NPR: California Moves to Ban Plastic Bags in Grocery Stores:
"The California Assembly on Wednesday passed legislation prohibiting pharmacies and grocery, liquor and convenience stores from giving out plastic bags. The bill also calls for customers to be charged for using store-issued paper bags."
Environmentalists hooray, right?
"Requiring stores to charge customers for paper bags is a cost Republican lawmakers argued some Californians can't afford.
"This is not the time to be putting a financial burden on families in a very tough economy," said Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Granite Bay, who estimated his family would spend $50 a year on paper bags."
"Sacramento shopper Brett Akacin, 37, said he recycles his plastic bags and that it would be a burden to carry a disposable bag."
Ah, the existential problem of being an environmentalist. There will always be people who assume you care more about plants and fuzzy animals than about the suffering of people.
Maybe those people are right, though if you have the values of caring about the impact your actions have on people, creatures and things outside of yourself--and especially appreciating the importance of working systems of animals and plants for the continued health of people--you are going to be perfectly willing to induce a little suffering on yourself, hardly thinking of it as such, and will fail to understand why others begrudge to do the same thing for the sake of The Greater Good. To an environmentalist, carrying reusable bags or paying an extra five cents even if quite poor, is not suffering, and the idea of helping The Greater Good, is a value in itself.
That's why, Ah-nold excluded, environmentalists are mostly (but not always) Democrats. Personal sacrifice for the Greater Good, in situations where agregate individual behavior benefits the individual but harms the community, is the more important value than personal freedom merely for the sake of it. Rather like how shouting "Fire!" in a public building is not really freedom of speech, Democratic environmentalists point to outcomes as reasons that absolute personal freedoms require some restrictions.
But you know, another way to look at enviromentalism, or self-scarifice for the Greater Good in general, is that having the personal freedom to make a choice that benefits the Greater Good is what makes that choice not something one does grudgingly, not something one even sees as a sacrifice or as suffering. One is excercizing one's capacity as a member of a society under a social contract, a social contract that only works because people have the freedom to act upon their ideas of right and wrong.
So, do you legislate society-bettering practices for all, like a Democrat, or do you uphold that the personal freedom to desist or not from harmful acts is what makes any of it meaningful, what must be protected above all because otherwise lies tyranny?
I myself have a hard time sympathizing with the burden one must take on in order to carry reusable bags around, when compared to many other real burdens that people suffer across the world. I see the argument about personal freedom, about the meaning of having personal freedom to make self-sacrificing choices rather than being required to make them. But I see what is practical too, and what works imperfectly to make happen a change that might be democratically agreed upon as being necessary. Do you assume that people are no better than marginally-agreed-upon progress using less-than-ideal methods? Or do you throw out possible measures toward fixing a problem, for the sake of idealism?
Maybe that's why I can't decide, sometimes, if I'm a liberal or a libertarian.
While the idea gives us angst here, Australia has had an outright ban on plastic bags in effect for at least five years. (My source for that is my dear Australian friend, who now works in Australian government.) Australia is quite more liberal than us, and is, more tellingly, smaller in population than the state of California. Truly, when we can't even work out political ideas of much greater weight, a federal ban on plastic bags would be downright...comical, among other things (ineffective, wasteful of govn't resources, slow and insensetive to local concerns), but perhaps it is within local or state government rights to enact such a law for the sake of the local or state environment, without it falling down that slippery slope toward socialist tyranny. At what level of govenrment does "Mutual coersion mutually agreed upon" become tyranny, anyway? It depends, once again, on what you think is important.
I think once-used bags, the utter wastefullness of them, is important. The grocery association apaprently got behind the ban when it was made clear that all grocery-selling establishments would be subect to it. If stores were for whatever reason spared the expense of providing bags of any kind, assuming they only did before because it would not have been competitive not to, then I think customers would have the ability to figure something out without excess difficulty. Is that liberal, or libertarian of me?
"The American Chemistry Council estimates the bill would amount to a $1 billion tax and threaten 500 jobs in the plastic bag manufacturing business."
Either way you go, someone loses. But I don't think that means that nothing can be done.