Posted: Sep 25, 2013 9:27 PM
 
It's easy to convince ourselves we live in a sort of silo, as if our decisions do not have far-reaching effects. Bolstered by marketing blitzes that reinforce such delusion, it often takes huge global disasters to shock us out of our dream world. The Chevron/Texaco catastrophe in the Ecuadorian rainforest is one such disaster, and it can be used to teach kids about the global economy.

I wonder how many people who pulled into a Texaco station for gas between 1964 and 1990 knew what the company was doing in Ecuador. I wonder if they knew Texaco was ignoring best practices (um, understatement) in oil drilling and waste management in the Amazon rainforest, "dumping as much as 18.5 billion gallons of highly toxic waste sludge into the rainforest" (Source), resulting in the contamination of soil, groundwater and surface streams, and exposing surrounding indigenous and rural communities to cancer-causing toxins.

Texaco gas station

And I wonder if people would have chosen to spend their money elsewhere, had they known.

"The waste contaminated the streams and rivers used by local people for drinking, bathing and fishing. For the past two decades, there's been a legal battle over the clean-up. In 2011, an Ecuadorian court ordered the oil giant Chevron, which acquired Texaco in 2011, to pay $19 billion to indigenous and rural Ecuadorans (Source)."

But of course Chevron is refusing to pay, and it looks like they may emerge victorious from the whole fiasco (an international arbitration panel dealt them a win last week. You can read more on the case here, from the Ecuadorian President's view. Or, from Chevron's perspective, here.). Chevron claims it "remediated" the contamination. Critics claim it was a "sham," cleaning up only 1 percent of the actual area contaminated. Clearly this is way more complicated than one op-ed article, but deciding who's to blame is not really my interest (though honestly, come on, it's an oil company. They aren't exactly pillars of goodness and hope.).

Are we oblivious?

My interest is in the fact that for practically 30 years, people drove in and out of Texaco gas stations, fueling up their cars, probably oblivious to how their decisions were affecting humans thousands of miles away.

And I wonder how much we do that now.

It's so easy to wake up in the morning, make a cup of coffee, get dressed, send our kids to school, go to work and come home. Get gas. Grocery shop. Take a vacation somewhere. Book a flight. Buy a car. (Well, those things aren't "easy" for all of us. Some of us don't have the money for such decisions to ever be "easy," but I digress.)

This is the feeling created in part by brilliant marketing that makes us feel like we're having an intimate relationship with a company. Like we know the brand. We trust them. Why? Well we don't really know why, right?

By "easy," I mean "we don't have to think about it beyond how it affects us." This is the coffee I like, the clothes I like, the job that pays best. These are the groceries I can afford, the gas closest to my house. This is the feeling created in part by brilliant marketing that makes us feel like we're having an intimate relationship with a company. Like we know the brand. We trust them. Why? Well we don't really know why, right? We just do. They seem so good and wholesome and American!

And please. I get it. I am not one of those neo-liberals who will look at you like you have nine heads if you announce your child isn't wearing organic hemp clothing (locally made and gender-neutral of course!). "Wait. You don't drive a Prius and shop only at the co-op?"

No, dude. The last time I went to the co-op I bought six vegetables, some legumes, milk and brown rice and it was $50.

That won't fly in my world.

American money and cardsBut I believe we have a responsibility to let our kids know that we do not function as isolated units distinct from the rest of the world. We live in a global economy (we've always lived in a global economy, but now we have the internet so it's harder to hide). The way we choose to spend our money has direct and immediate effects on the lives of people across the world. Throughout the world.

And as evidenced by this Chevron disaster, those effects can be deadly and permanent, or darn close. We cannot let our kids think we live in a silo: a small, protected little world separate from all those "other" people across oceans or continents.

We are intrinsically connected. And we are responsible.

I can't afford to dress my kids in locally sourced organic cotton. I can't afford all organic food. I can't even afford all free-range, grass-fed meats. I bought an SUV because I thought I was too cool for a minivan. Also, we wanted to tow things. Long story. Incidentally, turns out I am too cool for the expense of gas required for a damn SUV and I will be buying a minivan as soon as humanly possible.

My carbon footprint is bigger than it should be. My cupboards would make the dread-locked checkout lady at Whole Foods weep for the future of the nation.

I can afford to teach my kids the truth: The American economy is inextricably connected with the world, with the lives of humans throughout it.

But I can afford to teach my kids the truth: The American economy is inextricably connected with the world, with the lives of humans throughout it. Children and parents and homes just like ours are molded in part by the economy in this country. Indeed our country's economy is founded on the labor, resources and spending power of the rest of the world.

And the second we start ignoring that is the second we become the mindless consumer that allows the broken system to flourish. The second we start denying our power is the second we start abusing it.

None of us is perfect. All of us can at least tell the truth. All of us can raise globally conscious children.

And I imagine the effects of that will be far-reaching, too.

More on environmentally conscious families

Is Nestlé still making poor choices with baby formula?
5 Reasons you should care about GMOs
If the bees die, we die

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