Ditching straws is easy and good for a quick, sanctimonious high, but there’s a lot more work to be done to actually reduce plastic, fight climate change, and save the planet. That was the point that Warren made during CNN’s forum on climate change yesterday, during which many of the Democratic presidential candidates discussed the topic.
When moderator Chris Cuomo asked the candidates about government regulation of things like light bulb wattage and plastic straws, Warren gave him the verbal equivalent of a tween eye-roll. “Oh, come on, give me a break,” she said. “This is exactly what the fossil fuel industry wants us to talk about. . . . They want to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your light bulbs, around your straws, and around your cheeseburgers. When 70% of the pollution, of the carbon that we’re throwing into the air, comes from three industries.”
As the New York Times reported, the industries Warren was referring to were “the building industry, the electric power industry, and the oil industry.”
Since those industries are the biggest carbon polluters in the United States, the folks in charge of making sure their industries stay profitable are more than happy for consumers to lobby for plastic straw bans, to have hotels give up plastic shampoo bottles, and urge every meat purveyor in the land to start offering a vegetarian option, as if Impossible Whoppers and plant-based shrimp will save the world.
“These corporations keep hiring the PR organizations . . . so we don’t look at who’s still making the big bucks off polluting our Earth,” Warren said. If people are focused on smaller, more manageable contributions to saving the planet, perhaps they will be too busy to try and target the real polluters. In short, straw bans are a straw dog for the real causes of climate change.
That’s not to say getting rid of plastic is bad. Quite the contrary—it’s good. Plastic is filling the planet, plastic straws are non-recyclable, plastic is largely unnecessary, and it takes centuries to biodegrade. Plus, bans on plastics are conversation starters that draw attention to bigger problems. It’s just that, as Fast Company‘s Adele Peters wrote back in March, the fight against ocean plastic just might be distracting us from bigger, deadlier problems.
Unfortunately, we currently live in a world where people are willing to give up straws and tiny plastic shampoo bottles and really bright light bulbs and eat plant-based shrimp and do whatever it takes to save the planet, but the people in charge of the industries that actually cause pollution either deny climate change exists or don’t care, perhaps because they are rich enough to tag along with Jeff Bezos to a moon colony.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren says conversations around regulating lightbulbs, banning plastic straws and cutting down on red meat are what the fossil fuel industry wants people focused on as a way to distract from their impact on climate change. #ClimateTownHall https://t.co/N3vZCD2jHC pic.twitter.com/eVQhFxgKet
— CNN (@CNN) September 5, 2019