Plastic bag debate highlights our inability to care 

A World Beyond Our Own

The issue of "home rule" is one that has been debated with words and even guns in America. Anyone remember the Civil War? In South Carolina, the issue is being raised with Mt. Pleasant's attempt to ban plastic bags. This is not a novel concept as many cities around the country have made similar moves, including Isle of Palms and Folly Beach. Because environmental ethics is associated with liberalism, conservatives generally find themselves fighting anything that resembles environmental stewardship. Consequently, South Carolina conservative lawmakers are actually passing legislation that will prohibit municipalities from banning plastic bags in the form of bill H3529.

There are a couple of small points to make here. First, if you happen to be one of those Confederate flag waving state's rights aficionados, then you should wholeheartedly support the idea of Mt. Pleasant seceding from South Carolina if H3529 passes. Otherwise, you prove that the Civil War was not about State's Rights, but about where that line was drawn on a particular issue, which was slavery. The line being drawn today is an environmental and commercial one with the state legislature using the same strategy. If you are OK with this, you have to be OK with Lincoln's strategy lest you're comfortable with hypocrisy.

That's trite, however, and an admittedly petty jab.

The other small point to address is the true matter of home rule. It is an unavoidable consequence of a multi-level form of governance where there will be disagreements as to where certain powers lie. It seems a relatively trifling matter, though, for the state to care about what a particular municipality does in regards to shopping bags. Despite the fact that local business associations have raised almost no objections to the proposed ban, legislators claim that doing so puts an undue financial burden on businesses because of the affordability of plastic bags. Furthermore, the precedent has already been set with Folly Beach and Isle of Palms.

So, the question we should ask is why South Carolina legislators want to take away the right of local residents to make their own decisions on this particular issue. Why do they care?

The bill presents no data or evidence that the financial burden is so disastrous to local economies that State intercession is justified.

Initial investments in reusable bags will eventually be overcome by savings when considering a variety of factors such as environmental costs, production costs, and even oil. The Sierra Club testified that that 50-80 percent of dead sea turtles were found to have ingested plastic products, often plastic bags that resemble jellyfish, a common part of sea turtles' diets. Additionally, they stated that prior to a statewide ban, California spent over $25 million dollars in landfill costs and municipalities spent $500 million every year in litter cleanup because of plastic bags. Furthermore, Americans use about 100 billion plastic bags a year which are produced from an estimated 439 million barrels of oil, a non-renewable resource.

It is this final statistic that brings us to the real point of discussion. It is no secret that conservatives and the oil industry have been best friends for many years. It is a tenet of the Republican party to favor large American industries, such as oil, over invaluable resources such as nature and logic. It is estimated that the oil lobby, generally speaking, spends an excess of $115 million a year to fight environmentally progressive legislation, such as the Mt. Pleasant plastic bag ban. It is also estimated that they spend half-a-billion dollars a year globally to encourage the pillaging of the environment for the sake of profit.

The fact that a debate exists and the S.C. House favors environmental stagnation over home rule in this case suggests a lack of concern for the natural environment. This is the true battle in which we find ourselves. It is a fight against human nature, selfishness, and prideful ignorance.

It is a sad state of affairs that we must legislate banning plastic bags in the first place. We should have made them irrelevant through individual action and understanding. However, we continue to fail and municipalities like Mt. Pleasant are picking up the slack.

We are so enamored with our own accomplishments as a society that we value the world we created above the natural world with which we are blessed. We worship ourselves, turning our backs on anything we can't claim as our own invention. In the madness of industrial religion, we toss aside logical alternatives to non-renewable, destructive traditions of our civilization as "enemies of the state." Because a healthy planet is invaluable, we assign no value to it. In a world that finds its value in stock prices, this is monumental.

Until we can humble ourselves and appreciate the earth for what it is, an absolutely necessary and fragile blessing for which we should be thankful, then we will continue to strangle it with selfish pursuits.

This is not an issue of financial burdens on local economies. It is an issue of pride preceding destruction. A world willing to burn its own house for the sake of money is insanity. It is why we legislate killing more elephants and murdering wolf cubs in their sleep. We must love without borders and pursue holistic wisdom instead of greedy politics. Otherwise, we're just cinching plastic bags over our heads.


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