Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Focus on the Macro

Bradford Plumer has an excellent post today about how unimportant litter is:
In 1953 Vermont passed a law banning "throwaway bottles," after farmers complained that glass bottles were being tossed into haystacks and being eaten by unsuspecting cows. Suddenly, state legislatures appeared poised to pass laws that would require manufacturers - and the packaging industry in particular - to make less junk in the first place. Horrors.

So that's where litter comes in. In 1953, the packaging industry- led by American Can Company and Owens-Illinois Glass Company, inventors of the one-way can and bottle, respectively - joined up with other industry leaders, including Coca-Cola and the Dixie Cup Company to form Keep America Beautiful (KAB), which still exists today. KAB was well-funded and started a massive media campaign to rail against bad environmental habits on the part of individuals rather than businesses.
And today we learn that a anti-smoking activist has passed away:
Heather Crowe, the long-time waitress who contracted lung cancer after decades of exposure to second-hand smoke, has died. She was 61.

Crowe, who never smoked, became widely known as the face of the nation's anti-smoking movement after sharing her personal story in television ads for Health Canada.
Now, there's some excellent reasons to focus on smoking and the risks thereof, especially in the workplace. But we shouldn't let the focus on individual behavior obscure the real culprits behind the carcinogens we ingest, oh, every day.

Conservatives love to rail on about "personal responsibility", but in the modern era that has next to no meaning. Exactly how, pray, am I - a conscientious ecologically-minded person - supposed to dramatically cut my CO2 emissions? I can't, for the very simple reason that all of my available options are carbon-intense. I can choose between the lesser of two evils (say, mass transit over a car) but seriously reducing my personal footprint requires - you guessed it - collective responsibility.

Of course, that requires government regulation, like the kind that was too late to protect Heather Crowe. So here's the question: Do conservatives favour "personal responsibility" out of their own ethical preferences, or because they don't care when people die and they're just so dishonest?

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