Using A Machete For Keyhole Surgery?

15 05 2008

Dustbin Collection

With the UK government proposing a bin tax, that will add between £100 (a government figure) and £1000 a year (the media’s figure) to the taxes of anyone with non-recyclable waste (effectively meaning anyone who doesn’t recycle everything they consume will be hit), Mr President, defender of the downtrodden, asks if it’s right that we should force a lifestyle on people. Being “green” is a lifestyle, after all.

Clearly the tax isn’t to cover costs, as we already pay taxes for bin collection, and if anything it’s recycling that adds to costs (which would mean that those who recycle more would be taxed if it were cost-driven). It’s a punitive tax designed to force people to recycle. There’s an issue bigger than recycling here, and it’s an issue that affects everyone, not just UK taxpayers. Are things like this, smoking bans and forcing people to use greener cars the right way to behave in a modern democracy?

We hear liberals talking about the freedoms we’ve given up in the post 9/11 world, and how things like the Patriot Act or the erosion of civil liberties at airports are threatening true democracy, and yet they’re the very ones advocating things that arguably are even less democratic. They may argue that such measures have a “good cause” but the same can be said for anti-terrorism measures. The real question in both is not whether the goal is good but whether that goal justifies the means used to achieve it.

Bans and punitive taxes strike El Presidente as being a little Draconian and old-fashioned; they smack of “forcing people to be free”. That is certainly the sort of rhetoric used to justify things like a smoking ban or taxes on environmentally unfriendly activities; “it’s for your own good!” Surely intelligent adults in a free society can determine for themselves if something is in their own best interests?

Ultimately when deciding if the means are justified by the goals we’re seeking to achieve we have to see if the danger we’re facing is big enough. Of course those advocating such measures will talk up the huge dangers of climate change, and how polar bears are becoming extinct. Yet the truth, the case for anthropological global warming is, at best, unproven, and at worst already proven to be wrong.

Unlike the danger from terrorism, which is very real (how many 9/11s, July 7th bombings and Madrid bombings do we need to prove it?), these dangers aren’t backed up by the science. Can we really justify forcing this lifestyle on people? Even smoking hasn’t been proven to have a 1:1 correlation with cancer; it doesn’t “cause” it, merely appears to increase the risk. Whilst that’s still a danger, it’s less extreme.

Governments are increasingly using a machete when a scalpel would be better suited.


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3 responses

16 05 2008
Stella Devine

OK, let’s assume for a moment that you’re right and global warming is not an issue. There are still some other issues posed by rubbish disposal.
1. Plastic bags take many, many years to decompose and cause the deaths of wildlife. They are unsightly (OK, perhaps this isn’t scientifically proven, but they offend my aesthetics).
2. Plastic is manufactured from petroleum products. Oil prices are on the rise. Produce less plastic, pay less for petrol.
3. Big companies use packaging as part of their ‘branding,’ therefore it is designed with maximum possible visual impact. See Point 1: Unsightly.
4. Rubbish occupies a great deal of space.
5. Plastic, when burnt, produces toxins which have been shown to have a causative effect on a range of illnesses, terminal and otherwise.
6. People consume more produce than ever before, thereby creating more waste than ever before.
7. The population is growing, therefore there are more little consumers being born, consuming more all the time and creating more waste.
These points alone add up to the idea that waste disposal, particularly that of plastic, is an issue which needs to be addressed.

Is the answer imposing a tax on the public? I don’t think so. Personally, I think it needs to start with corporations. If they are financially responsible for clearing up their own waste, they may be less tempted to stamp their branding all over it. If they aren’t using it as marketing material, maybe they’ll choose to use less packaging.

Furthermore, I think there should be a ban on plastic check-out shopping bags. They’re unnecessary, expensive and ugly.

As for scientific research, it is very difficult to prove anything absolutely. If we waited for a 1:1 correlation on everything, there would be a lot of needless catastrophes which could have been avoided with some simple measures.

16 05 2008
Mr President

Wow, I began to respond to your comment and wrote a small essay. You make some very good points, many I agree with and deserve fuller discussion so I will address them in a full blog post. Watch this space!

18 05 2008
What a Waste! « Textual Relations

[…] Thursday Mr President wrote about the bin tax and how it demonstrated an increasing problem with politics today. Governments seem to only have […]

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