Tag: Austin

Ban Bag Bust

A few years ago, a bunch of liberal cities began to ban plastic bags. They claimed would help save the Earth, cutting down on landfill use and eliminating a harm to wildlife. I was very skeptical for a variety of reasons.

Well, this is my shocked face:

In Austin, for example, a post-ban survey found that single-use plastic bags accounted for only 0.03 percent of the total litter collected in the city in 2015. Assuming the pre-ban rate was closer to the 0.12 percent in nearby Fort Worth, that marks a roughly 75 percent reduction of single-use plastic bags in Austin’s landfills.

But, as the Austin assessment pointedly notes, reducing the use of a product that’s harmful to the environment is no guarantee of a positive environmental outcome. Among the main environmental benefits of Austin’s ban was supposed to be a reduction in the amount of energy and raw materials used to manufacture the bags. To that end, the city encouraged residents to instead use reusable bags. Those bags have larger carbon footprints, due to the greater energy required to produce their stronger plastics, but the city figured the overall impact would be lower, as consumers got acquainted with the new, more durable product.

What the city didn’t foresee is that residents would start treating reusable bags like single-use bags. The volume of reusable plastic bags now turning up at the city’s recycling centers has become “nearly equivalent to the amount of all of the single use bags removed from the recycling stream as a result of the ordinance implemented in 2013,” according to the assessment. And those lightly used bags are landfill-bound, because recycling isn’t any more cost-effective for reusable plastic bags than the single-use variety.

Some of these issues could be addressed through the increased use of reusable canvas bags. But canvas is even more carbon intensive to produce than plastic; studies suggest consumers would need to use a single canvas bag around 130 times before they start achieving any net environmental benefit as compared with a single-use plastic bag. And, for some consumers, the higher price for canvas bags may be prohibitive, in any case.

That’s actually understating the case. Canvas bags have to be cleaned regularly. I previously noted a rise in ER admissions in cities that banned plastic bags because people were eating contaminated food:

This is something the environmentalists have never understood. People don’t do “bad” environmental things because they hate cute little fishies; they do it because it’s the least bad option facing them. So environmentalists, for example, ban styrofoam cups in favor of paper cups and then are shocked when it turns out paper cups cost more energy to produce and create more waste. They go on about food miles and then are blindsided when it turns out that flying in your lamb from New Zealand is better for the environment than growing it locally.

People dispose of grocery bags for a reason: to get rid of the dirt, bacteria, blood, etc. that comes off of raw food. This problem can be overcome by washing reusable bags. But … that cuts into the supposed environmental benefit. If you wash it every time, it would taken hundreds of uses before a reusable bag would match the environmental impact of a plastic bag.

Actually, is likely that canvas bags will never consume less energy than a plastic bag. This is of a piece with a larger effort in the environmental movement that is emphasizing recycling and composting, which are extremely expensive in terms of energy. By my math, that’s trading a problem we don’t have (a lack of landfill space) for a problem we do (global warming).

But the plastic bag ban was never about the environment, really. It was what one person called “brick in the toilet” environmentalism. It was about doing something even if that something has no tangible benefit. It was about making the public sacrifice some convenience because sacrificing convenience seems moral. Who cares if it works as long as you get everyone marching along to the government’s drum?

One of the things I’ve said for years about the environmentalist movement is that they need to decide what they want: style or substance. Do they actually want to improve the environment or do they want to look they’re improving it? We see, over and over again, environmentalists advocating policies that feel good but do harm: opposing nuclear power, “food miles”, “earth hours”, banning plastic bags. I think it’s clear that they’ve made their choice. If we are going to save the Earth, the ideas for doing it are going to have to come out of the conservative and libertarian movements.

I’m A Hotspot

So one piece of news that has generated much discussion came out of the South by Southwest festival in Austin. BBH hired several homeless men to act as walking hot-spots. Naturally, this has provoked some reactions:

Although this is ostensibly about giving the homeless money—BBH says they keep all the proceeds from those who pay for 4G access—it’s categorically awful, and all for the convenience of SXSW’s widely well-off patrons.

But it gives the homeless jobs! Yes, as would using them as human coffee tables, or hunting them as game, or having them dance for pennies in Superman outfits at your next dinner party. Working as hotspot is worse than not working at all.

Similar reactions have sprung up all over the internet. I’ve thought about it or a couple of days and I’ve come up with the following thought:

Get over yourselves.

I’m reminded very strongly of the idiots who run around slagging jobs at Walmart as being beneath the dignity of the unemployed and poor (see Penn and Teller take on this line of bullshit here). They don’t seem to able to process this simple precept: work is work. Not all of us can get cushy jobs as pundits and writers and politicians. To be frank, I have more respect for someone who slogs it out at Walmart or as a maid than or someone who’s never had a lick of the slate in their entire life. They’re providing a wireless service. That’s a bigger contribution to society than half the twerps on Capital Hill.

If a homeless person is willing to be paid to be a hotspot, good for him. He’s providing a service and making money. There’s no indignity in that. I find it incredibly arrogant and condescending for someone with a good job to tell someone without one that they shouldn’t take that job. Who the fuck are you to tell this person what he can and can not do?

True, the job won’t last. True, probably most of them will be back where they started a week from now. But at least they’ll have a little more money in their pockets. Is that so bad?

Frankly, I don’t know what it is with the snobbery of the Left. They seem to think that outlawing cheap insurance will give everyone great insurance. Banning bad housing will put everyone in good homes. And forbidding “degrading jobs” — whether its being a human hotspot, working at Walmart or hooking — will somehow give everyone a job at Apple.

It’s bullshit. Insurance is insurance. A home is a home. And work is work. As long as these guys are doing it of their own free will, I have no problem with it. And as for BBH — the evil company doing this — I’ll just note that they’re doing more to help the homeless than 90% of the people criticizing them.