Maxed Out 

It ain't easy being green

Papa's got a brand new bag... and a whole bunch of old bags, a trunkful of reusable bags and a bagful of questions.

A little over a week ago, to celebrate the New Year, Italy banned plastic shopping bags. In a country where successive governments can't get people to stop smoking and start wearing seat belts, this move constitutes a bold cultural experiment.

Italy isn't alone, of course, though it is the first EU country to go bagless. Any number of municipalities and even large cities, San Francisco for example, have banned the bag and many others, Whistler for example, are exploring the possibility.

China - yes, China - has taken an increasingly popular middle road: charging consumers for plastic bags, about a nickel apiece. I don't think they call it a nickel though. While that's social engineering on a massive scale, Washington, D.C. and Toronto have taken the same route. D.C.'s seen demand for bags drop around 85 per cent. Loblaw's in Toronto reports similar numbers. Interestingly, Toronto's new mayor, who announced he'd roll back virtually all progressive social and environmental initiatives, has backed off on repealing the bag fee... but he is exploring how to divert the revenue, from the stores who collect and keep it now, to the city.

Like all bold social initiatives, banning plastic bags has its champions and its detractors. I'm stuck in the middle with, I suspect, you. Banning seems too simplistic and, well, jackbooted. Doing nothing will accomplish just that though - nothing. And while plastic shopping bags are far, far from the most urgent environmental peril we face, they make an easily-understood posterchild for the changes we need to begin embracing in more than just symbolic ways if we have a hope in hell of staunching our headlong rush towards making the planet uninhabitable for the human species, which is, after all, what we really seem to care about.

Reluctantly, I join the fray. Reluctantly because frankly, my dear, I don't, other than academically, give a damn. I think we long ago passed the tipping point on this issue and much of what we do amounts to the proverbial rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. As much as I'd like to stick around to see how Armageddon plays out, I've grown old enough to realize we'll still have clean-ish air and water for the actuarial remainder of my life and, not having bred, I'll leave you to worry about your own progeny, who, if you're like so many sustainable people in this town, you probably drove four blocks to school in your SUV.

But then, the sad fact is, we're all eco-hypocrites. At least all of us fortunate enough to have been born into first world, North American wealth and relative luxury and, let's be honest, all of us living in Tiny Town. Sustainable resort municipality may well be an oxymoron achieved only through the complete demolition of any widely accepted meaning of the word sustainable and massive, collective rationalization.

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