Notes From Babel

Archive for the ‘Environmentalism’ Category

D.C.’s Nickel Tax on Plastic Bags

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Incidentally, this is a "wallpaper." Who would use a photo of a trash-filled river as a wallpaper?

David Godow at Reason Foundation reports on D.C.’s sin tax on plastic bags.  The 5 cent levy on bags was designed to raise $3.5 million to clean up the Anacostia River.  However, Godow scoffs, the levy yielded much less than that mark, apparently due to the tax working too well and persuading consumers to avoid the bags and the tax:

This highlights the silliness of the dual mandate most sin tax’s experience: both reducing consumption and raising revenue. Clearly, success in one of these objectives necessarily means less success on the other. Now, D.C.’s bag tax wasn’t implemented specifically as a revenue raiser; tax proponents can still claim victory due to the potential positive effects the levy has had on pollution in D.C. waters.

I don’t see why this is “silly.”  Obviously, the tax was going to have both the effect of raising some revenue and discouraging the use of plastic bags.  That people were apparently easily nudged from their use of plastic bags suggests they were probably already poised to kick the habit.  So the tax did better than expected in the externality-reducing category, and accordingly worse in the revenue-raising category.  So what?

I really don’t have a problem with this kind of modest tax to try to identify and reduce externalities.  I do harbor a presumption against paternalistic legislation, but, unlike some libertarians, it’s a rebuttable presumption.  I suppose I feel that there is really little reason to keep on using plastic bags, but that because the practice is entrenched, it might take something like a modest tax to help break the habit.  Again, I don’t prefer to use the government for this sort of thing, but then maybe I’m also a little depressed about stories like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and how we have no ideas to fix it.  If it takes a couple of nickels to help us identify one of the externalities that contributes to such problems, I will at the very least happily withhold any objections.


Written by Tim Kowal

March 17, 2011 at 2:12 am

Consistency Check

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Thom Hartmann has been preaching there are just not enough resources to sustainably support the number of humans on this planet:

if all six billion people on the planet lived even at the US. poverty level of $16,000 for a family of four, we would still need four planet Earths to provide the necessary raw materials for them. It is simply not possible.

If you’re going to be the brand of environmentalist like Hartmann who wants to see humanity move closer to some pre-civilized, betrothed-to-nature status, wouldn’t this also imply a rejection of modern medicine? A cease-and-desist of efforts—if not a deliberate reversal of efforts—to increase life-expectancies? And if “equality” of medical care is the modern moral imperative placed on progressive man, then what does equalized health care look like spread evenly across 6 billion humans?

Truly “universal” health care is a pipe dream, unless you’re talking about universally crummy care.

Written by Tim Kowal

July 24, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Forget the “Death Panels”–Offing Your Descendants Is Your Own Responsibility

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According to this WSJ piece, the president’s science adviser, John Holdren, is on record for urging lower birthrates among Americans:

In a 1973 article, [Holdren] argued that “210 million [Americans] now is too many and 280 million in 2040 is likely to be too many.” He concluded that we should encourage women to have fewer children.

These views were recently supported in a study out of Oregon State University called “Reproduction and the carbon legacies of individuals,” in which Paul Murtaugh and Michael Schlax suggest:

if you truly care about the environment, it’s not enough to trade your SUV for a Prius, use the right lightbulbs, or limit your lawn to organic fertilizers. To the contrary, you need to start thinking about something way more important: i.e., having one less child.The “basic premise,” the study reports, is that “a person is responsible for emissions of his descendents.”

When Mr. Murtaugh runs the numbers, he finds some alarming results. Take an American woman who checks all the green boxes: She recycles, installs energy efficient windows, cuts back how much she drives, and so on. Yet simply by having two children, Prof. Murtaugh reports, she will add nearly 40 times the amount of carbon dioxide emissions she had saved with those lifestyle changes. No wonder the Los Angeles Times Web site reports on this study under the title “Tie Your Tubes and Save the Planet?”

During and since his confirmation hearing, Holdren has apparently denied any intention to propagate this brand of radical, jettison-the-humans thinking. Even so, the juxtaposition with reports of health care rationing doesn’t inspire much comfort.

Written by Tim Kowal

August 14, 2009 at 5:21 am

Posted in Environmentalism