Who else will clean up the mess?

What do litter, chicken poop, college debt and global warming have in common?

Last week while taking the train to Boston, I noticed all the trash that people had dumped over their back fences onto railroad property. Litter makes me absolutely crazy. I can’t imagine how someone can be so oblivious to everyone else that they can dump their hamburger wrapper or coffee cup on the ground, or throw their bottle out the window, or dump their used tires, broken furniture, rotting lumber and all other kinds of junk onto another person.

Then, that night I watched a documentary, Poisoned Waters, on Frontline. The show was about the dead zone in the Chesapeake Bay that has been created by nitrogen pollution. One of the primary causes of that pollution is agriculture. And one of the largest agricultural operations is the area is growing chickens for Perdue Farms.

Perdue Farms dictates to the farmers through exhaustive contracts just about every aspect of chicken farming: what type and how many chickens they can grow, what the chickens will eat, what the prices of the chickens are, etc. But the one thing that they left out of their contracts with the farmers is what will happen to the tons of chicken poop that the chickens produce. While everything else is controlled by Perdue, the farmers are responsible for getting rid of the chicken waste — their costs, nots Perdue’s.

James Perdue, who seems like such a nice guy in the ads, was offering chicken sh**t excuses in an interview explaining why Perdue shouldn’t be responsible for tcleaning up the thousands and thousands of tons of poop from their chickens.

Now, you might think that community benefit nonprofits would never stoop to this kind of behavior. That externalizing costs is just what big bad corporations or uncivil people do. Right?


Then I thought about my sister’s niece who left college with close to $90,000 of debt. In her 20s, this  elementary school teacher is forking over the equivalent of my mortgage each month (we have a very modest mortgage on our house that we bought 26 years ago) to pay off that debt.

I thought how the cost of unrestrained spending on bigger and plusher dorms, athletic facilities, more buildings, etc at private colleges has been passed to middle income students through ever increasing tuition and bigger and bigger student loans. And how the college that my son was attending (he’s transferring out) was warning parents two months ago they were likely to raise tuition again, even in the midst of the worst recession most of us can remember.

Is it any wonder why we can’t get serious about solving global warming?

Did we all ignore our parents when they told us we needed to clean up our mess and not leave it behind for the next person?

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