The Politics of Plastic

Ocean pollution - NOAA, AP.jpg

It's not easy to know what to make of Western environmentalists' and politicians' current mania for plastic, except perhaps to say that it marks a welcome relief from their obsession with CO2. It's plausible that the plastic-pollution craze has caught on precisely because, unlike global warming, it is a palpable, eminently solvable problem in the here and now—particularly in the Pacific Ocean, where the infamous garbage patch is reportedly now twice the size of Texas. It's also possible that the issue has achieved critical mass because China is no longer interested in recycling the West's single-use straws, cups, bottles and shopping bags.

When Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced in March that Canada would use its leadership of the G7 to fashion a "zero-plastics-waste charter" for the world, there was no question as to where the sentiments of the May/ Macron/ Merkel Euro-progressives lay. Indeed, when British PM Theresa May announced a UK ban on straws and cotton swabs the following month, PM Trudeau took the opportunity to affirm that "We have made the protection of our oceans, specifically looking at plastics in the ocean, one of the key themes of our G7 presidency and I look forward to gathering with the other G7 leaders to discuss this issue and the various solutions that they have put forward." Expectations soared. By the time Earth Day 2018 rolled around, plastic hysteria had reached fever pitch. It was obvious to virtuous citizens everywhere that we had to "kill plastic to save ourselves."

There are at least three problems bedeviling any serious political solution to the global plastic-pollution crisis. The first is a lack of consensus on whether plastic pollution is, in fact, pollution. "It’s litter, not pollution," says Dr. Patrick Moore, Greenpeace's most famous defector. "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. Plastic does not ‘poison’ anything. It’s non-toxic. Do they think our credit cards, made with PVC plastic, are ‘toxic’?” The second problem, as reported recently by Ross Clark in the Spectator, is that the cost to the environment of manufacturing plastic is far less than the cost of manufacturing alternative materials, including bioplastics and even cotton shopping bags.

The third and most intractable problem, though, is one that no one seems to have noticed—which is to say, it is one that no progressive Western politician is likely to touch with a barge pole. According to this new study, roughly 90 percent of plastics that are today accumulating in the oceans (and even spreading to Antarctica) come directly via these ten rivers: the Yangtze, the Indus, the Yellow River, the Hai River, the Nile, the Ganges, the Pearl River, the Amur River, the Niger, and the Mekong.

So you can see the problem. In the wake of the Charlevoix summit, the Group of Seven has made global plastic pollution a cause du jour, but none of the world's biggest plastic polluters belong to the G7. Indeed, none of the world's biggest plastic polluters live in the Western hemisphere, or Europe, or Japan.

As the sponsor of the G7 plastics charter, PM Justin Trudeau announced that he would commit $100-million to the cause of "ridding the oceans of global plastic pollution." He hasn't said how the money will be spent, and it's easy to see why not. Canadians will rightly wonder—as they continue to contemplate the escalating personal costs of the feds' carbon tax—whether they should be on the hook for cleaning up a mess made mainly by Asian and African states, irrespective of how virtuous the G7 charter makes their PM look. ("We didn’t actually resolve all the problems facing the planet this weekend in Charlevoix," Trudeau said with Orwellian understatement, "but we made significant progress.")

Needless to say, neither U.S. president Donald Trump or Japanese PM Shinzō Abe signed on to Trudeau's charter over the weekend, nor did they even bother explaining why. They didn't have to.

Rethinking the G7 Action Plan

G7 demonstrators - Jonathan Monpetit, CBC.JPG

As a prelude to the full-blown Group of Seven summit this weekend, Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have agreed to "action plans" for international assistance, sustainable development and global gender equality. Meanwhile, in the streets of Québec City, a group of roughly 100 demonstrators is protesting the summit's “imperialist, colonialist and anti-environment” agenda.

Times have changed. Just nineteen years ago, when the anti-globalization juggernaut rolled into Seattle, the politicians and the protesters had different agendas, and you could tell them apart. Alas, while it's true that this latest crop of G7 demonstrators look duly menacing burning flags in their Berkeley-approved Antifawear™, their messaging seems a little unfocused. One of the young demonstrators told a CP reporter, for example, that he was protesting the economic system in Canada, even though "I don’t know what I want to replace it with.” Another said, "I’m just here because something interesting is finally happening in Quebec City." Indeed.

Here's a thought. Why doesn't the prime minister just invite these idealistic young Quebecers back to the G7 compound to hash out the whole global-capitalism thing with President Trump's entourage—preferably over one of those fat Canadian spliffs the Senate has just finished debating? They seem like nice kids. And Trudeau, at least, knows what he's heading to Charlevoix to protest.