Some of the more radical environmentalists have really become something of an alternative religion. They can be just as zealous and crusading as any religious person can. And they can often play fast and loose with the facts to ensure maximum scare value in their messages.
Indeed, there has been a long history of this gloom and doom, Chicken Little routine. Every decade there is some new catastrophe about to wipe out mankind, and unless we act now, and take radical steps, we are all doomed.
Now there is nothing wrong with taking care of planet earth, and there is nothing wrong with taking sensible measures to remedy scientifically-proven problems. But often the hype and hysteria far outstrip the reality. And so too does the rhetoric.
A good case in point concerns recent comments by our Environment Minister, Peter Garrett. It seems the former rock star is concerned that the world is awash in plastic bags. So he wants to slug poor consumers every time they use them, or ban them altogether. As usual, with these sorts of government led remedies, it is the poor who will suffer the most.
Consider another example – one of many. Back a few years ago our elites decided to ban all petrol containing lead. And before that, they charged extra for that petrol – usually called Super, or some such thing. The idea was to discourage motorists from using the environmentally unfriendly fuel by making them pay more for it, and eventually, banning it outright.
But guess who were the big losers here? You got it – poor people. Like me. Older cars ran on Super. And who had older cars? Poor people. Richer people had newer cars, so they could run on Unleaded fuel, which was cheaper than Super. So the poor were really doubly penalised here. They had to pay more for their petrol, and they couldn’t afford the new cars.
And when Super was phased out altogether, what happened to the hapless poor folk whose cars ran only on Super? They were simply left stranded. They had to purchase newer cars that were able to take Unleaded fuel. But of course the poor were the ones who could not afford newer cars in the first place.
So well-meaning policies often hurt the poorest the most. And so too would the 10 cents a bag – or dollar a bag – scheme, or whatever price they put on them. Or banning them, and making other alternatives which will cost more. The rich won’t give a rip. They can afford to throw money around like that. But the poor cannot.
Andrew Bolt had a great column on this yesterday. He is worth quoting at length:
“Here we go again – another green crusade in which facts are invented to scare you into doing something dumb. This time our evangelical Environment Minister says he’ll this year take away your plastic shopping bags – the ones that are so useful that we use more than 4 billion of them each year to cart home our shopping. What must we use instead to carry home the fortnightly shopping: suitcases? Rolls of green bin liners?”
“And how annoying not to have those plastic bags to reuse for everything from wrapping leftovers and wet clothes to picking up manure. In fact, I could use one right now to hold the manure Garrett has used to justify this feel-good ban that will cost us millions and gain us zip. Let me demonstrate, by fact-checking some of the claims Garrett has made to justify his ban.”
“Garrett claim #1: ‘I think everybody agrees that having 4 billion plastic bags floating around Australia’s environment is not desirable.’ Pardon? We have 4 billion bags just floating around as if tossed out of a window? In fact, the Productivity Commission in 2006 reported that of the 4 billion shopping bags we use each year, just 0.8 per cent becomes litter. The rest are buried in landfill, recycled or reused, and aren’t ‘floating’ anywhere. And how handy those bags are even when buried. The Commission marvelled: ‘It appears that plastic bags may have some landfill management benefits including stabilising qualities, leachate minimisation and minimising greenhouse gas emissions.’ You really want some litter to clean up, Peter? Crack down instead on those billions of foul cigarette stubs.
“Garrett claim #2: ‘I remember that incredible story about a whale, I think it was beached somewhere in France, and it had 800 kilos worth of plastic bags and rubbish inside it, when they opened it up.’ Wow, a whale that can fit almost a tonne of plastic bags in its stomach must be so gargantuan as to make Moby Dick seem a tadpole. But let’s peer more closely into the gut of Garrett’s giga-whale, which washed up on a beach in Normandy in 2002, and count all those shopping bags found inside by researchers from the University of Caen.”
“Here we go: One, two . . . Er, two. Two. Yes, that’s Garrett’s incredible 800kg of plastic bags. Oh, and then there was that other unspecified ‘rubbish’ he mentioned: two English plastic-and-foil crisp packets, seven bin liners, bits of seven transparent plastic bags and one food container. Total wet weight: 800 grams, not Garrett’s 800kg. Conclusion: Ban bin liners instead.”
“Garrett claim #3: ‘There are some 4 billion of these plastic bags floating around . . . ending up affecting our wildlife . . .’ Here Garrett refers to the greatest hoax of all – those endless claims that a Newfoundland study found plastic bags killed more than 100,000 marine mammals every year. This claim – originally made by environmental consultants Nolan-ITU in a report commissioned by the then Howard government – was accepted as true by a credulous Senate environment committee inquiry in 2002, and has been hyped ever since by green groups such as Planet Ark.”
“South Australia’s Labor Government even peddles the claim today on its Zero Waste website to justify its own planned ban on bags. Small problem: the claim is completely false. As Nolan-ITU belatedly admitted four years later, it had misread that Newfoundland study, which actually said 100,000 animals might be killed – or injured – by discarded fishing nets and lines, and not by plastic bags, which it hadn’t mentioned at all. Conclusion: Ban fishing nets instead. Yet how fast that fake story of the mammal-choking bags raced around the world. The reason so many green campaigners greedily repeated it was that no other study has to this day linked plastic bags to widespread animal deaths, no matter how hard those little Garretts looked for proof.”
OK, so Garrett got it wrong on everything he said. But can we ease up on plastic bags? Sure, we can cut back, and try to use cloth bags more often. The point is, making outlandish and fact-less claims helps no one here. But this is so typical of the green zealots.
Concludes Bolt: “Fact: People love plastic bags too much to give them up even if made to pay. Ask Ireland, which imposed a levy on bags only to find more than ever were being used, with only a small cut in the number turning up as litter. And the Productivity Commission warned a levy or ban wouldn’t work any better here: ‘A cost-benefit study commissioned by the governments shows that the benefits of a phase out or a per-unit charge would be significantly outweighed by the costs.’ It concluded: ‘A more cost-effective approach would be to target littering directly.’ How about that? Just hit the naughty litterer, not the struggling shopper, the food-wrapping clean fiend and the civic pooper-scooper.”
By all means let’s have some concern for the environment. But let that concern be level-headed and evidence-based. We don’t need any more panic-mongering and guilt-tripping by wealthy bureaucrats, politicians and rock stars.