The writer provides a strategy to prevent Coca-Cola from taking over the world and reducing the quality of our lives.

By Donella Meadows

October 1999

Don't let Coke take over the world.

I'm not in the habit of reading the annual report of the Coca-Cola Co., so I thank Adbusters magazine for bringing to my attention Coke's insidious scheme to take over the world.

'One Billion Down,' says the cover of the company's 1997 report. The first page says '47 Billion to Go'. The second page clarifies the plan: 'This year, even as we sell 1 billion servings of our products daily, the world will still consume 47 billion servings of other beverages. We're just getting started.'

Then come double-page spreads detailing which markets Coke is intending to move into. A beautiful desert landscape with a water fountain in the foreground bears this comment: 'In many places, it's easier to find a water fountain than a Coca-Cola. That's why we continue to strengthen our distribution system. We're working hard to make our products an integral part of any landscape so they are always within easy reach.'

There's a picture of three lovely Chinese women with steaming teacups, looking curiously at a fourth who, with a big smile, is pouring Coke into her cup. 'There is a lot of tea in China and everywhere else in the world. But, increasingly, people in China are enjoying Coca-Cola too. In 1997 we were named the most recognised international trademark and most preferred soft drink in that country of 1.2 billion people.'

At a business-table coffee break, the coolest-looking person is drinking a Coke. 'Stepping down the hall for a coffee break has become an office tradition around the world. But we're intently focused on making sure that any time people need to be refreshed, they take a "Coca-Cola break".'

Gee, and I thought they were only out to get Pepsi!

A reader has asked me to suggest one small thing a person can do to make the world better. Here's my suggestion. Don't help Coke take over the world. Don't help Pepsi either. Don't buy soft drinks, period. Go for juice, coffee, tea or, best of all, water.

How would that improve the world? Let me count the ways.

* It would improve your health. Soft drinks are made of sugar, caffeine, dyes and acid (which makes the bubbles), none of which is good for you. Diet drinks that substitute aspartame (Nutrasweet) for the sugar may be even worse, given evidence of the effects of that chemical on the brain and nervous system.

* It would improve both your economy and the economy. Americans spend about $50 billion a year on soft drinks. That comes to an average of $185 per person, $740 a year for a family of four. (For those who are into the soft-drink habit, the actual cost must be much higher, because some of us weigh into that average with big zeroes.) You could direct that money toward something that improves your health rather than undermines it. Or collectively we could direct some of it toward necessary improvements in the quality of our public drinking water.

* It would help the environment. Think of all those bottles and cans! Mountains of them! Aluminium, glass, plastic - all wrenched from the Earth, refined and shaped with the use of fossil fuels and the emission of toxins, filled with unhealthy liquids, sold, emptied and discarded (maybe after a few rounds of recycling) back to the Earth again. Get your water from a pipe, put it into a glass or cup that you wash and reuse. Take a load off the planet.

* To the extent that it starts a trend, it would help the poor, who are, as the Coke report says, overwhelmed with advertising claiming that only backward peasants drink water and that trendy, cool, superior people drink Coke. I can't count how many times I have visited some poor family in Asia or Central America and helplessly watched them scrape together something like a day's income to go out and buy me a Coke. When I can do so without insulting their pride, I try to head off such purchases. They can hardly believe that I really prefer tea or coffee - cheap, everyday drinks to them, prepared with safe, boiled water.

* It would puncture the world-conquering ambitions of a few large companies. It might even create a world where we didn't have to look at their logos everywhere we go. I have this vision of Coke and Pepsi sales plummeting, which eventually would eat into revenues so much that the ads would go away. Out of school hallways. Out of sports arenas and bus-stops. Off umbrellas and storefronts and T-shirts and billboards. Finally a visitor from another planet could land without getting the impression that the whole place is owned and branded by Coca-Cola.

It isn't hard to practise firm resistance to the global cola takeover; I've been doing it for decades. As a chemist, I decided long ago not to ingest anything that comes from a lab. Coke and Pepsi were the first to go. Later, when I learned about endocrine disrupters, some of which are used as stabilisers in plastic, I stopped ingesting anything that comes in plastic bottles. That was the end of bottled water, too.

I was left with great concern for the quality of piped water, ground water, streams - all the water on the planet. But that's where I want my concern, and all our concern, to go. (Where do you think Coke and Pepsi get their water, anyway?)

Hey, repelling this takeover plot is no impossible dream. We've already got 47 billion down. Just one billion to go. - Third World Network Features


About the writer: Donella Meadows is the director of the Sustainability Institute USA. The above article first appeared in Resurgence (May/June 1999, No. 194).