What is the difference between “real” and “phony” environmentalism? A real environmentalist is one who carefully evaluates the impact of environmental actions and considers all of the facts including primary and secondary impacts. In addition, a real environmentalist is willing to consider alternative environmental actions or even to modify the proposed environmental action in order to eliminate or compensate for unintended and damaging consequences. The phony environmentalist, on the other hand, embraces emotional “feel-good” ideas that sound wonderful but produce unintended and damaging consequences. The phony environmentalist, when confronted with these consequences, is often dogmatic and unwilling to change proposed environmental actions or even to consider alternatives designed to minimize the unintended and damaging consequences, because they are driven by “feel-good” emotions rather than a logical thought process.
The real environmentalist embraces “real science” and the phony embraces “pseudo-science” and “feel-good” ideas that sound good but are not based upon real science. In fact, entire books have been written on the phenomenon of phony environmentalism, such as “Eco-Fads” by Todd Myers and “Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and The Rise of The Anti-Scientific Left” by Alex B. Berezow and Hank Campbell. Unfortunately, phony environmentalism has a track record that ignores negative environmental impacts, wastes resources, and imposes dubious environmental programs on the public through law. This dubious track record has destroyed the public’s perception of genuine efforts to improve the environment.
Arguments to support plastic carryout bag bans are weak, generalized, emotional, and irrational. These arguments can be better described as nothing more than lies, myths, half-truths, distortions, and embellishments. It doesn’t take a lot of time for a person with an open mind and some skills in sorting fact from fiction to examine the arguments and come to the conclusion that a ban on plastic grocery bags is unsound. But it takes a commitment to objective truth to sort fact from fiction.
Develop a Skeptical Show Me Attitude
So how do you immunize yourself from the misinformation that bag ban proponents attempt to foist on you and keep yourself from being hoodwinked and having the wool pulled over your eyes? You have heard the saying “I’m from Missouri, show me!” This little saying describes the kind of skeptical attitude that you should develop, that you do not take things on faith, that you cannot be easily fooled or conned, you have to see the evidence and the proof. Developing a skeptical “show me” attitude, learning to ask pointed questions, will make you less susceptible to misinformation and false propaganda.
Familiarize Yourself with the Lies, Myths, Half-Truths, and Exaggerations
Start by reading and familiarizing yourself with the contents of the article titled “The Lies, Myths, Half-Truths, and Exaggerations of Bag Ban Proponents” (van Leeuwen & Williams, The Lies, Myths, Half-Truths, and Exaggerations of Ban Ban Proponents, 2013). This article will provide you with a basic understanding of many of the myths and misinformation typically used by most bag banners.
Bag usage surveys conducted to date overwhelmingly show that shoppers have rejected using reusable bags and preferred to use paper bags or NO bags at all by a ratio of about two-to-one. While the stated intent of most plastic bag ban ordinances is to shift the majority of shoppers into using reusable bags, and reinforced by imposing minimum fees on paper bags in order to coerce shoppers into using reusable bags, the exact opposite has happened instead. This is not surprising since using reusable bags is not without its own set of problems.
Litter from fast food waste makes up 29.4% of roadside litter. Should we ban fast food takeout? Now, before you answer, plasticgrocery bags make up less than 0.6% of all roadside litter and cities all over California are banning plastic grocery bags! The good news is that fast food takeout is not being banned, but it begs the question “Why are plastic grocery bags singled out when their contribution to litter is miniscule?”
In fact, officials who vote for plastic bag bans cannot even point to a plastic bag litter problem in their own community! Let alone a problem of sufficient magnitude that would justify a ban. Litter surveys are rarely ever conducted and when they are, they are conducted in a haphazard manner leading to questionable results. Decisions to implement bag bans are usually based on anecdotal evidence, questionable at best, offered by environmental groups such as showing pictures of a few plastic bags littered around town, in the river bed, and pictures of a turtle chewing on a plastic bag.
Everything that man uses is littered. Ever see a discarded candy wrapper, a paper bag, a milk carton, a mattress, a sofa, or a tire on the side of the road? Life would be tough if we ban everything that is littered, including plastic grocery bags. Despite the lack of evidence that plastic bag litter is a significant problem, let’s assume it is and look at more cost effective and appropriate methods of dealing with that litter, methods that would be beneficial to the community.
Officials in many communities across California and the Nation have implemented bans on the distribution of plastic carryout bags at selected retailers including a fee on paper bags. The fee on paper bags is imposed for no other reason than to coerce shoppers to switch to using reusable bags. The reason most often given by these officials is the litter and aesthetic problem posed by plastic carryout bags and the harm caused to marine and terrestrial environments including wildlife.
These officials, have unfortunately, succumbed to political correctness and the self-interest of being seen as “green” and supportive of the environment. However, instead of due diligence to carefully evaluate alternative solutions, officials adopt the same populist prescription implemented by other communities.
Although Bag Ban Proponents are passionate about their zeal to protect the environment, their ideas are generally disconnected from reality and their solutions don’t work and are unrealistic. Nowhere is this more aptly illustrated than in the communities of San Jose and Santa Monica where bag usage surveys reveal that shoppers opt for paper bags or no bags over reusable bags by a ratio of two-to-one. In other words, the majority of shoppers reject using reusable bags.
Because officials do not carefully evaluate the litter impact of plastic carryout bags compared to the impact that a plastic bag ban will have on their citizens, officials have unwittingly traded one problem for another. In other words, the bag ban doesn’t really solve a problem, it only shifts the problem from one area to another. What is worse, a plastic bag litter problem which has no impact in your personal life, now after a bag ban presents a series of challenges, in your face, each and every time you go shopping.
On 17 January 2014, Governor Brown declared a DroughtState Of Emergency for California which included a call on Californians to reduce water usage by 20%! In signing the declaration, Governor Brown stated “We can’t make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California’s drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas. … and I’m calling all Californians to conserve water in every way possible.” (Brown, 2014)
The main reason policy makers give for banning plastic carryout bags is because of the litter impact of these bags upon the environment. Yet, plastic bags comprise at most a miniscule 0.6% of roadside litter; Whereas, Fast Food litter comprises 29.1% of roadside litter. Despite the litter impact of plastic carryout bags, plastic bags produce fewer greenhouse gases than paper or cotton bags. Plastic bags require 70% less energy to manufacture than paper bags. Plastic bags take less than 4% of the water needed to manufacture paper bags. Plastic bags generate up to 80% less waste than paper bags. It takes 7 trucks to deliver paper bags and only 1 truck for the same number of plastic bags. Furthermore, it takes 91% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than a pound of paper.
To justify banning plastic grocery bags in favor of paper or reusable bags with their higher environmental footprints, bag ban proponents rely on reusing a bag multiple times in order for its overall environmental impact to be less than a plastic carryout bag on a per use basis. The concept expressed in Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) is that because there would be fewer reusable bags in circulation and since each bag is used multiple times that an environmental advantage is achieved over the use of plastic carryout bags. However, there are some flaws in this concept.