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August 19, 2009

Seattle Bags Bag-Tax

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Seattle "played against character" in yesterday's vote on a referendum regarding a proposed 20 cents per bag tax on paper and plastic bags of the sort your groceries are placed in.

Seattle is a very liberal place. Its city council system is set up so that candidates are voted on by the entire city, not solely by residents of individual council districts. So if the electorate is pretty liberal, its city council has been distilled to be even more so. (Note to commenters: there's a fair chance righties would set up a similar mechanism were they in power, politicians being what they are.)

Earlier this year the council stopped worrying about parks, police, sanitation and other trivia and decided to Save The Planet. So they voted on the bag tax mentioned above. (If they were serious about saving trees by reducing reliance on paper products, they also might have applied a massive tax on the paper used to print the Seattle Times. Oh well, maybe they planned to get to that matter next year.)

Citizens were not happy, so a petition was quickly circulated and received more than enough valid signatures to place the council's ordnance on the August 18th ballot as a referendum.

As of late last evening, with half the ballots counted, Seattle voters were turning down the bag tax 58 percent to 42.

No doubt bag tax supporters will whine about "outside" money being spent to defeat their pet issue. But heavy spenders don't always buy elections; voters are not totally unthinking. Besides, the pro-tax arguments in the official voters' pamphlet and elsewhere stressed all the idealistic issues one would expect a well-educated, liberal electorate to embrace.

I doubt that Seattle is on its way to becoming a cesspool of reaction. Besides, many grocery stores sell reusable grocery bags and I see quite a few shoppers using them. But all this is voluntary, not coercive. What a concept. Even in Seattle.



posted by Donald at August 19, 2009


I'm in danger of over-using the word, but fetishism has to be the best description of most "green" solutions. The virtous shopper returns from the supermarket in a battery-laden fire-trap called a Prius and unloads the shopping which has been packed in bulky recyclable plastic bags made in China.

Our shopper then proceeds to pack away the goods purchased, ignoring that nearly all are packed in plastic. After emptying the organic brown rice etc into canisters, our shopper discards the large number of plastic wrappers into a specially purchased plastic disposal bag. After this will come the stupendously wasteful process of recycling into multiple plastic bins...

Maybe problems like oil-dependence, particulate pollution, waste, salinity, traffic etc won't be confronted without a non-rational, quasi-religious impulse: something that meets the atavistic need for ritual and fetish.

But we need to remember that, in a previous fad-phase, these green-thinking people are the ones who stopped hydro and nuclear power in Australia. It felt so right at the time! (Lately, a young man of the green persuasion informed me I was guilty of bad history: it was Big Coal who stopped nukes. So it was Big Coal in the eighties who funded the Midnight Oil concerts and the massive demos I saw in Sydney streets!)

More recently in Oz, to respect the "life" of rivers, governments have opted for desalination. The refusal to build dams on ideal sites in Victoria is especially bewildering. It seems that the green mind in drawn fatally toward whatever costs the most and wastes the most.

It's the old question re religion: how much tolerance should one extend to the intolerant?

Posted by: Robert Townshend on August 19, 2009 9:18 PM

I love plastic bags. Seriously.

Posted by: Luke Lea on August 20, 2009 12:02 AM

Well, I for one would include myself out of such a religion.

I love the defeat of the asinine bag tax more than life itself.

I only regret that Nichols was able to distance himself from the program.

Posted by: vanderleun on August 20, 2009 12:41 AM

Who cares if you throw away a plastic bag? You know, those landfills can always be dug up and the contents recycled. You put it in a central location, it's all good--now or later. What's the fuss?

Posted by: B on August 20, 2009 1:21 AM

Remorse for intemperate speech. I said the Prius was a fire-trap. Well, I'd heard stories about the early models, and seen detailed photos of an incinerated '09. Then it occurred to me that there's insurance involved...

Don't want to be an insurance fraud's sucker. Having lived with solar by necessity for some time, I'm probably too wary of multiple large batteries in enclosure.

How can you not give benefit of the doubt to a company that makes the LWB Land Cruiser Diesel?

Posted by: Robert Townshend on August 20, 2009 5:38 AM

How odd to combine the paper and plastic topics. New trees can be grown easily; new oil takes longer.

Posted by: dearieme on August 20, 2009 6:25 AM

We ride our bikes to the coop with our containers ready to fill here in the People's Republic of Moreland, Australia has so much sunshine, massive potential for geothermal, even more potential savings to be made in energy and water consumption. And come on, you think rock music stopped the nuclear option? NIMBY stopped that. Robert, you are just not trying. You need to get over your stereotyping and come to the table. Negotiations start now.

Bag tax is an ace idea, but,

Posted by: Simon Roberts on August 20, 2009 8:05 AM

A folk musician friend (and research biologist) wrote a song thirty years or so ago titled "Away." What happens to that soda can when you toss it from the window of moving car? It goes Away. What happens to all the chemicals poured down the sink? They go Away. All that plastic in the dumpster? It goes Away.

Unfortunately, Away will always remain still Here.

It continues to astound me that self-described "conservatives" are so contemptuous of conservation efforts. Often it is in the name of keeping government out of things.Yet, even though every step of the nuclear power system requires government subsidies and intense oversight, because non-technical hippies don't like nuclear, f*@# them, government intrusion in that case is just fine. But government taxing bags to reduce the waste stream, there's a menace to our freedom.

FWIW most supermarket chains around here offer a nickel discount for each reusable bag a customer uses. How different is it to charge for the "disposable" bags instead of discounting for bringing in a reusable bag? If instead of the local government taxing bags, grocery chains overtly charged for them instead of building their costs into the pricing structure of the items sold would that be a better or worse option?

Posted by: Chris White on August 20, 2009 10:11 AM

Luke Lea, you've said in a few words what I neglected to say in far more. The plastic bag is a masterpiece of industrial ingenuity. It is light, cheap, flexible, hygienic, compressible, tough, disposable and yet easily reused. It's a wonder.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on August 20, 2009 10:18 AM

It continues to astound me that self-described "conservatives" are so contemptuous of conservation efforts.

I'm not aware of this facet of conservatism, Chris. You have this habit of defining conservatism to fit your nonsensical, and always sanctimonious, argument of the moment.

What I am contemptuous of is this reality in Woodstock and other like minded communities: the conservation and anti-development movements harbor a hidden agenda.

That agenda is self-segregation. Woodstock is particularly given to this. Although it is 98.5% white, our leftist community likes to lecture the rest of the world on "diversity" and "integration."

The end result of the conservation and anti-development agenda is that Woodstock is a self-segregated community of people who live here primarily to avoid ever having to deal with a person who is non-white, non-hipster, non-leftist, etc.

Thirty five years ago, Woodstock supported six live music clubs. At two of them a musician could actually make a decent buck playing. Today, the only remaining clubs are the non-profitable propaganda venues for the conservatist, anti-development left. The left deliberately and consciously drove everybody else out of town with lawsuits, boycotts, media campaigns, feminist sexual violence hysteria, etc.

What has emerged is a completely self-segregated community of white hipsters who don't want to ever associate with anything other than their own kind.

Amazing, what really made Woodstock famous... macho, hetero rock and roll... has disappeared from the scene. Maybe there's a lesson in that, huh? Nobody wants to hear the political drivel from the left when they go out on Friday night.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on August 20, 2009 11:49 AM

"A folk musician friend (and research biologist) wrote a song thirty years or so ago titled "Away."

I commend you on having the cojones to admit this in a public forum.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on August 20, 2009 11:56 AM

Here is a LINK that seems pertinent ... at least if you consider the fate of the oceans important to humanity.

Posted by: Chris White on August 20, 2009 12:15 PM

ST - Why address the topic when you can insult and berate me for the mostly imagined sins of Woodstock hippies? If you are not aware of self-described conservatives (& libertarians) contemptuous of conservation efforts I suggest you re-read the comments above by Townshend, Lea, B, & vanderlund.

Mr. Fletcher - Why cojones? That it was thirty years ago making me an old geezer? That I have a musician friend who is also a research biologist, not just an ignorant hippie? That it expresses an opinion more concerned with the effects of plastic pollution on the environment than in allowing short term convenience to trump that concern?

Posted by: Chris White on August 20, 2009 12:36 PM

"Green technology" will be the next economic bubble.

Posted by: grandcosmo on August 20, 2009 1:28 PM

Just joking Chris, no harm intended...

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on August 20, 2009 1:50 PM

Did you ever notice that the left is absolutely intent on putting all the responsibility for garbage on the backs of the little ones?

Who made the decision to package everything in plastic? The oil, chemical, and food companies. Yet you never hear a peep on the left about going after the corporations for this packaging problem.

You also never hear a peep on the left about going after the corporations for planned obsolesence, which fills the junkyards too.

All the burdens of this are gratefully shuffled to the consumer who has no choice, with lots of new taxes and fines if they don't play nice. What lovely people the left are!

The same is true of the energy situation. Wear an extra sweater (or two), turn off all but one compact flourescent light (a $3 light bulb!), pay the big prices, and if you don't like it, you are a racist bigot.

The geeny weenies (or "greenshirts") are intent on supporting big business in pounding the little guy while the government and corporations make off with a bundle on the Great Green Scam.

So just bend over and take your new Carbon Taxes like a man. A man on the left, that is.

Posted by: B on August 20, 2009 2:52 PM


You say:

No doubt bag tax supporters will whine about "outside" money being spent to defeat their pet issue. But heavy spenders don't always buy elections; voters are not totally unthinking.

While your comment is true, I think it promotes a misleading impression and I just want to set the record straight: mostly heavy spenders DO succeed in buying elections.

To check my impression on this, I looked at the spending totals and vote totals for California's last round of referenda (November 2008). In 8 of the 12 cases, the high spender got their way. In 3 of the 4 cases where the high spenders didn't get their way, they were trying to persuade the electorate to do nice things for unpopular groups (i.e., spend money on rehab programs for drug offenders, legalize gay marriage, and spend money to provide purchasers of alternative fuel vehicles -- a tiny, entitled minority -- with large cash rebates. The spending on the gay marriage ban was actually quite close, too, so it wasn't as though the less-monied group had an easy time of it on that one, either.) The other time the big money lost, it was trying to persuade voters to crack down on underprivileged teenage gang bangers, a move that was opposed by the California Teachers Association.

So if you're in a referendum battle and you aren't gifted with an opponent who is trying to help out a despised or self-serving minority and/or and you're not lucky enough to have have a favored group (children) with the teachers on your side, you'd best raise yourself more money if you want to win.

At least in California. Are things statistically different in Washington State?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 20, 2009 3:12 PM

B must know some VERY different folks on the left than I do. Most DO go after the corporations for their short sighted elevation of profit for the few right now at the expense of the many over the long haul. As I've said many times, we have more power as consumers than as voters. Every time we go to a local store instead of a giant corporate chain, every time we choose to get something from the bulk foods section instead of prepackaged, it is another vote for doing things another way.

That said, it makes sense for each of us to live our ideals to the best of our ability. If I want less pollution and reduced dependency on oil I need to reduce my use of the car or improve the efficiency of my home heat and lights.

Posted by: Chris White on August 20, 2009 3:21 PM

Friedrich -- Within the last few years there were some referendums and initiatives here that went against the dough, though I'm not sure I want to spend much time to track down the details.

But consider this hypothesis: If the issue is well understood by most voters, the amount of advertising money spent will not sway the results. Or to put it another way, the more arcane the issue, the better chance money has to sway the result.

In the case of the city council's bag tax, lots of voters understood immediately how they would personally be affected -- and they were POed to the extent that lots of folks signed the referendum petition très vite. Yes the "no" side spent lots of money (probably needlessly), but the "yes" side was favored by environmental groups, much of the local establishment, and was editorially endorsed by the Seattle Times, the only remaining Seattle daily paper. So the battle was hardly one-sided in terms of attempting to influence public opinion.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 20, 2009 6:33 PM

Speaking of green fetishism: back in 2008, Iowahawk went to a Hollywood party (at Wilt Chmaberlain's former mansion). Parking was provided by the Valet Girls, who noted that his friends' Benz was the

"First non-Prius of the night..." I marvel at the irony of eco-hairshirt hybrid shitboxes being parked by supermodel servant girls.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on August 20, 2009 7:14 PM

B must know some VERY different folks on the left than I do. Most DO go after the corporations for their short sighted elevation of profit for the few right now at the expense of the many over the long haul.

That statement is completely false. I haven't seen any major dent in corporate habits made by the left. What I have seen is endless government lobbying by the greenie-weenies so that fines and taxes will be shoved on the average citizen, as well as a bunch of crappy plastic packaging and products from the corporations.

If I want less pollution and reduced dependency on oil I need to reduce my use of the car or improve the efficiency of my home heat and lights.

Or we could go with nuclear power, and you could live like a normal human being.

Posted by: B on August 20, 2009 11:10 PM

Given that even WalMart has made much of its expanding line of organic offerings ... and that many companies trumpet that their new buildings are LEED certified to be more energy efficient ... and that "greenwash" is a neologism, the definition of which is presenting misleading information to conceal abuse of the environment in order to present a positive public image ... there seem to be ample evidence that public concern for the environmental practices of companies they do business with is having an impact on corporate habits. We can quibble about whether these represent a "major dent" or not, but to flat out deny they are happening requires wearing very strong ideological blinders.

As does the persistent refrain that the answer to an ultimately unsustainable approach to energy consumption is to fuel it with nuclear power. In thread after thread I wonder how individuals who argue against the size and scope of the government square that with their support of nuclear power. Nukes require significant government support and oversight throughout every facet of their operation from mining the uranium through the extraordinarily long storage of nuclear waste products. And, as Iran demonstrates, there is always the question of how nuclear power production impacts the availability of materials for nuclear weapons including "dirty bombs" that combine conventional explosives with radioactive waste material. Therefore, there are international treaties and protocols that must be followed as well. How, I keep asking, do these facts mesh with a supposed preference for small government? So far no one seems eager to answer, the preference is to toss out a few snarky insults and move on.

Oh well, at least B and I can agree that we keep seeing " a bunch of crappy plastic packaging and products from the corporations.

Posted by: Chris White on August 21, 2009 7:23 AM

The "organic" food scam has to be one of the greatest of all time--making people pay twice as much for the same stuff! You have no idea if they are organic or not. Fools are born every minute.

As far as "energy efficiency"--how do you know that either? Because Wal-Mart says so? That's never been the criterion before on the left.

The way a greenie-weenie thinks, if you tell them what they want to hear, they love it, no matter how big a lie it is. And that's all that's required--just agree with them.

So to make the despicable habitual liar Chris White happy, I'll tell him that he's right, and very intellignet too. We need to use less energy, gear down our industrial society, and get busy with this Stalinism thing because it promotes community and sharing.

Thank you so much for all your valuable advice Chris. Your point of view is always respected and well-received. I thank God every day that I can learn from your incredible store of wisdom.

Posted by: B on August 21, 2009 11:38 AM

Mr. White:

Not being a conservative, and finding virtually all political labels to be unhelpful and actively misleading anyway, I have no difficulty supporting nuclear power. Yes, it will require major government involvement; this sort of thing, however, is what governments actually can do well, so why the heck not?

And as for trotting out all the reasons nuclear power is problematic, I must say they all sound, at the end of the day, like phony arguments to me. Yes, these are issues. No, they are not unsolveable issues -- in fact, equivalently difficult problems have been overcome routinely in human history (like building a highly reliable supply chain of petroleum products from the Persian Gulf to the gas station where you fill up regularly.) As one commentator asked (perceptively, IMHO): "If global warming is really life and death, why is it such a big deal what new nukes will cost?"

In other words, people who profess to be deeply concerned about the environment, the preservation of which by their own arguments will require massive changes in how societies currently work, and who aren't willing to consider nuclear power raise questions about either how well-informed they are or about how serious and sincere they are.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 21, 2009 12:30 PM

A few random reactions ...

* As a fan of localism and subsidiarity, I don't mind cities and locales experimenting with laws and regs. I think it fosters creativity and competition. I also think that this stuff should happen (to the extent it should happen at all) as far away from D.C. as possible. Unlike with national regs, if a SanFran (say) resident is displeased by the direction SanFran is taking, he/she can vote with his/her feet. A city or region that ties itself into too many regulatory knots will probably lose noticeable population. A city or region that does a good job of fostering a reasonable or even rewarding environment (economically, ecologically, and aesthetically) will likely attract people. If you don't like the way Vermont goes about things, move to New Hampshire (or vice versa). Yay for that.

* I certainly agree that governments generally should spend 99% of their time and resources on getting the basics right. Besides, there's 'way too much "monkeying with rules and regs as a kind of entertainment form, or maybe just distraction from what really needs attending-to" around. It's irresponsible and potentially dangerous. For one thing, once a rule or law is in place, it's next to impossible to get rid of it, even if it's a stinker.

* All that said, the bag tax does sound idiotic.

* And I say all this as someone who's as green as can be. If ecosystems are being irresponsibly monkeyed-with (and I'm betting they are), the main thing that's doing the disrupting is population growth. Putting a five cent tax on shopping bags ... Well, "nibbling ineffectively around the edges of a problem" doesn't begin to describe it when we're on schedule to grow to over 9 billion people in the pretty-near future, all of them eager to have cars and TVs.

* All that said, plastic bags and other plastic discards do seem to be crapping up large stretches of the ocean, and in nontrivial ways. Should something be done about this? What? And on what basis? I do think it's a question/issue that deserves some thinking-about, and maybe some action, assuming that the reports I've read about the situation are accurate enough.

* B -- re "organic" ... No one's "making" anyone pay extra for organic. You're completely free to buy non-organic. In fact, you-who-prefer-nonorganic are being massively catered to. But aren't the people who would prefer to buy organic a market that deserves servicing too? If not, why not? Especially from the p-o-v of a free market fan.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 21, 2009 12:35 PM

The aim of greens is precisely to cause other people's energy consumption to drop. Finding a working alternative to fossil fuels, nuclear say, is not okay. That would just let other people continue to live wealthy modern lives--wealth being much more a matter of how much energy you have at your disposal than of how much money you have in the bank--and that is morally unacceptable.

Forcing other people to apply their own muscle power to achieve ends currently achieved by the application of (mostly) electrical power is the essence of the green program. (To the green, fossil fuels are only one side of the evil of the real, ultimate villain: other people hooked into and using the modern electrical grid.) Any practical solution, like say nuclear, will be opposed precisely because it is practical, achievable, and effective.

The objective of the greens is not to save the "environment", about which most greens are indifferent or ignorant or both. The chief aim, the one thing needful to the green is to force--and now dammit!--other people to suffer a permanent steep decline in their standard of living. Which is what having to use muscle power and not electric power will mean for other people if the greens get their way.

A legally enforced, selectively focused decline in the standard of living of other people: the greens' objective in a nutshell.

P.S. "Other people" being of course, Republicans, right-wingers, and suburbanites.

Posted by: PatrickH on August 21, 2009 2:05 PM

PatrickH, that's absurd. (All respect paid to the vividly etched characterization, of course.)

There's a kind of greenie who you're right on the money about, of course. But I've known a lot of greens (or at least eco people) who don't fit your characterization at all. For one thing, many of them really do care about trees, sea cows, and the health of eco-systems; many are very knowledgeable about these creatures and phenomena too. There are loads of people in the eco-world with degrees in marine biology, conservation wildlife, etc. They're scientific, and their interest is as sincere as mine in the arts or yours in whatever interests you.

For another, you might be surprised by how irreverent a lot of eco-people are about the establishment Gore types, people who are basically leftish people and top-down scolds who have hijacked the eco-thing to bolster up their pursuit of political power.

For a third, many greenies are into livin' the good life in a real hearty, lowdown way. That's why they're greenies, in fact. Drinkin', travelin', art, fuckin' -- they're real life-lovers, and often on an impressive scale. For them, the good life includes good food, good drink, wildlife, and nature. And they tend to think that -- in the interests of living well -- it's unwise to spend down our ecological capital too rashly.

Check out Stephen Bodio's Querencia for an example of this kind of greenie. Steve, Reid and Matt are brainy, soulful, tough-minded guys who love falcons, dogs, landscapes, women, art, food ...

People like Steve, Reid and Matt aren't hard to find in the eco-world. In fact, it's been a major p-r tragedy for the environmental movement that the wussy scolds and bossy power-grabbers have made themselves the face of the present-day eco-world. But the eco world itself is bursting with hearty, knowledgeable and quirky life-lovers. After all, one reason you might want eco-systems to prosper is because you love life.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 21, 2009 4:31 PM

FvB – You note that subsidizing and controlling nuclear power is what governments actually can do well, so why the heck not? How does that in any way change the basic issues? Nuclear will always remain a highly centralized electrical power system that relies on a highly centralized political power system, the province of a tiny number of global corporate entities working with the support and regulatory oversight of federal and international agencies. If the federal government cannot be trusted to keep e coli outbreaks from happening in an increasingly centralized food production and distribution network why do you trust them to indefinitely keep the power flowing and the radioactive materials contained without mishap, either by accident or malevolent design, when it comes to nuclear power?

Setting aside that question and granting you the point ... that tight central control of all phases of nuclear power is something the government does well ... how does that make it desirable as opposed to the many alternatives? This isn't a choice between life as we have come to know it since the flowering of the Industrial Age and a return to pre-electrical times. We know, for example, that simple improvements in insulation and weatherization can (and do) result in significant energy savings for a given building. While a handful of individuals making such changes will have little to no impact on overall energy consumption tens of thousands of households doing so becomes the equivalent of bringing another power plant on line.

A wind farm can be on line and producing energy roughly one year from approval. While they will never fully replace all other energy sources, they can be a significant source of power for the grid. The major things holding them back at the moment are (1) NIMBY opposition and (2) they are not yet competitive on a price per KW basis due to the subsidies and other advantages granted to the coal and nuclear industries. Like any other industry start up as wind power matures as an industry costs will come down and profitability will rise.

For me the advantages ... ecologically and politically ... of decentralizing power production continue to beat the only advantages I see to nuclear which are massive scale and "efficiency".

MB – Absent a dramatic change on a global scale - be it a virulent pandemic, an apocalyptic war, or the worst sort of top down interference in everyone's sex life – the total world population is pretty much going to do whatever it is going to do. The best we can hope for is to make wise decisions based on the assumption that it will continue to grow as predicted. That means we need to become more efficient and forward thinking.

Any effort made by individuals or local communities to solve problems like massive pollution of the oceans is, by definition, going to be "nibbling around the edges of a problem." But don't we set up a false Lose-Lose dichotomy if we dismiss and belittle the small and local efforts while simultaneously abhorring mandated, top down, efforts to solve problems?

Patrick – Most "greens" are spending far more time and effort altering their own lifestyle choices to reflect their values than they are attempting to force anyone else to do anything. As it relates to the topic of this post remembering to bring a shopping bag with you when you go shopping is hardly a permanent steep decline in [one's] standard of living.

Did anyone check the link I supplied to clips on the persistence of plastic in the environment and how it is accumulating in the Pacific Gyre or is the end effect of shopping ease too remote to bother with?

Posted by: Chris White on August 21, 2009 4:45 PM

I agree with one comment above. It is corporations that create products such as plastic bags and 6-pack holders. They do it because these things are more "convenient" and thus, at least theoretically, the corporations can sell more. Whether Americans would buy less beer if they couldn't get those nifty plastic 6-pack holders, I don't know.

Americans buy lots of trash. It's called packaging. They buy the product and a package, take them both home, and immediately discard the package. Think toothpaste.

Buying trash? Only in America.

Posted by: Marik on August 21, 2009 8:08 PM

Michael Blowhard

The point that I was making was that as a consumer, you have no idea if a product is organic or not, other than the label. My opinion (since I am the jaded sort) is that Wal-Mart saw the kinds of margins that Whole Foods et al were making on the organic and decided on a piece of the action. So they simply relabel non-organic produce as organic and sell it for twice as much.

Who's going to find out?

I think if you really want organic, you grow the food by yourself or buy from a trusted local source. Otherwise, its easy to be taken to the cleaners.

I think the same is true with the "energy efficiency" promotions that Wal-Mart makes of itself.

Posted by: B on August 22, 2009 12:30 AM

Also, the power grid is not "centralized". It is localized, with many power generating stations located and supplying power locally.

So once again Chris White lies out his rear end to try to win an argument, ignoring reality in the process.

But you look soooooo good Chris! You good-looking leftie you!

Posted by: B on August 22, 2009 12:36 AM

Chris - If you want to drive a Prius or use a recycled hemp bag when you shop, god bless. But you're fooling yourself if you think these actions are going to make a lick of difference where the health of any ecosystem goes.

I'm with you where putting pressure on the system via our purchases go, though. Make the corporations serve us. Use our power in the free market to turn producers towards better rather than worse behavior and creations.

And I agree that the plastic-trash-in-the-ocean thing may well be significant and want attending-to.

But, as far as I'm concerned, that issue highlights a major beef I have with the eco-mainstream. They'd have us all stress out in infinite minor ways (drive a Prius, etc) that aren't going to make any difference. And they insist on packaging their entire thang up in a cosmic worldview -- Global Warming. Patooie to that.

I'd rather see them pick a finite number of modest-ish goals (saving a forest, cleaning up plastic trash in an ocean, protecting dugongs, cleaning up a lake), focus on those, achieve a little something real, and let the virtue-and-stress-and-worldview thing go.

A lake rendered less polluted is a dandy, fine, and real achievement that makes a genuine difference. By contrast, converting a million people into Global Warming believers so that they will then use recycled hemp bags instead of plastic ones and drive Priuses instead of Beemers isn't going to accomplish much of anything that's ecologically beneficial. It's a waste of time and resources.

B -- Yeah, I don't disagree with you on that.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 22, 2009 3:16 AM

No, Michael, my characterization of greens is not "absurd". With its self-immolating obsession with global warming, the green movement has morphed into precisely what I've said it is . The aim of the perpetrators of the global warming hoax (I mean hypothesis!) is to make Westerners radically reduce their energy consumption. It does not mention lakes or plastic bags (except insofar as they are petroleum products), has no concern with beautification, or preservation of the wild, or quality of life for humans. Nor are the GW hoax propagandists willing to admit that their focus is on Western societies, even though Asia will be massively increasing its consumption of fossil fuels over the next decades, easily cancelling any gains made by even draconian reductions in Western fossil fuel use. Make them (us) reduce consumption, and enormously, no matter whether it has any effect on "global warming" at all. It is the reduction in consumption and therefore living standards of Western societies that is the sole focus of modern greens.

The greens you mention are no longer the driving force of the 21st century eco-armageddonist movement. Your characterization of them in your response to Chris just above is actually much more accurate, and much closer to mine than your first response.

So focussed are the new greens on Western consumption and living standards, that if it could be demonstrated that driving cars with internal combustion engines improved the climate but, say, acidified the oceans, climate change would be dropped instantly as an issue, and you'd hear about how the Acidification Crisis required--and now dammit!--that Westerners, especially Americans, especially suburban Americans--have to STOP DRIVING THEIR CARS.

Even though doing so improves the climate. Well what about acidification? Don't you care about this planet? We must save the oceans blah blah blah fishcakes...

,,,and so on FOREVER...

Posted by: PatrickH on August 22, 2009 9:09 AM

Talk about wanting to have it both ways; B keeps offering moving targets.

First, B says that "greenie-weenies" ignore the negative eco-impact of corporations, focusing all their attention on lobbying the government to impose fines and taxes on individual citizens. I point out that those who have concerns about the environment DO in fact go after corporations they think are egregious polluters, just as they DO support those they think are acting in a more conscientious manner. This has the mixed results of some corporations making honest improvements along with some engaging in cynical "greenwashing" ... as already noted.

B tacks and (with justifiable skepticism) asserts that trusting WalMart to be honest when it touts food as organic or talks about the energy efficiency of their newer stores is probably a scam. Were we living in a truly libertarian, absolutely free market, nation then B might have a point; WalMart could simply be slapping "organic" labels on conventional produce and lying about the energy efficiency of their store. As it stands, however, since us "greenie-weenies" are also having an effect on the laws and regulations that apply to use of the "organic" label, WalMart faces fines and (more) negative press if they simply lie. Similarly, the LEED certification for a building's energy efficiency is, by definition, made by an independent group outside the company.

In a side discussion on energy sources B (again) calls me a liar for describing nuclear power plants as "centralized" in comparison with decentralized sources like wind farms. Well, if the common usage of "centralized" as it applies to power production meant one single power plant providing all the power for entire countries, then I could be accused of misrepresenting the differences between nuclear and the various alternatives. As the term is commonly used, however, centralization (and therefore efficiency) is among the arguments most often used by its proponents.

Meanwhile Michael wants to be all things to all men (and women) agreeing with me and with B despite the obvious evidence that B and I have dramatically divergent views. While I admire the conciliatory impulse and reasonableness, I fail to find a cogent and consistent POV.

Yes, agrees Michael, ecosystems are probably being irresponsibly monkeyed-with which needs attending to, but changing laws on a national level to address the problem is a bad idea because to do so would impinge on personal freedoms, but individuals making personal choices are never going to solve the problems which may well be global in scale, but to talk about it as a global problem, patooie to that. In the same comment pragmatic, localized, and specific efforts are both lauded as admirable and dismissed as incapable of actually changing anything on the requisite scale. Not everything can be merely interesting cultural phenomena about which we can all agree to disagree, some things are actually factual or not, existentially important or merely curious and ephemeral.

If we know that plastic does not safely break down and is persistent in the environment (a scientific fact) ... and that hundreds of thousands of tons of it fail to be recycled or captured in controlled landfills (a verifiable fact) ... and that this waste plastic threatens important elements in the natural world including the ocean's food chain upon which many humans depend for both food and livelihoods (another pesky fact) ... what should we do about these facts?

Leave it to each individual to choose a plastic free life? Not much chance of that having any real impact, especially given how convenient and ubiquitous plastic is in the products and packaging of so many things in the marketplace. And besides, who wants to be called a "greenie-weenie"? Leave it to local communities? Who know they'll watch disgruntled businesses leave town for localities with less restrictive regulations. Pass national or even international laws to require the capture and recycling all plastics for reuse or containment? That unleashes the horror of government interfering with individual choice and the free market.

Apparently we're left with doing nothing but engaging in blogging flame wars about it, and besides, we'll all be dead before it really matters, right?

And, since I've been called a liar, despicable, and (indirectly) a Stalinist whose real aim is to punish suburbanite automobile owners, I hope I'll be allowed the dispensation to suggest that some of those commenting have their heads so far up their tightie-rightie asses that they've convinced themselves what they're offering is a breath of fresh air instead of selfish and partisan excrement.

Posted by: Chris White on August 22, 2009 10:57 AM

PatrickH -- You're being funny and dead-accurate about the eco-world's leadership, p-r people, and political people. But you're 'way off about the character of MANY of the ornery, genuinely-nature-lovin' people who protect duck habitats, who patiently keep track of pollution levels, and whose idea of a great weekend is picking up trash on hiking trails. Instead of tarring greenies in general with your characterization, why not acknowledge the distinction?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 22, 2009 12:50 PM

What a victory! I'd much rather see someone paid by local government picking all the flyaway plastic bags out of bushes, fences and alleys.

Posted by: KR on August 22, 2009 2:23 PM

KR's approach is a fine idea, although it would require tax dollars to implement. To find those tax dollars local government would need to raise taxes somewhere. Hey, maybe they could tax the flyaway plastic bags that end up in bushes, fences and alleys ... oh, wait ... that's ... "Never mind." says Rosanne Rosanadana.

It actually IS a good idea ... if a mandated deposit is seen as different from a tax. Here in Maine and other states there is a five to fifteen cent deposit on bottles and cans, bring'em back and get your cash back ... or drop them off in a donation bin where the money goes to various charities. And if many of the ones that still get tossed away are collected by marginal members of society who might well spend the proceeds on a pint of Five O'Clock vodka, so what? This approach has successfully reduced roadside litter and kept tons of material from landfills and in the recycling loop. A similar approach could be taken with plastic bags ... even paper bags and other plastic packaging. Of course, this would still require greenie-weenie government regulation.

Posted by: Chris White on August 22, 2009 5:01 PM

Chris White,

I'll believe your greenie-weenie movement when they get rid of the cheap plastic disposable China products from Wal-Mart, and everywhere else.

I won't if they simply dim the lights in their store and tell you that they are doing that to help the environment.

Until then go ahead and buy the non-organic organic food at twice the price. And pay $3 for a lightbulb.

You savvy pseudo-environmentalist You!

Posted by: B on August 23, 2009 12:07 AM

why not acknowledge the distinction?

I acknowledge the distinction! However, you have just passed a useless, destructive cap-and-trade policy that a) won't effect global warming at all; and b) makes use of fossil fuels much more expensive.

Hence my insistence that the "driving force" is no longer your ornery life-affirming types. The driving force is the p-r-ers, the pols, the cynical corporations and opportunistic scientists, together with the adherents of the true post-modern religion: the ritual and symbol-obsessed but morally empty church of Nature.

I miss your kind of greenies, actually.

P.S. Eco-armageddonism is the new church of course. Read a major Buddhist magazine like Tricycle. What do they write about constantly? How to use the Dharma (Buddhism) to save the planet.

Which reveals their true religion. And it ain't the Dharma!

Posted by: PatrickH on August 23, 2009 10:08 AM

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