Single-use plastic bottles make no sense. But we can’t stop using them.
Plastic bottles may be the perfect analogy for the battle against climate change. We all know they are harmful to the environment. We all know there are millions and millions of them clogging up the world’s oceans. We all know that our landfills are filled to overflowing with them. But what do we do about it? Absolutely nothing.
It’s all about convenience. Buy water or another beverage in a plastic bottle, chug it down, throw it away. Simple. Now it’s someone else’s problem. Most of us never think about what happens to that bottle after we chuck it. And we scream bloody murder if some government do-gooder tries to force us to pay a deposit for it. A deposit is like a carbon fee. It’s an efficient economic mechanism designed to alter our behavior.
The fact that it works doesn’t mean we support the idea. We want none of it. Especially in America, where freedom is defined as being able to do any goddam thing we want no matter how much it hurts others or damages the Earth. It’s why Americans cling to their gargantuan trucks and SUVs as if they were dispensers of mother’s milk. It’s the Land of the Free, bucko. Get used to it.
Most Americans have never heard of Wembley Stadium in London, but it’s pretty darn big. It seats more than 90,000 people, which is more than most modern football stadiums. According to The Guardian, 1.7 million half liter plastic bottles could fit on the ground inside. That’s a lot of bottles. But if you piled up “all the bottled water we buy each year, you would end up with a 514-meter skyscraper.”
For those unfamiliar with the metric system, that’s a mountain 1686 feet high. Still not impressed? Think of it this way. A building 110 stories high would measure “just” 1362 feet high. That, folks, is an awesome, incredible, stupendous amount of bottles. Is there any rational reason why people need so many bottles? No, there is not.
Want another analogy? Most of those bottles are purchased by people who have been brainwashed by water and soft drink companies who push plastic bottles to fatten their corporate bottom lines. Does that remind you of another industry — fossil fuels, perhaps?
“It’s very surprising to me,” Sam Chetan-Walsh, a political adviser at Greenpeace and campaigner against ocean plastic tells The Guardian. “Public awareness has never been higher, but the message is not quite reaching all the people it needs to.” Then he offers us this pithy observation. “If a product that is so nakedly unnecessary can exist, then the whole system is failing.”
Are you seeing what’s happening here? The current system of voracious capitalism is allowed to flourish because that’s the norm. Any effort to force corporations to pay for the harm they do is rejected out of hand. “Are you serious? Our only duty is to create shareholder value,” they cry. “If we poison the world so nothing can live here any longer, that’s just tough cookies. Go cry into your beer, you wimpy socialists. Nothing must be allowed to stand in the way of our profits.”
The drinks companies try to defend themselves by pointing out most of the bottles they use are recyclable, conveniently forgetting to point out that there is no effective recycling effort in any of the world’s nations. So those bottles that could be recycled end up in landfills, incinerators, or the oceans. “It’s not our fault,” they plead, but of course it is. Who else’s fault could it possibly be?
If you want a glimpse into how the struggle to curb carbon emissions will end, just look at what is happening with plastic bottles. The market for them grew 7% last year. The prior year the market for them grew 8%. Is that progress? Only if you believe in the Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy, and the latest diet fad. Unless human behavior changes, by 2200 the Earth will be a burned out cinder.
There is little reason to believe things will turn out well for the Earth. A fitting epitaph for the human race might be, “Saving ourselves from destruction was too hard and inconvenient, so we said the hell with it and enjoyed ourselves until the roof fell in.”
YIP Harburg may have said it best when he wrote this satirical ditty:
God made the world in six days flat.
On the seventh, he said, “I’ll rest.”
So he let the thing into orbit swing
To give it a dry run test.
A billion years went by,
Then he took a look at the whirling blob.
His spirits fell as he said,
“Oh well. It was only a six day job.”
(Originally appeared at our sister-site, Cleantechnica.)