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The war on plastics is as dangerous as it is misguided

Plastic bottles
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Earth Day Network (EDN) chose End Plastic Pollution as its theme for this year’s Earth Day. It’s just the tip of the anti-plastic activism that now consumes environmental extremists.

A Google search on Plastic Pollution Coalition (a group claiming to represent “more than 500 member organizations” dedicated to “working toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts”) yields almost 90,000 hits, including a video actor Jeff Bridges made for the campaign.

Even the United Nations has joined in, making Beat Plastic Pollution the theme of its June 5 World Environment Day, “a global platform for public outreach that’s widely celebrated in over 100 countries.”

But demanding heavy-handed action on the comparatively minor problems that plastics present makes no sense. To help the public assess these attacks against this miracle material, let’s consider what leading environmental thinkers have to say about issues EDN raised on Earth Day, beginning with its use of the term “plastic pollution.”

Canadian ecologist and Greenpeace cofounder Dr. Patrick Moore stresses that plastic is not toxic. “It’s litter, not pollution. Many people find it unsightly, and the solution is to educate people not to discard it into the environment and to organize, as is done on highways, to have it removed.”

EDN also says plastics are “poisoning and injuring marine life.” As Moore notes, “Plastic does not ‘poison’ anything. It’s non-toxic. Do they think our credit cards, made with PVC plastic, are ‘toxic’?” Of course, plastics can release toxins when burned, but not when they’re simply littered into the general environment. So burning should be done under careful emission control standards.

“The main reason birds and fish eat bits of plastic is to get the food that is growing on them,” Moore adds. “But they’re both quite capable of passing bones and other fairly large objects through their digestive systems.” Plastics are no exception.

Paul Driessen, senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and author of books and articles on energy and environmental policy, points out that “some animals do ingest plastics or get caught in plastic loops and nets. But the notion that marine life (and people) are being poisoned by chemicals in plastics has no scientific basis.”

EDN next complained about “the ubiquitous presence of plastics in our food.”

Moore responded, “This is complete nonsense. If a bit of plastic gets in our food it is passed right through the digestive system.”

“Plastic wraps and containers help preserve food and keep bacteria out,” Driessen emphasized. “Which is worse? Barely detectable trace amounts of chemicals in our bodies or serious bacterial outbreaks?”

EDN also worried about plastic “disrupting human hormones.”

Physician and lawyer John Dale Dunn, a lecturer in Emergency Medicine at the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center in Fort Hood, Texas, dismisses this concern. “Hormone disrupter scares … are based on junk science. Many extensive studies have shown no toxic or lethal effects from BPA, which is a beneficial chemical that has promoted progress and provided new products that are well received and very helpful.

“The debunking of hormone disruptor researchers and their claims has been definitive and devastating,” Dunn notes. director Steve Milloy also has been prolific in his criticisms of hormone disruptor junk science, as this excellent article explains.

Bizarrely and unbelievably, EDN proclaimed plastic as “threatening our planet’s survival.” Reminiscent of how Comedian George Carlin poked fun at the plastics scare, Driessen dismisses this hyperbole. “Earth has survived huge meteor strikes, massive ice ages, Devonian and other mass extinctions, and other planetary calamities. Now plastics have usurped dangerous manmade climate change’s role as the threat to planetary survival!?”

EDN promotes “a global effort to eliminate primarily single-use plastics.”

Steve Goreham, executive director of the Climate Science Coalition of America and author of Outside the Green Box – Rethinking Sustainable Development, responds: “Single use plastics are a boon for humanity. Packaging food in plastics instead of animal skins, wood, metal, glass and paper brings major sanitation, convenience and health benefits, as well as lower cost. The solution is biodegradable plastics for single-use products, not elimination of plastic.”

In keeping with their climate alarmism, EDN said they want “alternatives to fossil fuel-based materials.”

Driessen replies: “It is absurd to suggest that non-oil and gas sources would make plastics better – or that it could be done without turning nearly the entire planet into a massive biofuel farm to provide energy and plastics. The impacts on water supplies, croplands and wildlife habitat lands would be devastating.”

As retired NASA-JSC engineer Alex Pope explains, “fossil fuels and fossil fuel products have made life better for billions of people on this Earth. … This better life is due to energy from fossil fuels and to fossil fuel products, especially plastic products. … The war against fossil fuels and fossil fuel products is all the same war. I think they know they are losing many parts of the war against using fossil fuels for energy,” so now they’re cranking up the war against vital fossil fuel products that enhance and safeguard lives.

EDN wants “100 per cent recycling of plastics.”

Goreham brushed this idea aside: “100 per cent recycling of plastics is not an economically sound policy. Either landfilling, incinerating, composting or recycling plastics is best, based on cost and applicability. Today’s landfills are environmentally friendly in modern nations.”

EDN wants people to “reduce, refuse, reuse, recycle and remove plastics.”

Driessen says, “this will work in some places and cultures. But where people have no food, sanitation, clean water, jobs, electricity or real hope for the future, do you really think they will worry incessantly about plastics?”

The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970, in response to the legitimate concerns of millions of people that reducing air, land and water pollution needed to happen more quickly. The movement grew, until today Earth Day Network president Kathleen Rogers estimates that “more than one billion people in 192 countries now take part in what is the largest civic-focused day of action in the world.”

This should surprise no one. All sensible people are environmentalists. We want to enjoy clean air, land and water, and we like to think future generations will live in an even better environment. These were the original Earth Day objectives and I’m happy to have presented at Earth Day events in the early 1990s.

However, as Henry Miller and Jeff Stier observe in a Fox News article, “In recent years, Earth Day has devolved into an occasion for professional environmental activists and alarmists to warn of apocalypse, dish up anti-technology dirt, and proselytize. Passion and zeal now trump science, and provability takes a back seat to plausibility.” That is sending science and rational thinking backward hundreds of years.

All this demonstrates the wisdom of Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt’s proposed rule to require that data underlying scientific studies used to justify federal environment and energy policies be open to public inspection and criticism. This means actual evidence, full independent peer review, and data, methodologies, computer codes and algorithms will no longer be kept secret.

Sterling Burnett, senior fellow for environment and energy policy at The Heartland Institute, calls Pruitt’s proposal “one small step for regulatory reform, one giant leap for scientific integrity and political transparency.” EDN and its allied groups should have to prove plastics are dangerous pollutants, before governments take any actions against them.

Meanwhile, Goreham reminds us how important plastics are to health and safety in modern societies. “They are a miracle material. We fabricate food containers, boat paddles, shoes, heart valves, pipes, toys, protective helmets and smart phones from plastic.”

Even EDN and some other anti-plastics groups seem to recognize that plastics are indispensable for numerous applications, since they also call for manufacturing these products. They just want them made from manmade hydrocarbons (biofuels, et cetera), instead of from the oil and natural gas that Mother Nature created and left beneath Earth’s surface for humanity to use to improve our lives in countless ways.

Hopefully, applying Pruitt’s new rule and ignoring the groundless claims of extreme eco-activists will ensure that plastics are with us for a long time to come.

Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition. This is a Frontier Centre for Public Policy submission.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Peter Holle

The Frontier Centre for Public Policy (FCPP) is an independent Canadian public policy think tank. Founded in Winnipeg in 1997, the Frontier Centre received charitable status in 1999 and currently has offices in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

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