Friday, August 3, 2012

Booty: Myths of a Cleaned-Up Sea

Over at the aptly named Real Clear Science, author and environmentalist Todd Myers offers this short but powerful piece on the recent trend in the U.S. to ban the use of plastic grocery bags.  It has a strong relativity to that part of the world that the Brethren hold most dear, the sea, and so I thought you might be interested in what Mr. Myers has to say.

As he points out, the largest argument for the ban on plastic bags is that they are mucking up the ocean and killing sea creatures.  He addresses the widely held, but as it turns out erroneous, belief that a “Pacific Garbage Dump” the size of Texas is full of plastics of all types and particularly plastic bags.  In fact, quoting from an Oregon State University study, Myers notes that as recently as last year this unfortunate patch of ocean south of Hawai’i was less than one percent the size of Texas. 

Myers goes on to quote oceanographer Angel White: “There is no doubt that the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans is troubling, but this kind of exaggeration undermines the credibility of scientists,” and Greenpeace biologists: “It’s very unlikely that many animals are killed by plastic bags. The evidence shows just the opposite. We are not going to solve the problem of waste by focusing on plastic bags.”

So what, if any, is the positive impact of banning plastic bags all together?  Myers answers in the negative.  It seems that plastic bags are, in fact, the most energy efficient form of purchase transportation currently being manufactured.  From the article:

The most significant environmental risk from banning plastic bags is the increase in energy use. Plastic bags are the most energy-efficient form of grocery bag. The U.K. Environment Agency compared to plastic, paper and re-useable bags. It found the “global warming potential” of plastic grocery bags is one-fourth that of paper bags and 1/173rd that of a reusable cotton bag. In other words, consumers would have to use a reusable cotton bag 173 times before they broke even from an energy standpoint. Thus, even if consumers switched to reusable bags, it is not clear there would be a reduced environmental impact.

So it seems that, in this case as in so many others, feeling good and doing good are two vastly different things.  And knee-jerk reactions based on baseless “science” rarely get anything of value done.

A big thanks to the First Mate, by the way, for pointing me in the direction of Mr. Myers’ excellent post.

Header: Soleil Lavent by Claude Monet c 1872 via Old Paint


Timmy! said...

You are most welcome, my Captain. I am always skeptical of any attempt to legislate away behavior, particularly in the name of the environment or public health("think of the children!")...

Pauline said...

I agree; that government governs best which governs least.

Undine said...

This post truly hits home to me. Over here, our worthless busybody idiots of a City Council took time from their busy schedule of running L.A. into the ground to phase in a ban of plastic AND paper bags.

I can deal with using cloth bags at the store, but I reuse paper and plastic bags all the time for storage, garbage, etc. It's going to be a real nuisance doing without them. And don't ask what I'm going to use to clean cat litter boxes, because I haven't the foggiest idea.

God spare me from do-gooders.

(Yes, someone's a bit cranky this morning.)

Pauline said...

Exactly, Undine. As the article notes, people will still use plastic bags but now the "recycling" of that use has been pitched out the window due to misunderstanding of and down right bad science. Well done, government types; well done.

Blue Lou Logan said...

I'm just annoyed that some stores actually penalize you if you've left your cloth bags in the car and are 'forcd' to use plastic. So is that money going towards environmental efforts? No, I don't think so.

Pauline said...

Well spoken, my friend.

Undine said...

But wait, there's more: At least plastic bags won't give you E. coli: