Nearly every “green” blog and web site these days focuses on global warming. And it seems like many of them focus on it to the exclusion of all other environmental issues. In fact, a few days ago, I read something that made me feel really sad. Alan Morton wrote in an article on the blog, Big Green Challenge:
George Marshall of COIN wrote a provocative piece about whether re-using plastic bags and other small actions are helpful when it comes to doing something meaningful about climate change.
Now he is right to point out that re-using bags has a very small effect on overall carbon use. He acknowledges that there may be other benefits – a few turtles won’t die as a result of confusing plastic bags in the sea for jellyfish.
So can we consign the idea of re-using bags and similar “simple tips” to the recycling bin? And chastise the Government and anyone else who promote them for diverting us from the serious business of responding effectively to climate change.
Or is there more to it?
Yes, there is more to it. And not only in the way that he thinks (which is that if people get used to doing these “small” gestures, they’ll be more likely to step up to the bigger ones eventually.) While that might be true, it makes me sad that for so many people nowadays, the only reason to care about the plastic we consume and the waste we generate is to combat global warming. And that “a few turtles” are not enough reason to give a crap.
Environmentalists have been warning of the dangers of plastics for years, long before Global Warming was on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Plastic is made from oil, oil which pollutes and for which we fight wars. It is consumed by millions of marine animals, some of which are turtles. It is entering our food chain at the bottom rung. In fact, an article on the Greenbiz website quotes Neil Seldman, a waste recycling expert and president of the Institute for Local Self Reliance, as saying, “Plastic is a bigger danger than global warming, or at least it is in the immediate sense, considering it is snuffing out the lowest common denominator in the food chain.” Plastics contain toxic chemicals that can leach into our food. And yes, plastic in landfills emits greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
I’m not minimizing the problem of global warming. And I guess I’m thankful that something is getting people to evaluate their purchasing and consumption habits. But with so many articles written on the subject, debates about it, and conflicting plans for how to deal with it, I guess I haven’t felt like I had much to add. Until this week.
Saturday, November 3rd, is a National Day of Climate Action. Step It Up (www.stepitup2007.org) is organizing rallies all over the country and inviting our elected leaders and presidential candidates to show up and let us know what they plan to do to help reverse the global warming trend. I’ve decided to attend the rally in Oakland’s Jack London Square and I encourage anyone else who has the time to go to the web site and find a rally near you.
Tomorrow, I’ll write about a few things we have done in our household to save energy, thereby cutting our personal emissions. At the same time, I want to emphasize that reducing our plastic consumption is about more than a single issue. It’s about how we live on this earth and treat the other creatures, human and otherwise, that share it with us. It’s about realizing we are all interconnected and that when we pollute the beaches with oil or fill the oceans up with plastic, we not only hurt a few turtles and birds, we hurt ourselves.