John Oliver manages – again – to not quite grasp the basic point he’s trying to make. For he says that sure, the polluter must pay. Pay for cleaning up pollution that is, or at least the wider societal costs of that pollution. Entirely agreed, people who impose costs upon the rest of us should be the people who bear those costs. This is just externalities all over again.
Oliver advocated for thoughtful, targeted bans of single-use plastics (bags and takeout containers), and extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws that would shift responsibility and the costs of collection from the public sector to the actual producers of plastic waste.
But the people who are the producers of plastic waste are you and me. To the extent – not much to be honest, most ocean plastic is discarded fishing equipment – that consumer packaging is part of the cause of it all anyway.
Yet “frustratingly, the plastic industry’s response to all the damage you’ve seen is to make a big show of tiny improvement and then revert to what they’ve always done, which is heavily push the idea that if we as consumers simply tried hard enough, we could make our plastic problem go away,” said Oliver. But “our personal behavior is not the main culprit here, despite what the plastics industry has spent decades and millions of dollars trying to convince us.”
It is, exactly and wholly, our personal behaviour which causes the problem. We are the people who like plastic wrapped cucumbers – because they don’t rot so fast – and bags that don’t fall apart in the rain. If there was no consumer demand for these things then plastic wouldn’t even exist let alone get used.
It’s that infantilisation of us all again. Bad things happen in the economy because the capitalists force it upon us. Poverty exists because it is created rather than being the natural condition of mankind. Plastics pollution occurs because oil companies force feed it to us rather than because we choose to have the benefits. It’s always they doing it to us. The conspirazoid explanation of life that is.
Seriously folks, grow up. It is out aggregate behaviour that determines the world around us, that means it’s up to us to change that behaviour if we want to change that world.