Thursday, September 25, 2014


It seems modern society is all about numbers - at least numbers on paper. Quality of life cannot be quantified and therefore is rendered unimportant by moguls and politicians whose livelihoods depend upon that bottom line. But what about the rest of us? Clean air and water, natural beauty, healthy bodies, and self sufficiency don't figure in the computations and decisions of the powerful. 

In our community we're facing numerous challenges that will increase the numbers for corporations and governments but will negatively impact common citizens. By dangling thoughts of "economic development" and "jobs creation" before the community, we the people are distracted from looking at the negative future impact of these proposed ventures. 

An example of how numbers manipulate is when Virginia Governor McAuliffe said a proposed natural gas (from fracking, yet another issue) pipeline "would create thousands of jobs during construction, yield about $1.42 billion in economic activity and generate hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in state tax revenue." No mention of the potential environmental devastation nor the fact that most of that economic activity would remain in the hands of the large corporations. Further, construction is done by companies from other areas so no real jobs are created (except on paper). And we often need the tax revenue to monitor the very projects that create the funds and to clean up the messes they leave in their wake. 

Another example of numbers blinding us to fact is the idea that CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) chicken houses will be great for our state. Now that China has lifted its ban on chicken imports from the US politicians and Big Ag have been chomping at the bit, working to change county zoning regulations so that individuals can contract with one of the big chicken corporations and start raising hundreds of thousands of chickens for those corporations to export to China and pump up the numbers for all involved. 

However, the numbers hid a very dark side of these chicken operations. First of all, the jobs created almost always go to undocumented workers who work under deplorable conditions unable to protest for fear of deportation. These are jobs that legal residents refuse to take so there is no economic improvement or "jobs creation" for the community. The business people who buy into this model go deeply into debt (hundreds of thousands of dollars) to build the chicken facilities only to become virtual indentured servants to the chicken companies who dictate their every move and also the fees that will be paid. Another problem is the waste created. The chicken litter is dangerous to the health of people and the environment in such volume.  and it has to go somewhere. Ask Parris Glendening, former governor of Maryland, how chicken houses worked out for that state. Or Drew Edmondson, former attorney general of Oklahoma, who filled a lawsuit on behalf of his state for environmental damage caused by the chicken industry. Worse yet, talk to families who lived near such operations and lost children to cancer then made the connection that neighbors also had children affected by cancer. (Some of this information comes from A River of Waste:  The Hazardous Truth About Factory Waste which can be viewed here.)

Avoiding enterprises that affect our health and well being don't add to the paper prosperity of a company or municipality but it certainly improves the quality of life. Growing your own food, practicing natural medicine, avoiding consumerism - these are all options contribute positively to our lives but negatively impact the numbers for those who count such things. Maybe we need to begin ignoring the numbers and pay attention to the quality of life. 
Because a tree standing in a forest or a stream running through the mountains has no "value," politicians and business people will fret over them until they find a way to extract dollars and create economic "prosperity." Should this be the basis of our happiness?

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