Guys, Stop Being So Mean to the Billionaires

Guys, stop insisting billionaires pay more taxes. You big meanies. (Photo Credit: Jim Gillooly/PEI/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

On behalf of the billionaires of the United States of America, I would like to request that you, the reader, refrain from any talk of a wealth tax or tax increase on the super-rich.

While we’re at it, you should abandon all notions of supporting the Green New Deal or Medicare for All. None of this is politically feasible, and what’s more, you’d be taxing job creators, thereby hurting employment and the U.S. economy. In other words, just go back to enjoying the status quo.

You big meanies.

Dispensing with that bit of pretense, I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty sick and tired of billionaires telling us what we can and can’t do in a political sense and why taxing them “to the hilt,” to borrow their verbiage, is so blatantly unfair.

The intertwined issues of personal finances, wealth, and taxation have gained new resonance with the entry of Michael Bloomberg into the 2020 presidential race. Evidently, having one billionaire on the Democratic side of things already (Tom Steyer) isn’t enough.

Also, there’s the matter of safeguarding certain ideologies. With progressives Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders more than relevant in the Democratic primary and Joe “I Got Along Fine with Segregationists” Biden not the sure bet to win the nomination that some establishment Dems might have envisioned at the start of his candidacy, Bloomberg’s late-start bid can be seen as the last gasp of old-guard centrists trying to cement their place in the American political landscape. You know, unless Hillary Clinton jumps in too, which in that case, just go ahead, shoot me, and be merciful. I just don’t think I can bear to watch that a reprise of that fiasco.

Because money equates to power and political influence, Bloomberg is not the only billionaire who is wont to gripe about plans to claw back dollars from the super-rich or lament Sen. Warren’s ascendancy in polls and have media outlets ready to listen. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, when recently asked about Warren’s proposed “ultra-millionaire tax,” joked about how much he’d have left under such a policy. Gates also highlighted how much he has already paid in taxes as well as given in a philanthropic sense, effectually debating whether or not a tax hike might depress charitable contributions.

All kidding aside, Gates realistically has more money than he or his family will ever need. The notion Warren’s tax plan or that of any similar framework could jeopardize his finances or his ability to donate is absurd. What’s yet worse is his response or lack thereof to a question about whether he would vote for Donald Trump’s re-election over Warren or any other Democratic candidate. For someone who has slammed Trump and his policies in the past, Gates appears to be putting his money where his critical mouth and thinking should be. The result is not a good one.

Before Gates cracked wise about being placed into a whole new tax bracket, there was former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who not only has similarly derided Warren’s ultra-millionaire tax as “ridiculous,” but once had visions of a presidential run dancing in his head as he went on a promotional book tour. Schultz’s “run” ended before it began, seemingly generating more scorn than praise from the general public. Hell, the man didn’t even make it past September.

Schultz’s decision to mount or not mount a campaign certainly garnered a lot of media attention prior to his opting for the latter, however, if for no other reason than the existential dread which accompanied the possibility, even if remote, that he might vie for president as an independent. And while he may have been heckled at stops on his tour and ratioed on Twitter, news of his political contemplation made the rounds on cable news and in major newspapers in much more favorable terms.

His both-sides-ing of Democrats and Republicans despite the GOP harboring honest-to-goodness white supremacists earned him not condemnation, but a platform by which to dispense his ridiculous comparisons. As it does too often these days, the world of political punditry largely failed to diagnose Schultz’s shortcomings prior to his abandonment of his aspirations for the time being. Though if you’ve been paying attention to the Bret Stephenses and the Donny Deutsches of the world, this may come as no great shock to you.

Which brings us now to Michael Bloomberg, presidential candidate, who has derided the GND as “pie-in-the-sky,” has insisted M4A will “bankrupt the country,” and who possesses a—shall we say—complicated political legacy dating back to his time as mayor of New York City, including but not limited to his repeated switches away from and later back toward the Democratic Party, his push to extend the city’s term limits law so he could serve a third term in office, and his support for much-criticized policies such as stop-and-frisk. In many respects, he appears to be out of step with his chosen party of the moment, not to mention prospective Democratic voters.

Try telling to this to the talking heads at MSNBC, however. In an on-air segment shortly after Bloomberg’s filing to get his name on the Alabama Democratic primary ballot, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd rather nauseatingly argued that Bloomberg is not only a “serious contender,” but is among the more progressive candidates on the core issues appealing to leftists. Bernie Sanders already had fired shots at Bloomberg’s candidacy, saying that the former NYC mayor “ain’t gonna buy this election.” Tom Steyer, fellow billionaire, suggested Bloomberg should agree to the idea of a wealth tax if he were serious about running for president. Todd’s own panel guests didn’t even seem to be buying this analysis.

And yet, here was Todd, trying to make the case for Bloomberg because of his, um, supposed appeal to suburban Republicans? While I’m all for Chuck Todd embarrassing himself on live television, these talking points do nothing but insult the intelligence of the viewer. Michael Bloomberg is a “serious” candidate because of his personal finances. End of story. He may have better electoral prospects than his successor, Bill de Blasio, but that’s not saying much considering de Blasio (who doesn’t believe Bloomberg should be running in the first place, by the by) ended his run not long after Howard Schultz suspended his ill-fated quest for glory in 2020. In an era in which the status quo is being scrutinized and flat-out rejected, Bloomberg seems like a prototypical bad candidate. All this before we get to his past comments on women and alleged inappropriate conduct toward them, which make him look like the center-left’s version of Trump. This is who Democratic Party supporters should back?

Ah, but this is what privilege looks like. It affords you ample opportunity to publicly lament the concept of a wealth tax and have other people give you free press and do your dirty work trying to convince the public of your legitimacy for you. It gives you a ticket to the dance without having to do any of the hard work of building a political profile or raising the funds to mount a campaign. It lets you create a toxic work environment that encourages the open objectification of female employees and emboldens male leadership to make sexual advances and inappropriate comments with impunity. The potential loss of this privilege and criticism of the above may be interpreted by people like Bloomberg as unfairness. But it’s a bit of the scales tipping in the other direction—and perhaps they haven’t tipped quite far enough yet.


For a progressive like myself, what is so frustrating about the existence of presidential wannabes like Michael Bloomberg and Howard Schultz—aside from the notion they are glaring examples of why we need to get big money out of politics—is that they only serve to amplify the voices of other centrists like them, making the case to Americans that there is no way we can achieve the kinds of policies the Bernie Sanderses and Elizabeth Warrens of the world envision. They’re too unrealistic. They’d be a disaster for the country. They’re akin to the pony that children ask for for their birthdays or Christmas. You’re not a child, are you, prospective voter?

Presumably, Bloomberg and Schultz are smart men. They might be prone to delusions of grandeur, mind you, but who isn’t from time to time? But yes, this is why their take on issues like the environment and health care are so disappointing. If someone like Bloomberg is such a visionary leader, why can’t he think of a way to make initiatives like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All work?

For that matter, why can’t other moderates see the light? In mathematics, students are taught to work backwards to solve problems. Sure, the potential solutions for the United States might be more complex than with a sixth-grader’s homework. The mechanism, though, is the same. Before saying no to an idea, why not play around with it? What meaningful societal advancement has ever arisen from defeatist capitulation?

The obvious complication herein, of course, is that Bloomberg and others may be aware of how to work to solve these problems, but actively choose to ignore these avenues. Then again, maybe they simply are blinded by a mindset that refuses to let them envision the full range of possibilities. One might argue that there are no conditions by which men like Bloomberg and Schultz could appreciate the big picture. They are so far removed from what life is like for average Americans they simply can’t acknowledge their situations.

Sure, this critique can be leveled at politicians of all make and model to a lesser or greater degree; Bernie supporter that I am, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that he is a millionaire in his own right on the strength of his book sales. For the likes of these billionaires, however, it rings especially true. What’s more, it can’t be ruled out that they aren’t panning Elizabeth Warren’s ultra-millionaire tax out of self-serving interest. Even when they have more money than God like Bill Gates does.

Could Michael Bloomberg make an impact on the 2020 presidential race? Perhaps. Is he what America needs, though? No, and you can bet Donald Trump is licking his chops at the prospect of facing him in the general election. Democrats, there’s too much at stake to entertain thoughts of what President Bloomberg might do for the country.

Sorry to be such a meanie about it.

When the Kids Are the Grown-Ups

Greta Thunberg is only 16. If you’re not with her, kindly shut up, step aside, and let someone prepared to lead on the subject of climate change get to work. (Photo Credit: Twitter/@GretaThunberg)

It’s hard not to be impressed with climate activist Greta Thunberg. Well, that is, unless you’re a climate change denier.

In that case, her clarion call to stronger action apparently gives you carte blanche to call her all sorts of names and demean her, a girl of 16 with Asperger’s syndrome. Because, evidently, that’s what adults do.

Take Rich Lowry of National Review, who insists we not listen to Thunberg because she is a “pawn” who, as a kid, has “nothing interesting to say to us.” Or Kentucky governor Matt Bevin, who panned Thunberg as “remarkably ill-informed,” despite being an abject blockhead who, among other things, tried to advance the notion his constituents were being “soft” for wanting to close schools despite dangerously low temperatures in his state. Or conservative commentator Michael J. Knowles, who dismissed Thunberg as “mentally ill” amid his ranting against the left’s “climate hysteria” during a recent FOX News segment. When your fellow, ahem, FOX News contributors are admonishing you for your conduct, you know you’re behaving badly.

Even President Donald Trump, never one to shy away from a war of words, mocked Thunberg’s warning of widespread suffering, death, ecological collapse, and mass extinction in the service of maintaining the bottom line of the world’s wealthy, tweeting, “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!”

Under usual circumstances, we might look at a sitting president taking a sarcastic jab like this at a young woman and consider it an instance of punching down. But this is 2019 and that president is Trump, a man-baby who wouldn’t know decorum if it were dressed like Frederick Douglass and bit him on the ass. On a maturity level, he’s punching at eye level—if not looking up at Thunberg.

What’s telling in all of these responses—aside from the fact these are all older men talking down to a younger female—is their utter lack of substance. Lowry pivots to talk of a declining global poverty rate and an increase in life expectancy, professing that today’s youth will have ample resources and technology to deal with tomorrow’s problems. These trends say nothing about the actual state of the climate crisis, though, and seriously undercut the urgency of Thunberg’s and others’ messaging. Gov. Bevin has already disqualified himself from discussion of climate change and weather patterns by virtue of his callous “kids are too soft” rhetoric. Trump speaks in the sarcastic, dismissing tone of a bully. Again, no mention of the scientific consensus surrounding the warming of the planet and humans’ role in contributing to it. Not that I totally grasp the science behind it, but you can bet Trump doesn’t get it.

And Knowles’s deflection on the subject of Thunberg’s supposed “mental illness” is uniquely loathsome. Asperger’s syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disability. This diagnosis does not imply, however, that Thunberg is mentally or intellectually incapable of understanding the threat the planet faces; in fact, while acknowledging it makes her “different,” she nonetheless has referred to it as “her superpower,” Going back to Lowry’s discussion of technological advances, Thunberg, like many students her age, has access to untold stores of information regarding climate change. She has done her homework. Knowles evidently wasn’t paying attention the day they addressed global warming in class—that or he was and he simply chose not to believe it.

This, presumably, is why self-professed climate “skeptics”—which is a funny way of saying “climate change deniers,” but we’re all prone to euphemisms from time to time—feel the need to attack one teenage girl with such acrimony. She represents an existential threat of a different kind: that of a rebuke to their insufficient explanations and ad hominem attacks. Thunberg and other concerned youths like her are smarter, better-informed, and, frankly, more well-liked than them. Lowry et al. cater to a conservative crowd characterized by a rapidly-shrinking demographic. Thunberg et al. have a growing worldwide audience fueled by worsening planetary conditions. The former group knows this is and is clearly scared of the latter group. They should be.

Such is why musings on Thunberg playing the part of the impetuous child pawn or the hysterical individual ring hollow. As Thunberg herself underscored in her latest impassioned speech to world leaders, she should’ve been in school, not telling the world’s so-called “elites” to do their job as responsible stewards for a planet on the brink of catastrophe. When the adults behave and think like children, however, the kids apparently have no choice but to fill the grown-ups’ void.


Greta Thunberg is not the only young activist to be sounding the alarm on the climate crisis facing Earth. This article on Mashable identifies five other climate activists who are making an impact beyond their communities and who haven’t even reached 20 years of age. Twice as old as them in some cases, I feel all the more unaccomplished and unproductive by proxy. Gee, thanks, kids! In all seriousness, I am glad these kids and young adults are sounding the alarm on an issue that demands immediate, substantive action and for which ego and strict geographical boundaries (i.e. “They are the biggest polluters, not us!”) should have no bearing.

For men like Donald Trump, Matt Bevin, Michael Knowles, and Rich Lowry, however, they clearly don’t share the same sense of gratitude, and I wonder exactly why. Are they beholden to the designs of the fossil fuel lobby and thereby compelled to help spread its disinformation? Do they go against the consensus as a means of making a name for themselves and despite what they truly believe? Do they loathe these teens as a function of generational distrust and reflexively refuse to value their ideas as the products of attention-seeking and entitlement?

On the last count, I feel as if, owing to preconceived notions about young people’s character, they should be celebrating these children for being so outspoken and politically active. These kids aren’t spending too much time on their phone or playing video games all day. They’re making an impact by raising awareness of a critical issue facing our planet. This is a good thing, right?

It is, unless you’re a conservative/Republican whose influence is predicated by and large on dissuading younger, smarter people (especially women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and every intersection therein) from political involvement. These men must sense that a cultural shift is underway, one which challenges their absolute authority and which makes their proverbial place in the sun (getting hotter with the passing years) not the guarantee it once was. Simply put, we don’t need them. That must shake them and their regressive outlooks to their core.

So, armed with faulty science, they resort to the kind of name-calling you witnessed earlier. Greta Thunberg is a pawn. A brat. A mental case. If you’re especially an asshole who somehow got elected to the highest office in the United States, a very happy young girl. Such are the tactics of schoolyard bullies, not adults. They should shut up, get out of the way, and let the real adults get to work.

There’s Way Too Much Plastic in the World’s Oceans

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Chris Jordan’s “Gyre,” which evokes Hokusai’s “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” All the plastic used in this work of visual art was recovered from the Pacific Ocean. (Image Source: Chris Jordan/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There’s so many crises around the world, it can be genuinely difficult to know where to start. In many respects, we’re still recovering from a global financial crisis (and may well be on our way to another one). On a related note, the United States economy is saddled by debt. Medical debt. Credit card debt. Student loan debt. Homeowner debt. Debt, debt, debt. And this is all before we get to the national debt. Guns and school shootings. Opioids. Housing crises. Water crises. Humanitarian crises. It’s a wonder more of us don’t spend our lives in a state of constant crisis—not to mention there’s a mental health crisis facing many Americans.

With so much to worry about, there wouldn’t seem to be much room for anything else, and yet, we still haven’t mentioned potentially the biggest crisis of them all: the climate crisis. I’m not even going to get into the debate about whether or not we’re contributing to climate change. If you choose to ignore an overwhelming consensus within the scientific community, that’s your business. You can decry my liberal bias and skip past this piece, no hurt feelings.

If, like myself, you do accept that we’re hastening the warming of the planet and the degradation of habitats across the globe, then there’s an aspect to global pollution that deserves its fair share of attention. I’m talking about the plastic pollution crisis, especially as it pertains to the world’s oceans.

In terms of what we need to do to avert a climate catastrophe—assuming too much damage hasn’t already been done—while not to dismiss recycling and cleaning beaches and rivers and such, it’s clear that these efforts alone will not suffice when addressing this issue. Dame Ellen MacArthur, retired professional yachtswoman and one-time record holder of the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe, and thus someone very familiar with the seas and their condition, is one of the many voices who recognizes this state of affairs.

In a recent op-ed piece, MacArthur details the gravity of the plastic pollution situation. The reality is indeed grim.

In the few minutes it will take you to read this article, another five truckloads of plastic will have been dumped in the ocean. The consequences of this are far-reaching, and evidence is growing that people around the world are ingesting microplastics through their food and drinking water. We have reached a point where even the air we breathe can contain plastic, and if we fail to act, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

“More plastic than fish?” That doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, let alone good for Mother Earth. Nor does ingesting and breathing in plastic sound appealing. However you slice it, the abundance of plastic in our world today is a problem. There are health and fresh water concerns, and not just for fish but other water-dwelling animals and those that prey on contaminated food sources (like us, potentially).

In addition, and if these concerns don’t move you, there’s the matter of the economic waste alongside the physical misuse of resources. As MacArthur explains, citing a report by the World Economic Forum, the global economy loses an estimated $80 billion to $120 billion a year because of plastic waste. That’s a fair bit of cash lost at the expense of plastic pollution.

As MacArthur underscores, we really need to stop plastic at the source. This includes companies changing product design and otherwise producing less plastic. It also involves governments of different scale investing in better plastic collection infrastructure and enacting policies and strategies to specifically curb plastic use. And this is just a start.

What’s paramount at this stage late in the game is, coinciding with the broad scientific consensus on the need to act in response to the global climate crisis, a comprehensive approach to reducing our reliance on plastic. Such a unified front must obviously span nations and fields. MacArthur touts the creation of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, an agreement that lists governments, industry groups, NGOs, private investors, universities, and other organizations as signatories. The Chilean, French, and UK governments are included in this group. Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, H&M, Johnson and Johnson, L’Oréal, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, and Walmart are members, too, as is the World Wildlife Fund.

An accord like this, of course, means nothing without standards. The Global Commitment evidently comes with stipulations attached to participation, with 2025 as a target date for meaningful action on its terms. Adherence to the commitment’s terms will also be regularly reviewed, and as such, continued involvement with the project is conditional. The themes herein are accountability and transparency, qualities not automatically associated with national governments and multinational corporations.

The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment is one that reflects the kind of ambition necessary to adequately confront the plastic pollution issue as a subset of the climate crisis. It’s still in its relative infancy, too, so this public-private agreement has room yet to expand and attract more attention. Whether as a precursor to a larger accord or as a model for legislative efforts, the emphasis regardless is on a large-scale commitment along the lines of the Paris climate agreement. In truth, it makes sense. A majority of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, after all.


As you might imagine, other activists and people outspoken on this issue share Dame Ellen MacArthur’s sense of urgency about acting to ameliorate the ever-growing plastic problem. Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA, also penned an op-ed stressing that recycling alone will not fix the issue. As she argues, cleanups, recycling, and bans on items like plastic bags, cups, and straws are great, but real accountability for companies like Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Starbucks, and Unilever is essential because they are big drivers of plastic waste. With drink companies producing over 500 billion single-use plastic bottles a year, and with over 300 million tons of plastic being produced back in 2015 and expected to double by 2025, Leonard points to these leaders of industry as possessing the onus to act. Their scale of production is simply too large for individual campaigns alone to fight.

Emily Atkin, staff writer at The New Republic, meanwhile, looks to primary political players on the world stage to act in the interest of the planet. Part of the solution, she finds, involves saying no to fossil fuels, which comprise and are used in the making of plastics. (And, you know, are kind of a big part of this whole climate crisis.) Otherwise, agreements containing specific, legally-binding targets for pollution are of paramount importance. Atkin cites a UN resolution from late 2017 on eliminating plastic pollution, ones to which countries like China, India, and the U.S. are signatories, but of which they also refused to sign an earlier draft with more teeth to it.

In the case of America with Trump at the helm, it shouldn’t surprise you to know we were active in trying to kill that earlier draft. Sure, China is far and way the biggest producer of plastic waste, and other Asian countries are more prolific than the U.S., so to speak. Regardless, much of the rest of the world looks to America as a leader. Trump’s America is unquestionably failing the international audience on matters of environmental responsibility.

Looking back at the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, it’s worth assessing how exacting its requirements truly are. The language of the Global Commitment makes reference to companies and other signatories “taking action” or “setting ambitious targets.” These are not defined in detail, and in terms of accountability, the agreement only specifies that individual commitments “will be reviewed” and that the proverbial bar will be raised “after consultation with signatories.” What happens if a signatory reneges on its responsibilities? Indeed, it might be excommunicated from this group, but is public shame alone enough to compel it to act more responsibly? Short of economic incentives or legal consequences, it seems doubtful.

It’s tough to know what exactly will constitute a breaking point more than what we’ve already seen. There’s an estimated 80,000 metric tons of plastic (and growing) in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a loose assortment of debris within the North Pacific Gyre believed to be over a million square kilometers in area. The Atlantic has its own garbage patch, and there are others to be found in other gyres around the world.

These patches might be hard to see even with the naked eye, but they’re there. The plastic we throw away doesn’t just disappear. In an increasingly interconnected world, it’s not someone else’s problem either. If you’re OK with microplastics in the water we drink and the food we eat and the very air we breathe, again, chalk this all up to scaremongering and dismiss it, no hard feelings. If that’s not your idea of a fun future, however, there’s way too much plastic in the world’s oceans. It’s time the corporations, governments, and people with the most power to effect change did their fair share to clean up our mess.

Nestlé’s Billion-Dollar Bottled Water Hustle

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Bottles of water lined up and ready to go in the Ice Mountain plant in Stanwood, Michigan. That’s a lot of plastic being used—and a lot of water being used to both fill and produce that plastic. (Image Credit: Garret Ellison/MLive.com)

The name “Nestlé” may very well conjure up images of chocolatey goodness owing to its ownership of brands like Butterfinger, Nestlé Crunch, and Toll House cookies. Those more familiar with the Swiss conglomerate’s bottled water operations, however, are more apt to associate it with corporate profit-seeking at its most sinister.

An excellent piece by Caroline Winter, staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek, helps shed some light on just why Nestlé’s use of water resources in the United States and elsewhere has become so controversial. The crux of the article, which explores the production of water bottles at one Michigan plant, the genesis of the company’s experience with bottled water dating back to the 1800s, and the domestic and international demand for Nestlé’s and other companies’ bottled water products, surrounds the monolithic entity’s monopolization of water supplies, either through the promise of economic benefits for communities or due to their desperation for funds. Winter lays out the essentials in a particular passage relating to said bottling plant located in Mecosta County:

The Michigan operation is only one small part of Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company. But it illuminates how Nestlé has come to dominate a controversial industry, spring by spring, often going into economically depressed municipalities with the promise of jobs and new infrastructure in exchange for tax breaks and access to a resource that’s scarce for millions. Where Nestlé encounters grass-roots resistance against its industrial-strength guzzling, it deploys lawyers; where it’s welcome, it can push the limits of that hospitality, sometimes with the acquiescence of state and local governments that are too cash-strapped or inept to say no. There are the usual costs of doing business, including transportation, infrastructure, and salaries. But Nestlé pays little for the product it bottles—sometimes a municipal rate and other times just a nominal extraction fee. In Michigan, it’s $200.

Putting the weak resistance of municipalities, counties, and states aside for the moment, what aids Nestlé in its bid to capitalize on control of water resources are trends involving water consumption. First, there’s the demand, fueled by concern for contaminants in tap water, even though, as Winter suggests, bottled water’s superiority in purity and taste may be overstated (more on this later).

There are also concerns with supply, though, particularly in areas where the infrastructure for water maintenance is poor, thus lending itself to Nestlé’s ability to swoop in and market an alternative that appeals to consumers and government officials alike in that neither feel obligated to fix or rely on public utilities. In addition, uncertainty about whether or not water is a human right, in part fueled by statements of the latter persuasion by company executives, serves to undermine public outrage over the commodification of this resource by Nestlé and its competitors. For those well-versed in the debate over universal health care in the U.S., for instance, such is another iteration of the larger push-and-pull between progressive activists and corporate agendas.

Still, at the end of the day, it’s up to these would-be hosts of Nestlé facilities to decide whether to let the thirsty wolf in the door, so to speak. As Winter tells, the company tends to target areas where water regulations are inconsistent/lax or where it feels it can effectively lobby to weaken restrictions, and while towns in some states have said no to Nestlé, elsewhere and in a majority of cases, the conglomerate has been able to impose its will despite opposition. In perhaps the most disturbing example of San Bernardino, California, for a nominal yearly fee paid to the United States Forest Service, Nestlé has been able to extract tens of millions of gallons of water, even during droughts. So much for the greater good.

The remainder of Winter’s piece is spent reviewing two case studies in the state of Michigan in which residents and environmental activists were or are pitted directly against Nestlé. The results are not too heartening, either, for evidently, when Nestlé wins, they win big, and even when they lose, they still manage to win somewhat. Going back to Mecosta, in 2000, Nestlé purchased the Ice Mountain water brand from Pepsi and relocated facilities there. State and local officials, all too happy to be doing business with Nestlé, offered the company a one-time $13 million tax break. When residents got wind of this, however, they formed a grassroots water conservation group of Michigan citizens opposed to Nestlé opening up shop in their backyards, and enlisted an environmental lawyer to challenge the Swiss multinational in the courts. The outcome? After eight years and $1 million+ in legal fees, the two sides settled for a reduced water-pumping rate and seasonal restrictions. Um, hooray?

More recently, in Evart, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality caught flak for their clandestine near-approval of an application by Nestlé to more than double its water extraction rate. It took a 2016 investigative report by Garret Ellison which appeared on MLive.com to break this news to the public, whereupon people were justifiably and demonstrably distraught. At a subsequent public hearing held by the DEQ on Nestlé attended by upwards of 500 people, numerous speakers assailed the Department’s overall resource management record, notably invoking the Flint water crisis. So too did they question Nestlé’s ability to essentially pay pennies to extract ungodly amounts of water while residents of cities like Flint and Detroit are forced to use bottled water and cough up a disproportionate amount of money for tap water tainted by lead or shut off at times. For all this outward show of dissatisfaction, Winter mentions, the DEQ representatives “shuffled offstage, refusing to comment.”

Accounts of the extent of the environmental impact of pumping increases like the one proposed in Evart imaginably vary depending on the source; in the case of the Michigan DEQ, officials overruled the computer model used to help assess the effects of water consumption in the state, finding its calculations “overly conservative.” Meanwhile, at the heart of this discussion is more than just whether or not 400 gallons a minute is too much, but whether or not large corporations like Nestlé should be able to claim ownership of necessities like water in the first place, “renewable” as they may be. It’s the same sort of right-vs-privilege dynamic that characterizes, again, the health care debate in this country, and which informs principles like the public trust doctrine that reserve certain resources or specified amounts of these resources for public use. For many of us across socioeconomic statuses, it is critical to know that not every bit of land in America is subject to being bought by and sold to the highest bidder.


From a conservationist and environmental standpoint, it’s clear the implications of Nestlé’s global footprint exceed that of exploitation of water resources which threaten to diminish as a result of climate change. After all, this is bottled water we’re talking about here. According to information provided by the company itself on its Nestlé Waters website, the average global bottled water consumption is 50 liters per capita per year. It requires a lot of plastic, to the estimated tune of over 200 billion bottles annually worldwide. It would be one thing if most or all of those containers were being recycled. Domestically, at least, however, if recycling rates have remain unchanged from about a decade ago, we are simply throwing away close to 90% of the water bottles we buy in the United States. To make matters worse, the very production of these bottles expends precious resources. It costs millions of barrels of oil to make the world’s water bottles used for drinking, and three times the water that goes into these bottles is consumed by the process. That’s a lot of pollution contribution for one industry.

At least the product is worth it, right? That is, at least bottled water tastes better and is better for you, right? Perhaps not. On the side of the taste of bottled water vs. tap water, numerous tests have shown people’s inability to distinguish the two, with psychological experts attributing the difference simply to the expectation bottled water will taste better. As for how safe bottled water is relative to tap water, there is also a significant amount of research which suggests the idea that bottled water is a safer and healthier alternative to tap water is propaganda perpetuated by the bottled water industry to sell its product. This is before a recent study by Orb Media found more than 90% of water bottles contain microplastics we are likely consuming as we drink, the health impact of which is uncertain because it hasn’t been studied extensively. By all means, though, enjoy that bottle of Poland Spring.

It should be emphasized that Nestlé, while a leader in bottled water production and a company known for—how shall I put this?—a remarkable zeal for acquisition of water resources and litigation thereafter, is not the only player in the business of marking up and reselling water from people’s backyards back to them. Aquafina and Dasani, brands owned by PepsiCo and the Coca-Cola Company, respectively, notably created controversy when they were forced to admit that their product is glorified tap water, filtered through reverse osmosis and further purified with the help of minerals or other processes like ozone sterilization. In light of the statistics on bottled water and how much is used or wasted on their disposal and production, however, it’s worse that there is an entire industry responsible, and thus a myriad number of companies of which to ensure their accountability and transparency.

Accordingly, it’s tough to find silver linings with respect to the issue of bottled water companies and water usage. Since Caroline Winter’s piece for Bloomberg Businessweek was published, Evart has apparently denied Nestlé’s request to build a boosting station to augment its water-pumping output. The town’s predictable reward for this? A lawsuit from Nestlé. As for the global proliferation of bottled water, while the news of ingesting microplastics could, in theory, curb consumption, at the end of the day, assuming people have even heard or read these reports, they still get thirsty. Bottled water, in its seeming ubiquity, is convenient for those of us living an on-the-go lifestyle. After all, how many of us frequent fast food restaurants despite knowing how bad their offerings are for our bodies? At the very least, and even if we do care about limiting our plastic consumption, we may, say, forget to bring a reusable water bottle with us when we get to where we’re going. For all our good intentions about living a healthy, sustainable lifestyle, it requires discipline and practice, and for those moments when we falter, Nestlé and its competitors are waiting.

Despite all these obstacles, the conversation about standing up to the bottled water industry (Big Water?) and insisting on repairs/upgrades to our water utility infrastructure as well as preservation of the human right to water—and yes, like health care, this is recognized as a human right and not a privilege—is one we need to be having, especially as access to clean, drinkable water becomes less and less certain here and abroad. Back in May of 2016, in response to a drought at the time, Alissa Walker, in a piece for Gizmodo entitled “Stop Drinking Bottled Water,” addressed the importance of big-picture thinking that transcends scrutiny of individual corporations and municipalities when it comes to this topic:

We can’t stop at the municipal level. We have to think bigger. Eleven percent of the Earth’s population does not have access to safe drinking water. There are people in this country who are currently facing a groundwater contamination crisis. Instead of throwing our Great American Problem at people by the plastic-encased-in-plastic case, we should be focusing on designing and building comprehensive, permanent water systems for every person on this planet. Each bottle of water purchased is a vote against that goal.

Giving up bottled water also means thinking long-term about preserving water security. You may have reservoirs near you brimming over with fresh rainfall right now, but the truth is that the amount of potable water on this planet is growing more scarce every year. The bottled water industry is one of the fastest-growing on the planet. Last year it made $100 billion, an amount that is expected to double within five years. Now consider the fact that it actually takes the equivalent of three bottles of water to make a single water bottle. Every swig from a plastic blob in the name of convenience moves us closer to a world without any clean water at all.

Because like I said before, it’s not about this drought—it’s about every future drought.

Walker is right. Whatever your angle, whether it’s concern for the people of small-town America and others in preserving their way of life, or for the planet’s future, or simply to stick it to big corporations like Nestlé, there is a reason to get invested in this issue. Choose one, and make sure to have your reusable water bottle handy while you do it.

To view this post as it appears on Citizen Truth, click here. Citizen Truth is an independent and alternative media organization dedicated to finding the truth, ending the left-right paradigm and widening the scope of viewpoints represented in media and our daily conversations. For more on CT, please visit citizentruth.org.