Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Scots "don't know what's good for them" report says

A study commissioned by the Scottish parliament has revealed that Scots are too fucking stupid to know what's good for them. At least, that's the spin put on it by the BBC.

According to the BBC article, research suggests that "a 10p tax on plastic bags would bring only limited environmental benefits to Scotland". Given that a similar tax brought significant environmental benefits to Ireland, the assumption must be that Scotland isn't capable of reaping the same level of benefit from the scheme as Ireland does. It doesn't openly say "because Scots are so fucking thick", but what other possible reason could there be? Are Scottish plastic bags different to Irish ones in either composition or function? No they are not. So the problem must be with the people who use them.


I should warn you, however, that the article linked to above has been rewritten since I first read it, and may very possibly be rewritten again by the time you read it. The beeb's policy of failing to archive each version of a story and instead altering sections over time, fundamentally undermines the usefulness and trustworthiness of the BBC as a news source.

When I first read the article it concluded with the line, "In Ireland a similar scheme has reduced the number of new plastic bags entering circulation by more than 90%" (that's paraphrasing... I can't sadly check the source). That statistic is no longer mentioned at all in the story and the success of the Irish scheme is now only reported as an allegation by Green and LibDem MSPs.

Why was the line removed? Well, it was removed for either editorial or accuracy reasons.

If it's the case that the "more than 90%" figure is inaccurate (the Worldwatch Institute claims it's actually 95% incidentally, and therefore accurate) then I would expect a supposedly reliable news source to issue a retraction and correction.

If it was for editorial reasons, however, then one needs to analyse the overall effect that such a decision would have on the article. I'd argue that by placing the success of the Irish scheme into hearsay rather than fact, it significantly weakens the arguments in favour of the Scottish levy. The BBC, therefore, have retrospectively altered a news story to lend weight to the commercial arguments of the Scottish Retail Consortium.

So long as they have policy of rewriting published stories without providing an archived "original version", the news as presented by the BBC must clearly be taken with an extra pinch of salt. The original article in this case contained a very significant fact that was then removed without explanation. Shoddy journalism and very shoddy editing.

I don't - of course - believe the Scots are morons (though clearly no nation can scale the intellectual heights that we Irish are capable of achieving). Indeed I'm fairly confident that a plastic bag tax north of the border would have roughly the same impact as it did in Ireland... a massive reduction in plastic bags finding their way into the environment and a smaller, but significant, reduction in overall waste. Certainly many people will simply switch from disposable plastic to disposable paper, but the majority will switch to reusable bags and will press that pile of old plastic bags under the sink into action until they've worn out.

Leastways that's how the Irish reacted. Maybe the Scots are thick (though the ones I know would seem to make a lie of this assertion). Maybe they'll not realise that reusable bags will save them money. Maybe the Scottish perception of waste in general can't be shifted in the way the Irish perception is beginning to shift (thanks not only to the plastic bag levy, but also to a switch from charging households a flat fee for rubbish collection to charging them based upon the volume of waste they generate). Maybe Scottish retailers, as they claim ("store owners said the proposals would be an "administrative nightmare" which would actually have the effect of increasing waste) are simply not as competent as their Irish counterparts. Given that we in Ireland managed to handle this supposed "nightmare" without increasing waste, it seems odd that Scottish retailers don't think they have the skills or intelligence to do the same.

They must have a very low opinion of themselves, poor little buggers.

The Scottish research also claims that "paper bags [have] a greater effect on the environment than conventional plastic carrier bags". I'd be interested in how this "effect on the environment" is quantified. I'm fairly well-versed in the processes required to produce conventional plastic carrier bags from fossil fuels, and know a little about the manufacture of paper. I'm also well aware of the difference in environmental impact between a biodegradable substance (such as paper) and a non-biodegradable one (such as plastic), and any research which sees the former as worse than the latter is clearly not taking a very long-term view (and what the hell other view should be taken when researching environmental impact?)

And of course, then there's the long-term sustainability of oil, gas and coal (our primary sources of plastic) but that's another discussion altogether.

Apparently there's also a worry that the levy "could result in 700 jobs being lost". This is the sort of thing, of course, which will affect the decisions of politicians. Lost jobs equals lost votes. And what's more important than that? Right?

Well, "the environment" for one.

If these 700 jobs are environmentally destructive then, I'm sorry to say, I couldn't be happier that they'll be lost (assuming they will... that claim comes from The Carrier Bag Consortium and so, like the BBC itself, should be taken with a little salt). If Japanese whalers lose their jobs, I'm ecstatic. The same goes for Australian uranium miners, Canadian oil shale workers and the Irish lads building the natural gas pipeline on the west coast.

Jobs do not trump sustainability or environmental responsibility. In fact, jobs trump very little, and "jobs will be lost if we don't" is simply not a valid argument in favour of doing something. Besides which; why not pass a parallel law insisting that all paper bags must be manufactured from recycled paper? The boost to the recycling industry would be bound to offset some, if not all, of the potential job losses in the plastic bag industry.

To reiterate... the Scots are not morons. They are probably the closest relatives to we Irish, which naturally makes them the second least moronic bunch of people on the planet (you can find idiots anywhere; I'm talking statistically here). Let's start taking sustainability seriously folks. A plastic bag levy would have a positive environmental effect north of the border, and commercial objections to the scheme (backed up by insidious reporting from the BBC) should be run roughshod over with all haste and glee.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Editing of a BBC news item isn't done to bias an article one way or the other, it is done to remove bias that may have inadvertantly been present in the first draft. That seems reasonable to me. The article seems balanced at present. Perhaps the 90% figure initially quoted is not based on evidence, or the evidence is not available as such. That would be a good reason to remove that line. I suspect you are more annoyed with the BBC for not archiving stories in their original form because it makes it a pain for you to comment on them. But the BBC is not a blog. Would you like to see it in strike-outs to indicate changes? If anyone comments on a BBC story surely they should archive it themselves by quoting it and timing the quote. Sounds like you're in a foaming-at-the-mouth mood today. I'm more amazed anyone doubts that charging for a plastic bag in Scotland, where people are renowned for walking a mile to save a penny, would not have a significant effect.

31/8/05 15:04  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

Sounds like you're in a foaming-at-the-mouth mood today.

Well that must mean it's a weekday (or a weekend) then. Though if there's one thing guaranteed to get me foaming at the mouth it's people signing their opinions; "anonymous". At least use a fake name so I can differentiate you from any other "anonymous" that might say something.

As for your assertion that the editing is not done to bias an article, I'm afraid I can't really sign up to that particular article of faith. If the BBC felt the 90% figure is unsupportable then I'd also expect them to remove it from this article and this one and this one.

However, they have not altered those articles and every source (including the Irish government whose figures must be considered the authoritative ones on this issue as they are the people monitoring it) backs up the "more than 90%" figure.

Therefore that number must have been removed for another reason. Without an explanation from the editor, one is perfectly justified in speculating upon that reason based upon the effect that the removal has on the article.

As I mentioned, the unarguable effect of this edit upon the article is to make the success of the Irish scheme an assertion from the mouths of those in favour of the Scottish one; equal in weight to the assertions of those opposed to the Scottish scheme; rather than a fact as reported in older BBC articles and by the Irish government.

31/8/05 15:21  
Blogger L said...

well, no one's as moronic as some of my fellow Americans.

* I've never noticed before that BBCnews online rewrites their articles... I suppose I usually don't revisit one once I've read it

1/9/05 02:59  
Blogger merrick said...

It turns out Scots are not thicker than their Irish cousins, and where charging has been tested in Scotland the results are siliar to those experienced in Ireland. IKEA charge 5p for bags at their Edinburgh store (as a nod to Mike Pringle, the Edinburgh MSP who's pushing for the tax). They found a 95% decrease in bag consumption.

B&Q charge 5p per bag in Scottish stores and report an 85% drop in bag consumption.

The supposed environmental disaster of paper bag use can, as you say, be averted by taxing paper too. Indeed, this is an option put forward in the conclusions of the Scottish Ececutive's report that prompted the BBC piece, though strangely the BBC don't mention that.

Whilst 'nightmare' is putting it a little strong, many retailers in Ireland are having to find extra storage space for their paper bags (paper is a lot thicker than the plastic carrier bags, plus customers often double-bag, especially for heavy items or when it's raining), and this is indeed costing them more.

Add to that the keeping of records for tax purposes and there is undoubtedly an impact on those businesses.

But, as you say, there seems to be no collapse in the Irish retail sector.

8/9/05 01:23  

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