Great green lies never die - they merely get recycled
Sunday, August 5 2012
The Daily Telegraph
YOU would think the last thing we need is another environmental tax but the great green beast is never satisfied.
The latest feel-good eco-furphy to be foisted on us in the cause of
saving the planet is a proposed 10-cent slug on all glass and plastic
drinks containers, described as a recycling “deposit”. The Greens have introduced legislation into federal parliament to try to
force states to impose the container tax, which the Australian Food and
Grocery Council estimates will add $1.8 billion a year to the price of
milk, juice, soft drink and beer. It would cost average families an
extra $300 a year or $4 more for a case of beer.
At first glance it might seem an attractive proposition, despite the
After all, those people who want their money back need only take
their bottles and cans to a recycling station, while enterprising people
can collect discarded containers and exchange them for cash.
But not so fast, says economist Jeff Bennett, professor of environmental
management at the Australian National University, whose latest book,
Little Green Lies, demolishes the 12 core beliefs of the environmental
movement. In a talk at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney last week, he
said recycling, of beverage containers, paper and so on, is not a
costless activity, because it involves the use of scarce resources.
For instance, collecting bottles and cans from remote communities in the
Northern Territory, where container deposit legislation was introduced
in January, uses a lot of fuel for the trucks carting them. Then there
are the “chemicals used in the processing operation, the storage
facilities used to house the stock of collected cans”.
Recycling just “involves the substitution of one set of scarce resources for another”, says Bennett. Surprise, surprise: costs per bottle in the NT have reportedly risen as much as 20 cents since the legislation was introduced.
The war against plastic bags is similarly absurd. The results in South Australia show the ban there may actually have
caused worse pollution. Clean Up Australia Day last year found people
were dumping more plastic bags on the state than they did the previous
year. Even worse, they are now dumping the reusable imported
Chinese-made heavy gauge “green” bags _ which Peter Garrett used to call
“canvas” but which are really made of another type of plastic,
Each one equates to 1000 polyethylene bags and, unlike the old bags, they cannot be recycled easily.
In fact, the old bags may even be eco-friendly in solid landfill,
according to a 2006 cost-benefit analysis by the Productivity
Commission, because of their “stabilising qualities, leachate
minimisation and minimising (of) greenhouse-gas emissions”.
What’s more, since most of us recycle supermarket plastic bags as bin
liners, lunch bags, footy-boot carriers and dog-poo holders, we will
just have to buy more expensive plastic bags to do the same job. Lo and behold, when South Australia banned plastic bags in 2009, the
sale of Glad plastic bin liners in the state went through the roof to
double the national average. A similar thing happened in Ireland when plastic bags were subjected to a 15 euro cent tax, according to Bennett.
His book sets out to “scrutinise the logic” of the basic assumptions we make about the environment. For instance, that pollution must be banished. “Intuitively we think pollution is bad,” he says. “Here’s the twist _ just about everything we do involves pollution. “In
fact our very being creates pollution. My being alive has created
“It’s not that pollution is inherently bad,” he says. But we need to
balance the good things associated with pollution with the bad. From the belief that people are a scourge on the planet rather than a
resource, to the myth of “food miles”, Bennett shows that seemingly
well-meaning attitudes do more harm than good.
At the heart of green ideology is a deep pessimism about human
ingenuity. For instance Bennett’s first “Little Green Lie” is the “peak
oil” scare, the fear that fossil fuels are running out. But, he points
out, “as known reserves are depleted, oil price rises stimulate more
exploration and technological advances.” This is exactly what has happened in the US, now in the middle of a new
oil boom. It will become energy-independent within the next 20 years,
having harnessed the technology to extract shale oil and gas resources
thousands of metres below ground.
Short of deleting ourselves from the planet, we need to accept that
there is no such thing as zero pollution and have faith in ourselves to
solve problems as they arise.