Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bag The Ban, Lawmakers!

Thank goodness there are still some people in California with sense enough to reject a proposed ban on plastic shopping bags. Will the idea catch fire here? One Connecticut town has already enacted a ban on its own.

The Golden State is drowning in $26 billion in budget deficits this year alone and lawmakers are spending time on a boutique bill that would accomplish what, exactly?

I could see requiring a deposit on the bags, redeemable in the same fashion as returnable bottles and cans. But an outright ban? There are so many other things we could do that would actually help the environment rather than inconveniencing innocent people who just want to take home groceries in a durable bag with a handle. What could we do, you ask?

How about providing tax incentives for smaller family farms? I'm no tree hugger. But as I reported in an earlier post, giant factory farms produce more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world.

Combine that perspective with the fact that we're force-feeding our animals antibiotics to keep them from getting sick in giant, extremely crowded barns in which the animals wallow around in their own excrement. Many other farm animals, especially cattle, are fed large doses of growth hormone in order to minimize the length of the unproductive early stages of life. As the recent egg contamination scare suggests, this has obvious human health consequences.

On my way to work every day, I pass two large factory farms in East Canaan. One has about 1,000 head of cattle; the other roughly half that. The cows never see the light of day and are penned up 24/7 -- unless they're let out in the middle of the night and I can't see it. One can only imagine what they're fed to enable them to grow quickly and ward off disease.

All of this is being done to keep the price of food artificially low. Eggs, for example, are 85% cheaper than they were 100 years ago, adjusted for inflation. This is bound to have adverse health consequences for humans -- to say nothing of the fact that it treats the animals inhumanely. As has been said before, the cost of cheap food is killing us. I'm not sure I can say the same about plastic shopping bags.


  1. We have a dog. I'm not quite sure how we'd survive without plastic bags.

  2. As someone who lives near a lake, my question is where would I put my son's wet bathing suit?

  3. Terry - you're right about cheap food but is America really willing to deal with the economic consequences - a tripling in food prices. To some extent this is like the all too common case where devout protectionists and China bashers shop at WallMart. It is also probably worth mentioning that if the 99% of American cropland that is NOT organic were to switch, the US cattle herd would have to quintuple - raising those cattle organically would require a great deal of the land in the lower 48 to be converted to pasture. You may be right but the reality is that there are 300 million of us now and the organic math just doesn't work (as much as I enjoy and support it!)

  4. Matt, I agree that it would be impractical to convert all our ag operations to organic. The sheer logistics of feeding 7 billion people worldwide would make that all but impossible. That leads us to the subject of overpopulation, which would be a topic for another post (or a book!).
    And of course, it would be more expensive. But it's also quite possible that the long-term health consequences of eating all this terribly unhealthful food could be even more expensive to deal with than triple what we pay now.
    I would love to see a reduction in the amount of animal products we consume. I guess the only was we could do that would be to lower demand by taxing foods that are bad for you.
    Every fiber of my being objects to that. But I do not know how we're going to deal with the epidemic of obesity without reducing consumption. Obesity is an important reason why we have some of the highest healthcare costs in the world.
    Thanks for your comment.