Random Rhapsody | Leash laws and plastic bags | SierraSun.com
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Random Rhapsody | Leash laws and plastic bags

Nick De Fiori

What do leash laws and plastic bags have in common in Truckee? They both elicit emotional responses to feel-good issues inhibiting critical thinking.

Critical thinking involves unbiased analysis of claims to determine if they are true, partially true, or false. Town council and staff appear to have lacked critical thinking during their recent endeavor to ban single-use plastic bags in Truckee.

Based upon a review of the information council used to justify their actions, it seems clear that banning single-use plastic bags in Truckee was a foregone conclusion. The “No Option” option appears not to have been considered.

On Nov. 25, Truckee became the 89th municipality in California to hop on the single-use plastic bag “ban-wagon.”

Not only is Truckee now part of the feel-good club, Truckee’s third on a short list of three municipalities to ban plastic bags in a non-coastal county.

Litter is trash in the wrong place. No matter the type, no matter the setting, litter diminishes the aesthetics of everyday life. Add to that an exaggerated potential to harm wildlife and you have the perfect recipe for a politically correct hot-button.

The plastic bag hot-button has its roots, or should I say, its tentacles, in the ocean. With a majority of residents, second-home owners and visitors originating from the Bay Area, there was a direct path for those tentacles to reach Truckee. It’s called I-80.

The first step council took to justify enacting a ban was to commission a survey. In an environmentally hyper-vigilant mountain town, whose alter ego is the poster child for over-reacting to environmental issues by creating a nanny state, the affirmative results were a surprise to nobody.

With perfunctory survey in hand, staff moved forward with workshops to solicit input from the public and stake holders. Based upon meeting notes, the sole purpose of the workshops was to address public and stakeholder concerns.

There’s no indication anywhere that staff investigated the validity of a single environmental concern relating to plastic bags, which was the basis council used for enacting the ban. Propaganda was taken as gospel at face value.

And unlike other municipalities, no fiscal or environmental impacts were quantified specific to Truckee, nor were any benefits if bags were banned.

I’m guessing because neither would have justified a ban, and with the survey results as security, the exaggerated, inaccurate and misleading information disseminated by advocacy groups was all council needed. The misinformed majority, not reason and logic, seems to have ruled in Truckee.

For example, Truckee’s website states that “An estimated one million birds and 100,000 turtles and other sea animals die of starvation each year after ingesting discarded plastic bags which block their digestive tracks.”

That speaks to council and staff’s lack of critical thinking and biased approach to enacting the ban. The statistic is a well known myth resulting from misrepresentation of a 1987 Canadian study.

The number of animals killed each year by plastic bags is impossible to determine. Even Greenpeace wishes that myth never got started because it focuses efforts in the wrong direction, with Truckee now being an example of Greenpeace’s concern.

There are numerous other examples of council and staff’s apparent failure to be fair-minded in evaluation throughout the information found on Truckee’s website, with perhaps the most poignant failure to face personal bias being staff reaching out to an attorney “based in Southern California,” whose concerns are the use of erroneous information to demonize plastic bags, and a desire for policy-makers to make informed decisions.

Other than staff stating they reached out, there’s no indication council or staff attempted to make an informed decision by investigating his claims. Considering staff’s faux pas about marine life killed by plastic bags, maybe they should have.

Plastic bags are not the problem. The culprit is human behavior. Banning plastic bags is an emotional response to a social, not scientific, issue. Making something illegal in an attempt to change human behavior is never a long term solution. The war on drugs continues and Prohibition failed miserably.

Council’s failure to use critical thinking before enacting a ban on single-use plastic bags is reminiscent of council’s refusal to critically analyze Truckee’s inadequate leash law, allowing it to remain on the books.

Why bother if there’s risk for backlash after a popular belief is proven untrue?

Nick De Fiori is an actuary by profession and holds a bachelor’s degree in earth science. A Truckee resident, he enjoys exploring the wilderness with his wife and two young sons in the summer and skiing in the winter. He can be reached for comment at ndefiori@defiori.com.


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