Friday, August 7, 2015

Plastic or even more plastic?

European starling

     The Law of Unintended Consequences isn't written into the statute books, or taught in law school, though maybe it should be because it rules over our lives with a stronger hand than almost any ordinance.
     Broadly stated, the LoUC says that if you do A, intent on causing B, you might unknowingly cause C, a result you never anticipated.
     For instance.
     If you go back 30 years, when cellphones were first being rolled out — as car phones, heavy bricks bolted in your trunk — they were presented as something that contractors at construction sites and traveling salesmen on the road would use to save having to spend time seeking out a pay phone. And if you asked back then, "And how will cellphones someday dramatically affect the racial dialogue in this country?" you'd have gotten a blank look, because nobody could have foreseen that each phone would come with a high-quality video camera and citizens wielding those cameras would document the tendency of urban police to brutalize black people and the resultant images would spark outrage.
     That's what happened. But is not the best example of the Law of Unintended Consequences, since cellphones weren't created to boost the cops. The most satisfying examples of the LoUC contain a delicious irony, where not only does something unexpected happen, but that unexpected thing is the opposite of what you were trying to do, like the anti-campus drinking programs that were found to cause college students to drink more. Or in 2000 when a Chicago Public Schools effort to encourage parents to walk their kids to the first day of classes led to a quarter of the students — some 100,000 kids — not showing up at all, after embarrassed parents who couldn't walk their children to school kept them home instead.The Law of Unintended Consequences is, in part, a function of complex systems, which is why it's so prevalent in environmental matters, when animals imported for Small Purpose A instead cause Huge Problem B. Fifty pair of European Starlings were released in New York's Central Park in 1890 and 1891 by a group trying to bring all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare to this country, a lofty goal which no doubt brings cold comfort to those shouldering the $800 million worth of crop damage and disease that the starlings cause each year.
     My favorite LoUC environment story involves an Inuit tribe in Canada. Deprived of their livelihood — hunting caribou — by meddling environmentalists, the tribe sold their land to petroleum developers.
     You have to love that.
     Our recent plastic bag law in Chicago, which went into effect Aug. 1, might not be up there with the European Starlings or the Canadian hunting grounds, but it has the same exquisite irony. Last year, the geniuses in City Council, having abandoned the idea of addressing the city's actual problems, decided to go after flimsy plastic bags. It seems Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) saw one stuck in a tree. So they passed a law banning lightweight bags at chain stores. But they allowed thicker, supposedly re-usable bags.
     Do you see the problem here? They didn't.
     I have on my desk, a pre-law Walgreens bag and a post-law Walgreens bag. The former is a thin affair and weighs 5 grams. The new bag is sturdier and includes an exhortation, "Please reuse or recycle at a participating store."
     It also weighs 21 grams. So the Chicago City Council, hoping to reduce the amount of plastic in landfills, quadrupled the amount of plastic in each bag that goes into landfills.
     Thanks guys.
     To be generous, maybe thicker bags will nudge consumers toward more recycling. Maybe this effort is part of the great societal shift toward living in a more renewable world. It's possible. No error is without some good.
     Still, thicker disposable plastic bags — Jewel-Osco is also using them to thwart the law — was not what the City Council had in mind. Moreno, who would not return my call Thursday, said in June, when environmentalists first flagged this problem, that the city might "change the ordinance and make it even stricter," perhaps by "not allowing [stores] to give away free bags."
     Not allowing stores to give away bags! That's the solution. Or maybe it isn't. Maybe it'll just make the problem worse in some unforeseen manner. You can try to thwart the Law of Unintended Consequences but, being a law, it has a tendency to thwart you.

36 comments:

  1. No one expects something intelligent to come out of the Chicago city council.
    After all, these are the 50 dolts that outlawed foie gras a number of years ago & became the laughing stocks of the entire world.
    I believe only one ticket was ever issued for a violation, to Hot Doug's, for putting it on some of his overpriced & overpraised hot dogs.
    Then those 50 morons repealed the law.
    Remember, there are only 4-5 of them that actually are intelligent. The rest make Homer Simpson look like a genius.

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    1. Our Aldermen are so below average in smarts, they'll bring re-usable shopping bags to the store, and forget which are fleishig, הינדל, or pareve. Then they will get E. Coli or salmonella on their produce. Then they'll get sick. Then they well may die. That is an pretty good unintended consequence, Darwin's Law.

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    2. The foie gras was probably outlawed cause some of the alderpersons wouldn't know goose liver from a pigs foot. I think we know why some are voted in.

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  2. Ban anything, a book, a gun, a water-wasting appliance and you're going to create an insatiable demand for that item. That's a law too, I think.

    john

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    1. Ed Burke probably knows and eats foie gras but not so sure on some of the others.

      Although, from what I've read of what's done to enlarge the goose liver, I can see why it would seem to be cruel to animals.

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  3. When I first read of how one plastic bag would be replaced with another, some weeks back, I said I'm glad I live in the suburbs.

    Good points NS, especially about the "meddling environmentalists."

    Sure, some Repubs often don't care about the environment if it costs a business money to control emissions, but some environmentalists are indeed fanatical and go overboard.

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    1. It must take a degree in idiocy to become an alderman in some cases, from what I see and hear on the local news when some of them are interviewed. A few don't even seem to speak proper English and they aren't even foreign born.

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  4. Ugh, starlings. When my kids were first learning to use a BB gun, they were told never to aim at metal(you'll shoot your eye out kid) and not at anything alive, except for those bloody starlings.

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  5. You slip in there..." tendency of urban police to brutalize black people " so casually. I think that line is inflammatory. How about instead "the tendency of urban youth to disregard the laws and public safety" The overwhelming amount of good cops by far outnumbers the bad ones. How many walk around with their cell phones taping the police helping people or how many tape them risking their lives everyday? Not much. You're better than that Neil

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    1. That's what I call "The Post Office Defense." "The United States Postal Service has thousands of dedicated employees who did NOT shoot up their workplaces yesterday..." The reason your line falls flat is, while undoubtedly containing some truth, the cops meting out punishment are punishing Black Person A for the actions of Black Person B, which is the essence of racism. No one doubts the majority of good cops outnumber the bad ones -- gee, imagine if THAT weren't true. It's far easier to blame the messenger than to cope with the ugly truth. I prefer my version, and stand by it, proudly. And I can sign my name to my opinions.

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    2. Easy to say that when one lives in a suburb with few African-Americans in it. Why do super liberals not move to the hood parts of the city then if they are so concerned? They wouldn't want their kids to go to those schools though.

      It is like when the NY extreme liberal living in the high rise, wanted to shut down the work and livelihood of some lumberjacks out west due to a spotted owls nest.

      There, a name has been signed.

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    3. No, we wouldn't want our kids to go to the schools that are chronically starved of money by the politicians who are elected by voters like you.

      Congratulations on signing your name. Say hello to Athos and Porthos.

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    4. Aramis -- No, it's not easy to say, because then you have to answer to thinly-disguised bigots who believe, if you knew black people like you seem to feel you do, you'd hold them in the same contempt. That isn't really an argument. Signing a nom de guerre doesn't get you off the hook for being scared and/or ashamed. Can't say I blame you, at least for the latter. As for the former, your fears are exaggerated. I'm safe in knowing nobody cares all that much about what I say.

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    5. I realize that as an anonymous commenter I have no standing, and I generally find myself in opposition to those trying to blame the victims in these instances of police misconduct. I have to say, regardless, that before reading the comments, I also found that line inapt. Seems to me that it could easily and more accurately been rendered as "some urban police officers" or another wording that wouldn't appear like such a broad indictment.

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    6. Anon: 8:41 AM
      Here is a curious case for your consideration. A black man late at night has an auto accident, and knocks on the door of a nearby residence, to ask the occupant to call the police. Well the resident called 911, and said she thinks a burglar is trying to break in. The police arrive, and confront Jonathan Ferrell. A close look at the video shows him looking down at a laser dot sighted on his chest. His eyes bug out in fear, and no doubt channeling Mantan Moreland, says to himself "feets don't fail me now!" Now if I was a cop in that situation, I'd be helpless with laughter. But unfortunately Charlotte Mecklenburg Police have their brains elsewhere. It seems you have a skewed world view, one in which citizens need to act as physiologist trained in reassuring cops with anger management issues.

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    7. physiologist???? don't you mean psychologist? not at all and you missed the point, Bernie

      What the problem is here that some of the ultra lefties generalize and state that some poster is a racist if they don't say All blacks are wonderful and All policemen are nasty. If they say SOME blacks of the gangbanging sort in dangerous neigborhoods are anti cop, as are some Hispanic or any gangbanger, that said persons must be ready to join the Klan or must hate all blacks. NOT SO! And the person who says that the gangbangers are often wrong are the ones who live around blacks and in mixed neighborhoods, unlike the Ultra lefty preachy soapbox type. The Ultra lefty is often as irritating as the Ultra righty. Moderation folks....

      So stop generalizing, folks.

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    8. The super lefty can get as smug and holier than thou, in a different way, as the super righty can.

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    9. I can't recall ever seeing a commenter here defending a gang member, can you? It's just that the vast majority of the people living in the areas with gang problems are NOT gang members and should not be automatically presumed to be. So when they are, it's easy enough to understand why they might fear and resent those who do so.

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  6. Good point, anon at 8:41

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  7. It's true the Chicago City Council is not the brightest deliberative body on the planet, but "nudging some people toward recycling" is not a negligible objective, nor is living in a more renewable world an unworthy aim. In most European markets you pay a few pennies for a bag if you didn't bring your own, reusable one -- which most people do.

    Of course there are instances where the Law of Unintended Consequences is abetted by a lack of foresight, as in the case of an unfortunate bird once taken to task by Christopher Isherwood.

    "The common cormorant (or shag)
    Lays eggs inside a paper bag.
    You follow the idea no doubt?
    It's to keep the lightning out.

    But what these unobservant birds
    Have never thought of is that herds
    Of wandering bears might come with buns
    And steal the bags to hold the crumbs."

    Tom Evans

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    1. I love that. Thanks for sharing it.

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    2. I agree with Tom. It does seem like the Chicago City Council did not do an effective job on the plastic bag issue, but that doesn't mean there isn't value in the idea of "banning" plastic bags. I live in a Europe where you can bring your own bags, or pay €0.03 for a bag at the store. It works. And I see no reason why it couldn't work in Chicago.

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  8. I've always wondered if the incidence of violence on the pedestrian would decrease if said victim cooperated instead of throwing up the defensive stance/pulling out the recording device or running away. Sure there are bad situations that occur, but the heightened awareness of potential problems only seems to make both sides more vulnerable to stepping into the shit.

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    1. Of course. If citizens threw themselves face down in the dirt as policemen passed, I'm sure they'd shoot them less. But that isn't the point. Lipping off to a policeman shouldn't get you killed.

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    2. BS-or is it that people who pay a ton of property taxes should get a better school?

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    3. No, lipping off to cops shouldn't get you killed, but moving toward them in threatening manner when told to stop or waving a gun at them might.

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    4. NS-why is someone a racist just for saying some people in gang areas aren't using common sense or are threatening to cops????? Don't throw the racist term out so lightly.

      If a cop came toward you, would you act as that Brown guy did? do you really think
      blacks are shot just for lipping off?
      JP

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    5. The Sandra Bland case would seem to indicate that "lipping off," if you could even consider her verbiage to fall in that category, can indeed lead a poorly trained officer, or one lacking self-discipline, or a racist/sexist one* to overreact.

      *I don't know enough about the officer in that case to know which of those categories he may fall into.

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    6. I'm reluctant to light this particular fuse, but 'Oh what the Hell!!' Cops in London and Paris deal regularly with hardened criminals and all manner of unruly citizens, but rarely kill them. Or get themselves killed in return.

      What is that NRA slogan: "An armed society is a polite society."

      Tom Evans

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    7. Tom,
      Even if we had the strictest gun control laws, and I'd support that cause I'm anti NRA, criminals like those gangbangers would still get a hold of them. It mght not work as well here as in Europe. Would it be harder and could they get less of them? Perhaps. But we were once the land of the wild west- it's different in Europe and it's a different mentality.

      Certainly an interesting discussion today.

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    8. And of course the super crazy type, white psychos, would get a hold of them too, but not so easily.

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  9. About the thicker bags: The idea was that they would be reused several times before being discarded (hopefully recycled), thus cutting down on net waste. Is that not working out?

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  10. Not signing a name isn't ashamed but being private incase co-workers are reading. Even if one agreed with you all the time, one should still be private about political opinion. Same goes for facebooks.

    Do you really think all the people here using their names are using their full or real one? It is your job to get your opinion out there.

    One shouldn't sign a name, unless a journalism writer on own blog, even if they said all blacks were saints and all cops are evil.

    Lose the smugness, dear author.

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  11. Why, I've heard it said that "Guns don't kill people; people do." Yet, remarkably, when a bag winds up in a tree, it evidently got there of its own volition.

    Scribe, I see no reason why a person who doesn't recycle bags in the first place, or reuse them, for that matter, is going to change his/her behavior because they're 4 times as thick. People using them for dog crap aren't likely to pay for specific bags for that, rather than just use the thicker ones, either.

    This ordinance is not just an exemplar of the LoUC. It's another indication of "why we can't have nice things". Because people are irresponsible, not because plastic bags are some plague on the world. We use loads and loads of these bags over time. They're crucial for city dwellers, like myself, lugging an overload of groceries home on foot. Yes, we could always be schlepping around 3 or 4 reusable bags, but it's not like having them at the ready in the trunk of the car, as is often suggested, is applicable. We always recycle the bags, which is certainly easy enough to do. This ordinance is a solution in need of a bigger problem, IMHO. If the time and effort that went into passing this ordinance and creating a different bag supply had gone into educating the citizenry about recycling the bags, it seems to me the effect may have been more beneficial, in the long run. Regardless, no matter what you do, some folks are going to remain irresponsible.

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  12. How about some Republican debate discussion? Let's start with this one--from the Sanders FB link.







    Bernie Sanders

    .

    The Republican debate is over. Not one word about income and wealth inequality, climate change, Citizens United or student debt. That's why the Republicans are so out of touch with the American people. What I heard was more tax breaks for the rich, more people losing health insurance and more talk about war.

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  13. If you change the composition of the plastic bags, are they more acceptable? The expectation you can do the same with people, be they police officers or certain minorities, is also false.

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