Carrier Bags Bad, Disposable Nappies Good

One of the reasons why I think the whole climate change alarmism is, well, alarmism is because the obvious solution is almost always dismissed out of hand. If climate change is occurring and it is due to humans releasing too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and if this activity left unchecked represents an existential crisis for the human race on a par with a meteor impact as some claim, then we should be switching to nuclear power as fast as we can build the new reactors. But we’re not, and those that are prophesying doom are usually the ones telling us we can’t because of the problems associated with nuclear power, e.g. the waste disposal and safety of the plants. The problems they cite are genuine but they don’t represent an existential threat to the human race the way climate change supposedly does and these problems are solvable, particularly if enough time, money, and resources are thrown at them. They are relatively minor, in other words. Therefore, if somebody is going to cite the problems with nuclear power as a reason why we cannot utilise this technology to stave off the imminent destruction of the human race, one is entitled to be skeptical as to the honesty and motivations of the anti-nuclear climate change alarmists.

In a more general sense, if somebody is citing a major problem and offering a solution, but ignoring more obvious solutions, chances are they are engaging in politics, virtue-signalling, or both. I was reminded of this the other day on a matter not related to climate change but another area of environmentalism which this blog likes to talk about: carrier bags. Somebody posted on Facebook a link to a story regarding a carrier bag ban which the government of Bali has introduced after two Balinese teenage girls petitioned them. Apparently discarded carrier bags are strewn all over Bali and Something Must Be Done. Naturally this was being applauded by all right-thinking folk, except me who suggested it might be better to first find out who is littering the island in this way: locals or Australian tourists. One individual thought this meant I was “looking for someone to blame” instead of “finding a solution”, leading me to conclude he was almost certainly a middle manager in a modern corporation and had been on a training course recently.

Anyway, my point was that those who litter will continue to litter with whatever they have to hand even if carrier bags were banned, and a better solution would be to identify who is doing it, find out why, and try to educate those people into valuing their environment a little more. That way you retain the utility of the carrier bags plus ensure no other form of littering takes place. Had anyone shown any interest I’d have even talked about how the alternative to carrier bags might be more damaging and a cost-benefit analysis might show simply sending somebody around once per day to collect the discarded bags to be the most effective solution.

But alas, I was dealing with the modern-day middle classes in the developed world for whom bans are the first resort rather than the last. Naturally, somebody invoked the plight of “the children”, which The Simpsons dealt with so well:

I was told by various wealthy middle class mothers that restrictions on plastic use are necessary so that “our” grandkids have a world left to live in. Never mind that if this keeps up the world “we” will bequeath to future generations will be a ludicrously expensive nanny-state which might not be worth living in.

But something occurred to me. Of all these middle class mothers who wish to see a reduction of plastic use and carrier bags banned, how many do you think swaddled their nappies in reusable, washable nappies instead of the convenient, non-biodegradable disposable ones? You know, the ones my mother used on her four kids through the 1970s that had to be washed by hand in the sink and then boiled in a special saucepan on the stove afterwards? I could have asked, but for the sake of good relations I didn’t, but then again I didn’t need to. I know damned well that for all the concern of the middle classes over plastic use and carrier bags, not a single one of them will shun disposable nappies and switch to towelling ones for the good of the environment.

The reason for this is simple: they are less concerned about the environment than they are preserving their own comfortable lifestyles, and when they talk about reducing plastic use they mean reducing other people’s plastic use. Sure they’ll reduce their own use to a point, and bring home the shopping in an organic woven hemp bag that fits nicely into the boot of their 3.2l SUV. They’ll probably even tell you about it, too. But they’ll not give up anything that is genuinely convenient to them: the inconvenience is for other people, you see. As I always knew regarding carrier bag bans, it is about virtue signalling more than concern for the environment. So next time you hear somebody advocating reducing plastic, casually ask them a couple of days later if they use Huggies or Pampers. You probably won’t even need to wait for the answer.

14 thoughts on “Carrier Bags Bad, Disposable Nappies Good

  1. The greenie thing is a classic case for Revealed vs Expressed Preferences.

    I’m not expert on climate science, so they can tell me whatever they want. I could read the published papers, sure, but I wouldn’t understand them or spot the mistakes. It ain’t my field.

    But, when a professed expert (or at least professed well-read enthusiast) has a car, flies around, doesn’t recycle… then I know that they don’t believe what they are expressing enough to change their lifestyle. And I can assess the value of what they’ve expressed vs what they’ve revealed appropriately.

  2. I don’t think you can entirely assign environmental choices to revealed preferences, because making your life less convenient by choice isn’t a true preference. I don’t think it’s fair to say that not a single middle class mother would switch to towelling nappies for the good of the environment because that argument is…well, pants. But without some centrally led education, incentive, or even pressure, for an individual to modify their own behaviour, most individuals probably won’t. I’d pitch in with my share of inconvenience if I knew everyone else is subjected to it (and I don’t think I’d mind making some quite major changes for ‘the greater good’), but I won’t be putting myself out too far off my own bat because that’s not how human nature works. And if you follow the argument that there’s not much point leading by example on an individual level, and scale that up to government activity worldwide, I can see why things probably won’t change much. It doesn’t mean that I doubt the science. (Nor do I doubt it just because my straw man climate change scientist doesn’t live in a hut made of hemp.)

  3. Da Manc,

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that not a single middle class mother would switch to towelling nappies for the good of the environment because that argument is…well, pants.

    Fair point, that was hyperbole. But for an approximation to the nearest order of magintude, the number of middle class women using towelling nappies and reusing them is zero. I certainly don’t know one that boils nappies on the stove.

    But without some centrally led education, incentive, or even pressure, for an individual to modify their own behaviour, most individuals probably won’t. I’d pitch in with my share of inconvenience if I knew everyone else is subjected to it (and I don’t think I’d mind making some quite major changes for ‘the greater good’), but I won’t be putting myself out too far off my own bat because that’s not how human nature works.

    I don’t disagree with that. My objection is to the wealthy middle classes campaigning for things for which the benefit to “the greater good” is simply asserted not proved; and for things which are of minor inconvenience to themselves but possibly of considerable inconvenience to others less fortunate than them, while at the same time they are making few compromises on things which make their own lives easier. And even if there was some sort of centrally led pressure that would ban all disposable nappies for the good of the environment, it is a certainty that this would be resisted fiercely by those same people who gleefully support a ban on carrier bags. That’s why I chose this as an example, but there are plenty more: you rarely hear people talking about the environmental footprint of Nescafe capsules, because it’s a nice middle class indulgence. That might change, though.

    (By the way, thanks for reading. And double thanks for commenting.)

  4. The hypocrisy of the Union of Climate Changlings and Assorted Environmental Worriers is so obvious, so well-known, it is hardly worth commenting on. When a leading light of the ‘organisation’ talks about rising sea levels and yet (allegedly) still buys a beach-front property and a climate conference in one small European country was so well-attended that delegates’ private jets had to be parked in another country because the local airport couldn’t cope, it is hard not to be cynical about their professed aims. But I suppose I had the money I could afford to be hypocritical too. So it goes.

    The decision to charge for plastic bags in this country may have cut the usage and therefore the waste, though many local bushes still seem to be well decorated with them, but the disposable nappy issue is interesting if only because of the increase in blocked drains. My experience in the nappy business was helping clean them of the poo of all my young offspring so they could be washed. My wife was home while I was at work and we had garden, so the daily cleaning routine was easier. However I am told today that many young mothers, married or not, simply don’t have the time and anyway many haven’t got a garden to hang the nappies out in so all they can use is disposable nappies* Certainly the space devoted at my local supermarket to disposable nappy packs and boxes is awesome: it used to be stacks of sugar, but now it is nappies.

    *Diapers, for your increasing US readership, sir.

  5. A perfect illustration of this.

    One of the polling companies here in Canada used to do weekly polls for one of the newspapers based on the leading political story.

    A few years ago, the deadline for some Kyoto thing or another came up. The Liberal Party had signed on to Kyoto, and done S.F.A about implementing it. Now the Conservatives were in power, the deadline loomed and the Opposition (the same Liberal Party), put out a non-binding resolution for the government to implement the accord in full by the deadline. The main purpose being to stir shit and embarrass the Conservatives, knowing full well that it couldn’t be done without tanking the economy.

    The polling company put out the poll tied to the story. “Do you think the government should do whatever it took to meet our Kyoto commitments, even if it damaged the economy?” Result, 78% or so for “YES”

    The next week, something happened (Middle East chaos, broken refinery, can’t remember exactly), and the price of petrol went through the roof. Poll question, “Should the government do something (temporary reduction of the petrol tax or something similar), to help consumers weather the sudden price spike?” Result, about the same 78% or so for “YES”.

    So either 78% of the polled population are hypocrites, or too stupid to see the connection, or simply demonstrating revealed vs. expressed preferences

  6. A lot of virtue signalling would come to a screeching halt if the virtue signallers had to match their own actions to their words.

    It’s amazing how often their virtue signalling words if/when implemented result in great inconvenience to others

  7. @The Manc,

    “…centrally led education, incentive, or even pressure”…

    By whom, to or on whom?

    That’s the crucial detail always missing from calls for centrally-led anything.

    I’m happy to live in a dictatorship as long as I get first go at the top job.

  8. “One individual thought this meant I was “looking for someone to blame” instead of “finding a solution”, leading me to conclude he was almost certainly a middle manager in a modern corporation and had been on a training course recently.”

    /applause

  9. @The Manc

    “I don’t think you can entirely assign environmental choices to revealed preferences”

    I somewhat agree with you on that point in what I’ve written (emphasis now added for clarity):

    “then I know that they don’t believe what they are expressing ENOUGH to change their lifestyle. And I can assess the value of what they’ve expressed vs what they’ve revealed appropriately.”

    “Enough” does the work there. They might have some belief, but it doesn’t run deep.

    As I understand Revealed Preferences far better than climate science, that’s the tool I use. And the modal greenie I’ve met clearly doesn’t have that much faith in their religion.

  10. Next week: Remainers who profess that they want to live in a vibrant, multi-cultural society and see themselves as Europeans, not British – yet don’t speak a foreign language with any skill if at all and choose to live in the whitest, leafiest parts of England.

    (Yep, I have friends like that)

  11. (Yep, I have friends like that)

    I think we all do. I’ve noticed that the less one knows about French politics, the keener one is on being part of the EU.

  12. I think we all do. I’ve noticed that the less one knows about French politics, the keener one is on being part of the EU.

    BTW It’s looking like it will be Macron vs Le Pen since the Fillon campaign is probably fatally doomed by his expenses issues.

    I’d be curious what people in other parts of France than the Riviera think about Macron, personally he strikes me as creepy and very much in the mold of Sarko.

    He also praised Merkel’s refugee policy (http://www.dw.com/en/french-presidential-candidate-macron-praises-merkels-refugee-policy/a-36971293 ) which I have to think was fundamentally stupid unless he’s sure it won’t get into the French media. I don’t know a single person in France who isn’t a member of the professional sneering classes who wants more refugees. Most of them, from what I can tell, think that chucking them (back) in the med and telling them to swim for Africa would be a good idea.

  13. I am willing to concede that the climate is probably getting hotter and humanity is to blame for it, although the margins of error on the output of the models are a lot larger than many people realise.

    My problems come with the idea that people should be silenced if they want to suggest remedies that do not amount to “shut down industrial civilisation”. I rather like industrial civilisation.

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