Ban the plastic bag as a step toward energy independence

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Portland Plastic Bag Ban NORTH

I wrote this back in 2008:
Lately there has been a few of the country’s mayors calling for an end to the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag. In San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom made the call as did Commissioner Sam Adams here in Portland. Nothing much happened once everyone realized that it would take a tax on the bags to bring an end to their use. Business pushed back. But in Ireland the answer was to bring in a tax and have a forceful environment minister give reluctant shopkeepers little wiggle room, making it illegal for them to pay for the bags on behalf of customers.

The NYT ran the story -”In 2002, Ireland passed a tax on plastic bags; customers who want them must now pay 33 cents per bag at the register. There was an advertising awareness campaign. And then something happened that was bigger than the sum of these parts – within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags, keeping them in offices and in the backs of cars. Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable — on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog.”

And don’t think that paper bags are the answer, yes they may degrade in landfills but more greenhouse gases are released in their manufacture and transportation than in the production of plastic bags.

The campaign was incredibly successful even though it meant adding a tax penalty to both shoppers and grocery store owners to make it work. It is not hard to switch peoples social behaviour when it is seen to be for a social good. It was made clear to the Irish that the amount of energy that went into manufacturing plastic bags, that were all destined to end up in landfills anyway, was not sustainable.

Reusable shopping bags, not paper bags, were the answer and the Irish bought that argument.

The Irish now pack reusable bags in their cars and offices and carry them with them on buses when they go shopping. It’s simple and effective and it is a small step toward energy independence. Portland can do it.

[Links]

Mayor Sam Adams’ Anti-plastic bag proposal

California’s plastic bag ban

Plastic bags kill marine life

Fred Meyer grocery store ends plastic bag use

The BP drilling disaster created handwringing – one answer is renewable energy

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BP Oil Spill, Renewable Energy, PGE, Portland

I Googled ‘BP Oil Spill’ this morning and noticed that the very brief [0.21 of a second] search returned 419,000,000 results. As you might expect most of the linked articles are less than supportive of BP. As devastating as this accident will turn out to be for the surrounding beaches as well as the entire Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, the only positive thing that could possibly come from this disaster is that it will surely shine a spotlight on our over-indulgence in fossil fuels and what that means – not only for the environment but for the generations that will follow us.

Critics have pointed out, that as demand for petroleum products keep soaring while known oil field reserves keep shrinking, drilling companies in the Gulf such as BP have to take greater risks, drilling at far greater depths under more hostile conditions; in other words at depths that threaten the integrity of their rig’s technology and engineering capabilities, while creating safety hazards for the rig workers and the environment as they go about the business of supplying this insatiable demand.

Obviously we can’t continue along this path for ever. Something has to change.

For decades we have been warned by scientists, geologists and many others, that our dependence on fossil fuels would become a fool’s errand and we ought to have been paying more attention as oil resources become depleted. As our known oil reserves start to run dry more drilling is not the answer – we should have been pushing harder and much earlier for renewable energy. Even President Obama is pushing for change, and a cursory scan of Google using the term ‘renewables’ brings back 35 million results. Maybe the needle can now be moved that much faster toward a higher usage of renewable energy.

Here at North we are lucky to have as one of our clients, Portland General Electric, who have been working hard to push renewable energy resources and initiatives across Oregon for both residential and business customers. They also have a dedicated web site, Green Power Oregon, to educate residential and business customers on renewable energy resources.

The company’s efforts in the renewables arena are commendable and they are also winning awards for doing “good” in the community.

It is particularly important for all companies to understand that younger generations are looking to corporate America to lead the way in using some of their profits to aid and protect the environment, as well as supporting projects that benefit the well being of communities.

Portland General Electric was recently named winner of the 2010 Edison Award, the electric industry’s most prestigious honor. The award was for their partnership with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in creating a Selective Water Withdrawal (SWW) Structure, a 273-foot-tall intake facility that attracts fish traveling downstream, a fish intake and bypass project at its 465-MW Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project dam that provides safe passage for the fish to be sorted and transferred.

The SWW is the only known floating surface fish collection facility coupled with power generation in the world. PGE also continues to explore wind and solar options across the state. Wind energy comes from these sources.
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