Toronto, San Fran, & Denmark: Symbolic Acts of Sustainability

Last week the City of San Francisco announced a ban on plastic bottles to be phased in over the next year or so.

This week the City of Toronto approved a five cents per plastic bag charge.

Given the environmental mess plastic creates, I said “YEA” and happily twitted out the announcements.

A twitter colleague challenged my happiness by saying, and I paraphrase: So what? This will change nothing.

Indeed, so what? One could legitimately observe that the Toronto and San Francisco decisions are moot. Nothing more than mole-hill solutions in front of mountainous problems.

And they are.

Indeed, some 319 billion pounds of plastic are floating about in the oceans alone, with 9 million metric tons added annually. More than one million plastic bags are used on earth every minute.

10 things you can do to fight plastics in the oceans from National Geographic

In a global sense this makes bans and taxes in Toronto and San Francisco merely symbolic (although perhaps tactically…. to read more see link under sharing icons… important in the struggle for greater local sustainability).

In a similarly symbolic act, the Danish government might put a small tax on red meat and are considering broader taxation on other high-carbon foods.  Seems the government of the happiest people in the world wanted to nudge it citizens towards #lowcarbonmeals.

Diets and Foodprints

There is nothing new about taxing to fix a social problem. Mayor Bloomberg taxed ridiculous-sized sodas in New York as part of a fight against obesity. Numerous other cities, states and nations have also done so or are considering similar actions.

Back to Cows. As most of us know, red meat takes 8 times the energy to produce as the same amount of legume based protein. A meat lover’s diet has over twice the CO2 impact as a non-beef, or a no meat diet.

Given the might of the market, I’d prefer not to bellow “tax it” over figuring out ways to excite demand. But this is nothing short of very serious. Meat-based diets produce 7% of global carbon emissions and will rise quite dramatically as developing country middle classes expand. Taxing may be a good, in fact the only,  solution if demand remains intractable to change.

It is more than just carbon at stake however. Just ask any Amazonian indigenous tribe or poor farmer. There are significant biodiversity, soil and land quality, water use, deforestation, land use and management, community, indigenous and nutritional security issues as well.

The Danes’ symbolism is excellent food for thought (who could resist the pun?).  And the symbolism is important. It pokes, prods, and causes us to rethink conventional action. With luck we can see great change.

Regardless of what you think, a garbage dump the size of Texas floating in the mid-Pacific puts Toronto, San Francisco, and Denmark on the right side of history.

By design or disaster this will be the sustainable century and I know which side I am fighting on.

Check out 22 facts about plastics but take a deep breath, it’s harsh and you will feel guilty.

Yet there are liberating things you can do about plastics in your life: 16 things you can do to reduce plastic wastes…

 

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