LaDuke: Forget 'normal,' let's get better

Winona LaDuke is an American Indian activist, environmentalist, economist and writer. Special to Forum News Service

This guest column is by Winona LaDuke, an activist who lives and works on the White Earth reservation.

What if we had a chance to change our world? How would you change it? Those are the kind of questions this COVID-19 pandemic poses. Indian writer Arundhati Roy refers to “pandemic as portal.” What do we want to see through the portal?

There are a lot of people who I hear say, "Let’s get back to 'normal.'" I say, "Let’s get better." What if we could figure out what we deem “essential” and what we want as communities, and then make a future that works for the environment and the people. After all, the more we encroach on the wild things, the more weird diseases are going to come our way. And, if you think COVID-19 is an inconvenience, try climate change. That one will be a real doozie of food insecurity, internet and power going down.

Here are the top things I’d do if I was boss:

  • Build infrastructure which matters. Minnesota needs at least $27 billion in infrastructure investment. That’s bridges, water, sewer, dams and all. Minnesota needs more than $12.5 billion to keep up with water infrastructure — drinking water and wastewater systems. Let’s make pipes for people. North Dakota needs the same.
  • Don’t waste energy. That’s to say that Americans waste about 60% of their energy. That’s dumb. Let’s get efficient. Maybe you might want to take a look at how we use energy beside that. Let’s say that Enbridge is the largest energy consumer in Minnesota. That means they use about as much energy as the Twin Cities to move sludge on to refineries and overseas markets. Just saying.
  • Go electric. Move from fossil fuels. Remember, we didn’t leave the Stone Age because we ran out of rocks. Start with some electric trains. Trains are the most efficient way to move stuff in this country, along with boats and barges. That’s big infrastructure, the backbone of transportation in this country. Electric trains are about twice as efficient as diesel engines. Fifty-three percent of Europe’s rails are electric. Run them off of direct current from the northern plains, and that’s over 90% efficient. I say, let’s evolve. Warren Buffett could fix this.
  • Wash your bottles. Bayern Brewery in Missoula uses 100% recycled glass. They have a return policy, and provide boxes to their patrons. What about if we just washed all those beer bottles up, instead of pretending we are recycling them. And, what if we banned the single-use plastics? After all, the world has enough plastic. I heard that there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean soon. Ban plastics, make it out of hemp.
  • Support organic agriculture. Industrial agriculture is about to douse us all with a new shot of Round Up (yes, the stuff that causes cancer), atrazine and a bunch of bee killers. Plus, they are presently euthanizing millions of animals because of the COVID- 19 pandemic. Let’s not do that again. Organic agriculture preserves bees, ecosystems, and is the answer in a time of food insecurity and climate change. Northeastern University’s recent study found that soils from organic farms had 26% more potential for long-term carbon storage than soils from conventional farms. Turns out carbon belongs in the soil, not the air.
  • Make things which are helpful. COVID-19 has taught us a lot about what we don’t make. In 2018, 95% of ibuprofen, 91% of hydrocortisone, 70% of acetaminophen was imported from China, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. I'm not blaming China here, I’m blaming big corporations. I think we should make some of what we need here, not just drugs, but solar panels, and of course all sorts of machines we don’t make anymore. Might want to redo that one. I say build them in Duluth and on the Iron range. That’s Minnesota’s New Green Deal.
  • Legalize Cannabis. Yes, the whole thing. In 2019, Colorado collected more than $302 million in taxes and fees on medical and recreational marijuana. Sales in the state totaled over $1.7 billion. Canada’s cannabis economy is rocking. And let’s figure out how to make canvas out of cannabis again. That’s also how you get to wean yourself off plastics
  • Protect biodiversity and clean up your old mess before you make a new one. Protect water and trees. That’s how you keep Mother Nature happy, and I think we have learned that you don’t want to pick a fight with Mother Nature. And, companies that make messes should clean them up, not leave it to taxpayers.
  • Treat the next generation like they are your descendants and caretakers. Fund education, day care and youth. Make education relevant. Those kids are our retirement plan. Love them up.
  • Create a working health care system. America has the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world and a health care system that is ill-equipped to care for its citizens and failing to protect its health care workers. Health care is one of the fastest growing industries, but it’s becoming more about marketing campaigns than health. We need a national health care system.
  • Create a healthy democracy. Be decent people and solve problems. Cronyism is at an all time high from what I can figure. A real democracy, where cronies don’t make regulatory decisions, would be great. Let’s live up to our potential.

Crisis is definitely opportunity. Let’s be better.

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