more than a thousand corporate logos but less than ten native plants.
Can I make a column out of that? Can I connect it with lawn grass and Schindler’s List? Got to make a column out of something. Let’s see — health care. Total mess in Washington. Lobbyists have bought off the politicians; the welfare of the people has disappeared from sight. Canada, Germany, Japan all have 2-3 years longer life expectancy than we do, with health systems that cost 30 percent less. Is there any point in pushing one more time for a simple single-payer plan like theirs?
Nah, no point. Everyone knows single-payer would work better than any of the Byzantine plans working their way through Congress. The Clintons know. The insurance companies know. Washington can only balance competing lobbies, it can’t ask what would work for the people. A single-payer system is unrealistic. I bet if I went out and scraped off the snow, I could dig the first parsnips.
Right, I could! Under all that snow the ground wasn’t frozen. Even the longest roots came out slick as a whistle. I’ll fry up fresh parsnips for dinner with peas and onions.
Hey, let’s concentrate here. Column, column, column. Jesse Jackson wrote a good one this week about welfare reform. The government pays $25 billion a year for food stamps, he said, and $15 billion for Aid to Families with Dependent Children — and $51 billion in direct subsidies to corporations and another $53 billion in corporate tax breaks. Farm support costs $29 billion. Why don’t we call it all welfare? If we’re going to have a “two years and you’re off” policy, why not apply it to tobacco growers, and ranchers who graze the federal lands, and defense contractors? For the defense contractors we could add “three strikes and you’re out” when they’re caught overcharging us by the billions.
I could add lots of numbers to Jackson’s welfare list. We subsidize motorists by $300 billion a year — for highway construction and maintenance beyond what the gas tax brings in, for police and traffic management, emergency response, theft investigations, free parking, health costs from air pollution, security costs for protecting oil imports. Car welfare!
There’s the $107 billion subsidy to the middle and upper classes through tax breaks on IRAs and home mortgages. There’s Social Security and Medicare. All welfare. Why is it that the only people we resent helping are the ones who most need the help?
Is that a song sparrow I hear? It is! The first one! I think I’ll put on my tall boots and go see how much the brook has risen with all this snowmelt. I can stop at the barn and check on the new lambs. And see if the broody has hatched out her baby chicks. It’s so warm out I won’t even need a jacket.
Whitewater. I should write about Whitewater like everyone else. Evidence is coming in that the whole business is overblown. Is anyone surprised? How do we get Congress to investigate with equal fervor ALL the S&Ls that went bust and cost us hundreds of billions of tax dollars? (Bank welfare.) How do we keep the pots in our nation’s capital from calling the kettles black, or more to the point, why is it we elect so many pots and kettles?
Campaign reform. That’s the important subject. Separate money from politics. No political advertising, not any, not ever. Free and equal time for each candidate to make his or her case. Accept three campaign contributions and you’re out.
Ah, get real; it’ll never happen. The sun is so bright it’s making me giddy. The lambs are dancing in the barnyard. I should be out pruning the fruit trees. I could clip some forsythia for forcing inside. The heck with columns, with words, with politics. On a day like this, it’s impossible to be “realistic.” The real world is calling.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1994