Editor's note: The Coastline Pilot learned after publication that portions of this letter previously appeared on a website, powerlineblog.com,. The letter writer said he collaborated on the piece with another writer, who sent it to various blogs.
I was talking to some of my "environmentally correct" friends recently about the new research from George Mason's Josh Wright and Penn State's Jonathan Klick on the adverse health trade-offs of plastic bag bans.
Wright and Klick have performed the simple task of comparing before-and-after rates for food-borne illness in counties that enacted plastic bag bans and adjacent counties that didn't. The results aren't even close: Counties that enact plastic bag bans see a sharp spike in hospitalizations for food-borne illness, much of it generated from reusable cloth bags that gather bacterial growths from raw food.
From the abstract: "San Francisco County was the first major U.S. jurisdiction to enact such a regulation, implementing a ban in 2007. There is evidence, however, that reusable grocery bags, a common substitute for plastic bags, contain potentially harmful bacteria. We examine emergency room admissions related to these bacteria in the wake of the San Francisco ban. We find that ER visits spiked when the ban went into effect. Relative to other counties, ER admissions increase by at least one fourth, and deaths exhibit a similar increase."
I'll summarize here:
Klick and Wright estimate that the San Francisco ban results in a 46% increase in deaths from food-borne illnesses, or 5.5 more of them each year. They then run through a cost-benefit analysis employing the same estimate of the value of a human life that the Environmental Protection Agency uses when evaluating regulations that are supposed to save lives. They conclude that the anti-plastic-bag policies can't pass the test — and that's before counting the higher healthcare costs they generate.
Simple, the bag banners say: Just get people to start washing their reusable bags. OK, fine, but if public education is the remedy, why isn't that same remedy used for the purported evils of plastic bags, which are recyclable? I always recycled mine, and also used them for a variety of secondary uses.
Of course, one of the things you also hear in California is that we need to reduce water use. Twenty years ago the crusade of the greenies for a time was banning disposable diapers, which take up more than twice the space in landfills as plastic bags. Santa Barbara County, and then the state of California itself, considered a total ban on disposable diapers. They were routed in Santa Barbara County when someone did the calculations of how much additional water would be necessary to wash cloth diapers. The state legislature backed off when it contemplated the army of pitchfork- and soiled-diaper-bearing moms who would come at them if they passed a disposal-diaper ban. I guess plastic-bag users don't have as strong a constituency.
It's always fun watching environmentalists when they learn that trade-offs can be trouble. Doesn't happen often enough, especially when their refusal to consider trade-offs result in increased deaths of real people.
A parable for view preservation
There was an especially good movie showing at the local theater, so I ventured out. When I arrived, the line was very long; however, I succeeded in getting to the ticket window, paid $10 and took the last available seat in the theater. The riveting movie had just begun when the man sitting in front of me slowly — very slowly, deliberately, obtrusively, provocatively, and unwarrantably — put a very tall top hat (of the Abe Lincoln style) upon his head.
What to do? My eyes drifted to the ceiling and I had a perfect view of the chandelier; I gazed at the floor and had an unobstructed view of the scattered popcorn; I had a clear view of the walls and admired the decorative sconces. But now my view of the movie screen was completely obstructed by this one man wearing a top hat.
I considered all of my remedies, all of them distasteful. First, I kindly asked the man to remove his hat, which he refused to do. Next, I complained to the theater manager who informed me that while cell phones and boom boxes were banned, top hats were not. I considered taking another seat, but none was available.
I then offered the obdurate man $5 to remove his hat, but the generous offer was insufficient. An additional offer of $20 was likewise refused, as he held out for more. My wallet that day was very thin, so larger offerings were out of the question.
Finally, I used my last remedy: I got up, went to the box office, and asked for a refund whereupon I was told that refunds are not given. I returned to my seat. I considered standing for 90 minutes, but realized that I would obstruct the views of those many good and innocent people sitting behind me. No, my mother taught me to be considerate of others, so I sat and merely listened to the 90-minute movie while staring at the back of the top hat.
Dear Laguna Beach View Preservation committee members: The "theater" that is Laguna Beach has a great many obtrusive "top hats" and, in keeping with current fashion, they get larger and taller every year.
We implore you to arrive at the only logical remedy that will restore our views to the "movie screen." Like the local banning of plastic bags, cell phone usage, leaf blowers, littering, speeding, spitting on the sidewalk, loitering, dog poop, etc., please draft a view preservation ordinance authorizing a city employee to enforce the timely removal of "top hats" so that we may enjoy the wonderful "movie" that plays every day on our "screen."