Unintended Consequences


There is a reason why good intentions are not sufficient. Often, things done with the very best of intentions nevertheless end up causing a great deal of pain for everybody with little, if any, actual benefits. One case that comes to mind is the attempt to persuade, and then conjole customers into using reusable shopping bags. As I read at Via Meadia.

One green pet cause du jour is the banning or taxing of disposable plastic bags at supermarkets and other grocery stores. These measures, which are designed to encourage shoppers to use their own reusable tote bags, have been spreading widely in recent years, and have already gone into effect in cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

This may make the world marginally safer for plants and animals, but a new study by the Property and Environment Research Center (h/t Sullivan) shows there may be a significant downside for human health. Researchers examined these reusable totes and found significant amounts of dangerous bacteria, including, among others, E-coli. And there seems to be a correlation between plastic bag bans and increased illness, as bacteria-related deaths spiked immediately after San Francisco’s bag measure began. The International Association for Food Protectionreports:

Reusable bags were collected at random from consumers as they entered grocery stores in California and Arizona. In interviews, it was found that reusable bags are seldom if ever washed and often used for multiple purposes. Large numbers of bacteria were found in almost all bags and coliform bacteria in half. Escherichia coli were identified in 8% of the bags, as well as a wide range of enteric bacteria, including several opportunistic pathogens. When meat juices were added to bags and stored in the trunks of cars for two hours, the number of bacteria increased 10-fold, indicating the potential for bacterial growth in the bags.

This green unicorn looks considerably less enchanting upon closer examination.

Oh well. The truth is that there are few things that are unreservedly good or bad and few choices we make that are clearly a matter of good versus evil. Often we must weigh the consequences and make a choice between the lesser of two evils or the greater of two goods. The problem with a lot of Greens is that they just don’t see things that way. If some environmental regulations are good, than even more must be better, without stopping to consider the economic cost of increased regulation compared with the actual good to the environment. Something rather similar might be said about the Global Warming scare. Scientific uncertainty aside, even if all of the more overwrought predictions were true, the solutions they propose,