Don’t Tread on Me….Big Business!

Down the road whereon our home sits a neighbor flies the flag with a coiled rattlesnake and the words Don’t tread on me written above it. I’m sure you’ve seen one like it.  This is a flag with a history reaching to the mid eighteenth century. Back then the original colonies were pretty loosely connected and were facing off against the French and their Native American allies in what historians call the French and Indian War.

My neighbor’s flag evolved from a political cartoon image that Benjamin Franklin first published in 1754.  It depicted a snake chopped up into separate segments with the words Join or Die written under it and carried a very different message than my good neighbor’s individualistic, anti-government flag.  Join or Die originally served to rally and unite people in the war effort.  Each segment of the snake was named after one of the eight colonies and the message embodied today’s familiar political slogan: United we stand, divided we fall.

The flag waving atop the pole down the road first flew about a decade later.  Called the Gadsden flag, it set aflame the revolutionary spirit and knit fledgling Americans together, helping to get themselves out from under the colonial foot of the British monarchy.  In those days the Gadsden flag brought people together against a common foe, and helped to birth a new, independent nation.  Today, it is more a sign of serious discontent with government, especially the progressive sort.

Independence, or living without being under someone’s thumb is a value most of us share.  None of us like being exploited or controlled. I’ve had the self-sufficiency itch most of my adult life, so I get the drift of wanting to live an independent life.  What I don’t get is the blind eye so many of us turn toward the dependence we have on huge corporations, the ones with their hands always in our wallets and who lavishly fund the campaigns of corporate friendly politicians.

So, let’s talk about independence and let’s start with food.  For a variety of reasons, self-sufficiency among them, I have gardened since 1974, no pesticides, no commercial fertilizer, just manure and compost.  Ours is healthy soil, full of the little creatures that like life in good, rich ground.  That garden feeds us well with nutritious veggies that taste great.  I believe in taking good care of the land.

Go into the grocery store and what I support when I checkout is everything about commercial, corporate agriculture that I oppose.  Often the fields where store bought vegetables are grown must post a sign warning people to stay out because of the toxic pesticides being applied.  That seems just crazy to me.  I want my food to be grown safely.  I’ve dug into the ground in these fields and found it abused and lifeless.

And the crops grown therein, like green beans, are genetically chosen for harvest features, not for taste or nutrition. In fact, recent research tells us our store-bought vegetables are becoming less and less nutritious.  That matters!  I hope my independent minded neighbor plants a big garden, or at least shops the farm markets and CSAs. If not, he’s pretty darn dependent (go ahead and tread on me) on what commercial ag and the make believe edibles the processed food industry is putting out on the store shelves.  Our dependency on the big grocery store down the road rarely comes to mind, but it’s real, nonetheless.  Given the destructive environmental impact of commercial agriculture we must ask ourselves why we have let ourselves become so reliant on it?  That Gadsden flag waves a little less crisply in my mind than it first did.

Now for energy.  Being self-sufficient types, my wife and I had solar panels installed on our roof about six years ago.  It was a wise investment, again for a variety of reasons, one of which involves making a personal grab for a little more independence. While we haven’t completely nabbed that proverbial brass ring, yet we really do like being our own electric utility during the day.  Adding a battery soon will take us a step closer to going “off grid”.  We like using electricity, we don’t like being dependent – there’s that go on and tread on me word again – on a corporation that regularly wants to raise my bill and burns fossil fuels to send electrons down its wires to our home.  To those of my neighbors who really wants some independence I suggest contacting the Midwest Renewable Energy Association down there east of Stevens Point and enrolling in their group buy solar program.  They’ll find plenty of money in the IRA to help afford a meaningful piece of the independence they yearn for.  There’s more to independence than culture war politics, at least as I see it.  Oh, and along with the greenhouse gases that are overheating the entire planet –  even Antarctica  –  there’s a lot of just plain pollution belching out of those huge power company smoke stacks.

A lot of folks drive a big pickup truck.  We drive an EV, an all-electric Chevy Bolt.  On occasion we have had folks from the Don’t tread on me crowd disdainfully “roll smoke” in our faces as they roar past us in their jacked-up pickups. I’ve always figured they were in a big hurry to get to the gas station ahead of us, a race they always win hands down.  While they genuflect to the great oil Gods, we plug in and let the sun fill our battery. While they are dependent on a corporation only interested in selling more gas, one that loves their big engine, and cheers when they put their foot down hard on the gas pedal, we depend on the sun.  And once you have the solar panels you can charge your electric car for free.  I feel a lot better about depending on sunshine than on Exxon or ARAMCO.. or tar sands oil.  Barely mentioning the pollution and CO2 blowing out of their exhaust pipes, I’ll share an interesting side that connects heat and the drop in gasoline production at Gulf Coast  refineries.  Because of the extreme heat in the Southern U. S. six oil refineries in Texas and Louisiana have shut down because refinery equipment is meant to only handle normal temperature.  Gas prices have risen as a result. There is no more normal, temperatures over time will only rise. Maybe those refineries will have to move to Wausau soon.

Enough!  Time to dismount from my iconoclastic, high horse.  Truth is, none of us are as independent as we like to believe. I sure didn’t make those solar panels, or the Bolt charging in my garage.  But there is one thing we all, regardless of our politics, our religion, ethnic background or gender identity, totally depend on and that is Mother Nature.  This one unassailable fact ought to bind us tightly together in the common cause of caring for the healthy biosphere we need.

What’s good for planet earth is good for us.  Taking liberties with nature will reveal just how dependent on a clean, healthy environment we really are.  Indeed, we are already being taught that lesson. Maybe it’s time to rethink just who and what we really are dependent on, and the serious environmental consequences of those dependencies.  By consuming on autopilot without an ecological care in the world while we watch nature come tumbling down around us is suicidal.  Shouldn’t we begin consciously living like a healthy planet Earth comes first?  Shouldn’t our political leaders lead us toward a Garden of Eden instead of an overheated, burned out and hopelessly polluted waste planet? These are vital questions we all need to ask before we head out on our next shopping trip…. and certainly, before we next enter the voting booth.