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We Can Have Our Plastic Bags and Eat Our Fossil Fuels Too

Updated on July 22, 2019

We can have our plastic bags and eat our fossil fuels too.

Long ago, when you went to a grocery store they used to give us free paper bags. They were fine, but not easy to carry, not having handles.

Then they started giving us plastic bags. Great stuff. Much easier to carry. Everything is made of plastic and has been for over half a century . Even parts of cars, cell phones, you name it. Plastic is everywhere.

In the old days it was considered big progress. A cheep material that almost anything can be made with. A cheep miracle substance.

It has only one major drawback besides usually being weak and cheep, and not just in price: Even broken and useless, it lasts seemingly forever.

After half a century we have landfills full of plastics. Our lakes and rivers and oceans are full of the stuff, and animals and fish are eating it. Some estimates say that over the next few years there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight.

We have a problem. So what are we doing about it?

Well, we’ve talked about it for decades. People try to convince us to use less plastic. City halls all over North America constantly threaten to ban plastic bags and bottles. But they never do anything about it. Stores took up the cause and now charge for each plastic bag to “discourage” us from using plastic bags, and offer us reusable cloth bags so they can make even more money from us. What happened to free bags as a reward for shopping with them? Canada has recently threatened to ban single use plastic.

Why? Ok. I’m sure you thought I was all for banning plastic. I’m not. I love my plastic bags. I reuse them as lunch bags and then again as kitty litter bags. I even use them as storage bags or small garbage can liners.

So what’s my solution? We’ve had a solution since 1980, and no one talks about: Biodegradable plastic. That’s right, plastic that, like everything else, isn’t forever.

Sure, at first it was crap. It didn’t work. But now we have scientifically proven biodegradable plastic that degrades in compost and leaves no trace. Why aren’t we talking about banning non-biodegradable plastics for most uses except things like plumbing pipe? Certainly we could replace so called single use plastics like bags and bottles. Have our cake and eat it too.

The point is, why throw out the baby with the bath water? Let’s fix the problems with the things we have, if we can. Instead of trying to alter what works for us?

That brings me to fossil fuels. Another massive innovation that changed the world. At first it was cheep and reliable. It took the industrial revolution to a new level. Everyone now drives a car or truck. It powers everything from cars to trains to ships to aircraft.

In the 1960s we discovered there was a real problem. We were using led in our fuel, and contrary to what the fuel industry said, led was everywhere. It was poisoning everybody. No wonder there is so much dementia among the aged these days. But we did something about it.

Even though the led and fuel industry protested and told us gas wouldn’t have enough octane, we banned it and cars still work great. And we and our kids are safer. They found a way.

Then there was the 1970s scare. We were running out of oil. It was estimated that we had less than 20 years of supply left. What happened? The price went up dramatically in order to “discourage” us from using it. Or just to make more money. It turned out there was no shortage. Prices didn’t go down, of course. They just kept going up.

Now we have a bigger problem. Global warming. But we know that if we ban fossil fuels, the world would be in chaos. So what are we doing? Nothing. We can’t, Right? Too many people without work. Economies of North America are based on it. Let’s tax carbon to “discourage” people from using it. Depending on how the money is used, it could work, and I’ll explain how a little down the page. But it has nothing to do with people using less. That won’t happen except to the poorest members of society.

What are our alternatives? Solar? Wind? Sure. But batteries are still bad. I can fill my car and go for a week without refueling. Do I want a car that runs an hour plus per charge? Or do I want to pay 60 to 100,000 plus for a Tesla that goes 150 miles per charge? And where am I going to charge it if I’m going 3000 miles across the country?

We do have an alternative in hydrogen. It’s the most common atom in the universe, and when you burn it, it turns to pure water. No carbon, no nothing else. So completely renewable and sustainable. We even have technology that bonds hydrogen to metal so that you can shoot holes in the fuel tank and it won’t explode. So why aren’t we using it?

Besides the greed of the oil industry and its lobby power, the way we have to make hydrogen is by passing an electric current through water. The best way to do that is by using nuclear reactors dedicated to the task of producing the vast amounts of hydrogen we’d need. And we’d need places to refuel. No one is doing anything toward any of it.

If they wanted to reduce fossil fuel use governments would make it mandatory to equip all new buildings with solar panels. That way everyone contributes to the grid and energy costs would be minimal. You could close down countless electric companies. But no one is doing that. And it wouldn’t solve all the problems.

So what would?

Well, we’re going to keep using fossil fuels anyway until we actually do run out. And frankly, I’d rather have global warming than another ice age. Either will wipe out millions, and cost trillions. Which is worse? And even though it was thousands of years away, we were expected to go into another ice age. Now we may avoid that. But at what cost?

It would be nice if we could control the weather globally in a unified way so everyone gets the weather they want. But we can’t. Not yet anyway. And perhaps not for a long time. So what do we do? How far can we go before we temporarily destroy most life on the planet?

Let’s fix fossil fuels. Yes, we have the technology. We just need to apply it to everything. Its called: Carbon capture. Cars already have pollution gear. Add a carbon capture device. Chimneys’ on factories should all have one. Were my carbon tax money going to help industry do that, I’d say that’s a great idea.

Oh, and stop clear cutting and plant more trees.

Yes, we will run out of fossil fuels eventually. But until the we can have our cake and eat it too, and slow down global warming. Plus, in the future, if there’s a treat of a new ice age, we’ll have lots of carbon stored for them to release as needed…. Just half joking.

Yes, storage will be a problem, obviously. But our alternative is, stop using fossil fuel now, which we can’t do, because we don’t want to, because it would cause chaos like we’ve never seen before. We have no reliable alternatives yet. We will need to get a move on finding them. Another is do nothing and risk becoming extinct. So, let’s fix what we have for now.

And that’s the point of this talk. We don’t have to ban the things we like. We have to find a way to fix the problem we’ve discovered about them, if it’s fixable. And most things are.

I always wondered why the tobacco industry didn’t fix tobacco. Now someone has. It’s called vaping. Sure, your still addicted to nicotine. But so far there’s no known cancer risk. It’s better than nothing, right?

© 2019 Ron Hooft

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