The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

October 30, 2007

Why I don’t talk about global warming

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.

See Guardian and his blog.

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 ( 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.

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16 years ago

Hey guys, I know we are all turbo green composters and out there for the animals, but the fact of the matter is that most Americans are just plain selfish and set in there ways. The threat of global warming has the potential to take human lives (and in my opinion already has by creating wacky weather patterns like surging heat waves and more storms) so it is getting more attention. Even so, government standards are going to have to be set in order for people to truly start making life changes. George Bush doesn’t believe in global warming, neither do I sort of a thing. Anyway, Congress is currently debating a monumental energy bill that has the potential to produce change on many levels. If passed in its entirety it will create a 35mpg standard by 2020 and a standard taht 15% of electricity must come from renewable resources. The bill isn’t as tough as it needs to be, but the fact is, it is having trouble getting passed as it is. It is a huge step in the right direction for America. Click on Energy Bill 2007 to sign the petition and help get this bill passed.

har mar
16 years ago

har mar…have you not ever heard of the singing sensation har mar superstar?! haha he’s terrible and sings ridiculous songs. lots of friends call me mar…and i think the real har mar is funny so my other blog is titled har mar. come eat cupcakes!! you’d probably faint once you came in though and saw all the plastic (boyfriend is an avid cd collector and has a current collection that takes up one entire wall so that alone would probably do you in!). let me know when you’d live to come over, i’ll be sure to hang an anti bo bice protest poster on my front door so you know which house is mine!!

Beth Terry
16 years ago

Rubyshooz, welcome back! Glad you like the bag.

Har Mar, where did you come up with that name? Can Michael and I come over and eat cupcakes and tally all the plastic in your house?

Heather T, you just reminded me of an article I read while I was in college about sea turtle hatchlings mistaking streetlamps for the light of the moon and being run over trying to cross the highway. Now, they are mistaking plastic bags for jellyfish. What will we do to confuse them next?

Radical Garbageman, you’re back! I missed you!

Radical Garbage Man
16 years ago

The work that you and others are doing to alter consumer behavior is very important and effective. Here are a few non-green-related benefits I can think of from reusing bags and other waste reduction/plastic avoidance practices:

1. Lower property taxes/utility fees: we all pay all the time for our trash and keeping materials out of the waste stream helps hold those costs down. Making sure that what little does go into the waste stream is recycled or composted has the further benefit of generating program revenue that offsets the need for tax increases or utility fee increases. (ok, ok, in many many places a chuck of that money goes to the shareholders of the privatized waste haulers instead of towards the public good, but it still helps hold down the fees.)

2. Landfills aren’t getting any bigger: except for the new ones we have to keep building. Keeping crap out of the landfills (or at least slowing the rate of growth of crap going to the landfills) is sound public policy and will prevent more precious resources being expended on siting and constructing ever more landfills on ever more expensive land in ever more remote locations (since nobody wants one in their back yard, landfills are pushed to the leading edge of urban sprawl and eat us valuable agricultural land and open space). The farther the landfills get from the municipalities they serve, the more diesel gets burned hauling the trash there (which costs more). Global warming, wars for oil, air pollution, little kids with asthma, etc.

3. Promoting reuse and recycling creates jobs: an economy that encourages the use of durable goods instead of disposable and emphasizes recovering the materials from those goods at the end of their product lives is good for the economy. Better quality, longer lasting products require more skilled labor to produce which means higher wages and more spending power for folks in our communities. Recycling and other forms of resource recovery create more and more stable jobs than waste disposal. This grows the economy, broadens the tax base and offsets the need for you to pay more in taxes (because they’re being spread around more).

4. Going green keeps jobs at home: Higher skilled production jobs are more likely to stay in America. Also, the heavier the product the more expensive it is to ship overseas. This broadens the skilled employment base in America and helps hold the line on our out-of-control trade deficit, which helps sustain the value of the dollar against other currencies, keeps more of our national debt at home and saves taxpayers money.


OK. Part II:

We absolutely need to chastise the government for not enhancing these economic trends with stricter regulations, tax breaks for good practices and punitive tax increases for bad practices. We need the government to insist on equitable environmental and labor standards in all trade agreements to support the necessity to shift the manufacturing emphasis to durable from disposable. We need the government to help structure a marketplace where the full resource costs of products are reflected in their purchase price. That we can’t do by reusing our bags and reducing our trash — we have to lobby our elected officials (and throw them out of office when they say no) to take these issues seriously by enacting tax and regulatory structures that incentivize good environmental business practices and by funding a vibrant public sector investment in resource recovery so that we can experiment with better and broader recovery methods free from profit motive.

The End.

heather t
16 years ago

This is one of those times where I wish I was really good at remembering statistics, so I could point out just how many eggs one sea turtle lays, how few of their babies survive; point being that saving even ONE sea turtle is a damn good idea in my book.

You made some excellent points. I say all the time that everyone has to start somewhere; not everyone is ready to take on city hall straight away. It would do no good to pressure the gov and big biz if we aren’t willing to take steps ourselves. Besides, gov and biz (especially biz) won’t change unless they can make money – voting with one’s wallet DOES make a difference!

Ooh, now I’m cranky.

har mar
16 years ago

aw i lub the turtles! did you read that article about the sea lions and how they’ve tested a bunch and they’re finding them growing up with chemicals from what we’ve been dumping into the sea? (i think i sent the link to you awhile ago but dont remember). my only real depression comes from thinking about how we are just ruining EVERYTHING. i’ve had some hope though. there was a question/answer article i read the other day where someone asked about the o-zone. and the answer was that the o-zone was actually pretty great (haha not great but…intact and all). and how yanno growing up the big scare was the ozone at the time but with some simple changes we’ve pretty much eliminated danger to the ozone. so i still have faith that we wont kill of the polar bears, the gorillas, the turtles, THE ENVIRONMENT!!
ps. dont worry about the water filter. i just like giving you a hard time about it! but you are more than welcome to come over just to hang out!!

16 years ago

Hi, I have been looking for you since you sent me that great burlap bag but seem to have lost the email amidst everything else.
Thank you again very much.

I couldn’t sleep last night and was tossing and turning and thinking about my blog and topics.
The thought of writing about global warming occured to me but it seemed to me as well that many many others are writing about it and doing a much better job than I probably could. Funny I happened upon your article this am.

When I read the bit about “a few turtles” it actually angered me a bit. Those “few turtles” mean alot to us and to just dismiss it in that way was really callous – not to mention unfeelilng or unthinking.

This “Step up to it” rally is something I hadn’t heard of. Am I just hanging out in the wrong places? I’ve seen several sorts of activism lately that folks blog about but it seems like every time I hear about these things it’s too late to participate. I don’t understand if the problem lies with me and the places I frequent on the net or what.

Thank you for doing what you do here – informing people and taking action. I really do appreciate it and admire what you’re doing.

Peace today.