Friday, February 22, 2008

The Fantastic Plastic Throwdown

Since the subject of a proposed ban on plastic water bottles and plastic bans came up, there's been quite a lot of chatter between proponents, opponents and fence-sitters on the matter. I posted my initial feelings on the subject, and that led to quite a few responses from various people, both pro and con.

I had a rather productive conversation with the fella who writes over at Fearful Symmetries about it not so long ago.

Recently, however, I received the following diatribe in the comments section of my original post. At first, I was inclined not to even dignify it with a response, being that it's filled with rash generalizations and accusations. But then I calmed down and figured, you know what? I'm willing to bet there are a lot of people who feel this way. It's worth trying to set the record straight, at least for myself.

And that's the thing, I only speak for myself. The commenter lumped me in with all environmentalists everywhere, and honestly, if you want to have a real conversation with someone, never assume that they think identically to some imagined or real category of people. I'm going to give the commenter a bit more respect than he gave me, first by re-posting his note and secondly by trying to address, as civilly and rationally as possible, some of the points he brings up. Even if my first inclination was to growl and stomp my feet.
Why is it that you cannot make anyone happy? Environmentalists as a whole fight for the things on their agendas' and when those things are proposed then they don't want it. For example alternative energy. No EV (environmentalist) wants a Nuke plant they think it is unsafe. Which it is not! It's safer and more effecient then any other form of energy on a large scale. Can't have coal plants because they pollute. In spite of the FACT that they are far more effecient and cleaner than ever before in recorded history. So everyone screems for wind turbines. Then when energy companies try to put them in the EV's complain about the birds being hurt, or they might cause earth quakes. Ex, Fond Du Lac Co. wind farm. I mean what the hell? You either want it or you don't. Not to mention you would need to literally litter the landscape with wind turbines to even match the power produced by conventional means.

Years abo the EV's screamed for everyone to "save the trees" and use plastic grocery bags. Now i guess it's "Screw the trees and don't use plastic." I guess the EV's finally figured out that trees are a renewable resource and there are special trees specifically grown for paper production and nobody is slaughtering the poor rain forests for paper.

Now "Down with the plastic bottles!" is the current war cry. What, you guys finally figure out that the recycling band wagon isn't working out like you had hoped? Riddle me this How are you going to keep people from buying bottled water in Sun Prarie, or middleton and bringing ot home for consumption? I guess screw the consitution! Let's have the government control what we do in our own homes! If EV's want to be Socialists/Communists, please for the love of GOD move to china I think you will be happier there. Then you can leave the rest of us alone. I know that EV's and the people in Madison think that the rest of the population doesn't know what we are doing and it's their job to save us from ourselves. Guess what we can make our own decisions and protect ourselves, and do things that won't hurt others. Jamming more stupid laws down our thoats isn't making anyone better, safer, or healthier. You are just helping the government to trample our civil liberties and make us less free by the day.

While I am on my rant about EV's let's look at the ELF. Those people are just insane lunatics. How could they possible think they are helping the environment by burning Hummers and SUV's to the ground? Burning a Hummer to the ground produces more pollutants and toxins than it would produce in it's lifetime of driving on the street. On top of that they think it's ok to destroy someone elses property.

The average person is happy to conserve energy. Hell who wouldn't want a truck that gets 75 miles to the gallon? Forcing things down peoples throats is not the answer. It certainly isn't progressive. I guess it is progressive to the 2% of the people that are fighting for all of this.

I would hope you would have the integrity to post this on your blog. However it has been my experience when EV's, and liberals have someone who opposes their line of thinking they convienently sweep it under the rug as if it never happened. Maybe you can be the bigger person. Unfortunately I am not counting on it.


Let's set aside all of the names and -isms first, shall we? Throwing around terms like "socialism" and "communism" aren't going to serve anyone's side of the argument. They're too complicated and far too loaded.

Secondly, we all need to get something straight here. There is no one hive mind when it comes to who does and who does not call themselves an "environmentalist." We all have different ideas about what should be done. I certainly hope that we'd all agree that the earth is worth saving, though, and that humanity needs to step up its efforts to waste less and care more (and if you don't agree with that, then there's a whole different conversation we need to have).

We run into trouble, though, when we start talking strategy.

Nuclear Energy - Todd's probably correct when he says that nuclear energy is safer and more efficient than any other large-scale production method currently available to us. Until you get to the waste it produces. The problem is that when nuclear power plants were first introduced, the scientists and planners involved didn't have any clue as to how we'd dispose of the highly radioactive waste it would produce down the line. But heck, that problem was years away and surely we'd come up with some solution in the meantime. Problem is, we haven't. Our "best" methods of disposing of the waste at the moment rely on dumping it in shoddily built storage facilities in the middle of a mountain. Understandably, no one along the rail line where the waste would be transported and no one near the mountain want the stuff to go there.

So what to do with all this waste that will go on being highly radioactive for tens of thousands of years, if not more? That's the real issue I have with nuclear energy. Plant safety and production methods have, indeed, improved dramatically in recent years, but we still have no good way of disposing of the waste created. That, frankly, strikes me as rather irresponsible.

Coal-fired Plants - Todd again correctly points out that coal-fired power plants are cleaner and more efficient than they've ever been. That doesn't make them clean. Still, the technology exists to make coal plants almost entirely emissions free, and most half-sane environmentalists are very much for that. The problem lies in our current administration's reluctance to fully fund such projects, seemingly only willing to pay enough lip service to make themselves look like they take the problem seriously. Take the FutureGen power plant, for instance. It was on the verge of being an entirely emissions-free coal power plant when the government pulled the plug on funding for it.

It is possible to convert all of our coal-fired plants over to that type of totally or nearly emissions free standard, but it takes money. We need to get our priorities in the right place so that the funding we do have goes to more beneficial projects like this than, say, pre-emptive wars without end. And, even then, coal is a non-renewable resource that requires grossly harmful methods to extract it from the earth. At the current production rate, we've got about 164 years left before we run out of the stuff. So yes, I'm very much in favor of cleaning up the coal-fired plants we have now, but we should also be throwing a great deal of effort into finding alternative sources of fuel.

Wind Farms - Ah, the tranquil wind farm. Todd claims that us environmentalists don't want them because they'll kill birds or cause earthquakes. I've heard the "they kill birds!" argument before, but it usually comes from a few select people who haven't done much research on the subject. As for earthquakes? That's new to me, and I can't find any references to it (online).

There's a great summary of the wind turbine bird death myth over at TreeHugger, and I'm going to point you to that because it does a far better job of laying out the facts than I could do on my own. This sums it up pretty well:
In the United States, cars and trucks wipe out millions of birds each year, while 100 million to 1 billion birds collide with windows. According to the 2001 National Wind Coordinating Committee study, “Avian Collisions with Wind Turbines: A Summary of Existing Studies and Comparisons to Other Sources of Avian Collision Mortality in the United States," these non-wind mortalities compare with 2.19 bird deaths per turbine per year. That's a long way from the sum mortality caused by the other sources.
So yes, there are some environmentalists out there who believe wind turbines cause too many bird deaths to be acceptable, but again, it seems to be a case of poor research and a risk communication problem. A lot of people who'd call themselves environmentalists are very much pro wind farms. Another great thing about them? Farmers and ranchers who lease out their land for turbines make extra cash, and the turbines have a pretty small footprint.

Paper VS. Plastic - The next wild claim? Environmentalists apparently don't care about the trees anymore because we want everyone to switch from plastic to paper bags. I've said this a number of times already, but I guess is needs to be repeated yet again: REUSABLE BAGS. Canvas is a great option. And there are companies making plastic bags out of things like corn starch, where they don't use petroleum for production and are fully biodegradable. Combine use of these with a campaign to get more people to use reusable bags and that's the solution I'd favor.

And then there's this claim: "...nobody is slaughtering the poor rain forests for paper." This is patently false. Rain forests in places like South America and Indonesia are being looted for wood to be used as timber and paper. Here's a list that includes some of the companies that do this. Here's a report on one of them specifically. Here's a searchable database of wood and paper imports/exports from various countries, many that get the resources from rain forests and other sensitive ecosystems, all around the world.

There exist effective methods of responsible forestry, and thankfully, more and more companies are striving to reach certification for them. We need wood, but we don't need to destroy ecosystems to get it. Again, it all comes down to sensible, well-managed and well-thought out systems of procurement and production. If we'd just stop and think something through before diving in, we'd be a lot better off.

ELF (Earth Liberation Front) - No, Todd, I don't support their methods, and neither do many responsible environmentalists. Do I sympathize with their anger? Absolutely. But as with any frustrating situation, violence and destruction in response tends to do more harm than good. Again, please don't assume that just because people and groups have similar end-goals, we all agree with or condone each others tactics. That's simply not the case.

In Conclusion - Shoving rules and regulations down people's throats generally doesn't go particularly well, but in some cases it has been necessary for the safety and, yes, liberty of your fellow man. Think civil rights movement, think Title IX, think all of the various laws in this country that provide some form of guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to all people. I'll be the first to admit that there's a fine balance between laws that protect and laws that overstep, but we need to teach ourselves to see the difference. Your liberty ends where mine begins, and vice versa. I would extend that to apply to the well-being of the environment, too, which has a direct effect on everyone's ability to lead a healthy and happy life.

As for China? They've a long, long ways to go before I'd even consider visiting, let alone moving there. And besides, I was born in this country and I happen to care very deeply about its general well-being--past, present and future.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope this was enlightening.


Palmer said...

I may be against the ban on plastic bags but at least I didn't claim that wind farms would cause earthquakes.

Emily said...

I still have no idea where he got that from.

The Lost Albatross