Environment roundup

  • Safe Drinking Water Act along with other federal laws helped scare consumers away from public fountains and tap water, with unintended bad consequences for health and the environment [Kendra Pierre-Louis, Washington Post]
  • Austin, Tex. ban on plastic bags isn’t working out as intended [Adam Minter, Bloomberg View]
  • After BP’s $18.7 billion settlement with five Gulf states, here come huge private lawyer paydays [Louisiana Record]
  • Energy efficiency in durable goods: mandates “based on weak or nonexistent evidence of consumer irrationality” with government itself hardly free of behavioral biases [Tyler Cowen]
  • “How Trophy Hunting Can Save Lions” [Terry Anderson and Shawn Regan, PERC/WSJ]
  • CPSC’s hard line on CPSIA testing of natural materials in toys based on “precautionary principle run amuck” [Nancy Nord]
  • Is the ideal of sustainability one we ultimately owe to hunter-gatherers? [Arnold Kling]


  • I said, only half kidding, to my neighbors after the plastic bag ban in Sunnyvale, CA, that first they’ll come for the bags, next they’ll come for our guns! Sure enough they did: See Sunnyvale Measure C (http://www.mercurynews.com/crime-courts/ci_26949793/gun-rights-showdown-over-sunnyvale-law-reaches-appeals)

    Anyway, back to bags:

    Assuming that now everyone carries 6 ounces of canvas or other reusable bags around in their cars at all times, the extra fuel required to move that weight around, by any way I calculate it, exceeds any environmental savings from eliminating reusable plastic bags. (And environmentalists who do calculate “carbon footprint” of single use plastic bags always calculate the transport cost. This is not a “savings” because people have to drive their reusable bags into the store.)

    The best argument for eliminating single use plastic isn’t “carbon footprint.” It’s just that they’re a source of unsightly litter because they get caught in the wind. At least when communities ban the bags, they should be honest about the reasons. This is a good enough reason for me. The “carbon footprint” arguments don’t make sense.

  • Hunter-gatherers actually do, and did in the past, intentionally modify their environment. Probably the best and most widely documented practice is setting fires in forests. The removal of the deadfall and undergrowth, in fires that leave the large trees standing, makes the forest makes travel much easier. When fire clears an area, the new growth provides different plant resources from the forest. In particular, in North America, fires yield berry habitat. This is not to say that hunter-gatherers do not have ideas about sustainability, but it is not true that they uniformly avoid more than minimal modification of the landscape.