You haven’t heard from me since Easter, partly because I’ve kept my head down after a few readers chided me for being mired in negativity. OK — I’m not often effervescent. But it’s hard to fake cheer when contemplating things that seem emblematic of our times. So, despairing of finding a feel-good story, here’s a sampling of what’s been on my mind: Three topics that are pretty much unrelated — plastic, sports greed, and bad states.
You may have seen an article in The Atlantic entitled “One Oppressive Economy Begets Another” by Anya Groner. It’s about the struggle by descendants of slaves in St. James Parish, La., to prevent construction of “one of the world’s largest plastic plants” in their home on the Mississippi River, upriver from where I’m writing. Formosa Plastics, a Taiwanese corporation, wants to build the plant in a place already known as Cancer Alley. It’s been written about extensively due to its dirty air and the high rates of cancer.
Two local grass-roots organizations known as Rise St. James and The Louisiana Bucket Brigade are working to stop the $9.4 billion project. They are led respectively by two women (surprise, surprise), Sharon Lavigne and Anne Rolfes. Arrayed against them are titans of oil, gas and petrochemical industries, as well as just about every politician in the state. Take a second to check out these websites. If you love what they are doing, as I do, feel free to support them.
Here is a link to The Atlantic article.
The piece documents the link between the area’s former economy, one underpinned by slavery, and changes since slavery ended. It is a story of environmental racism. Many of you may be familiar with what transpired, but if not, the article explains it well.
I think it’s an environmental crime to build a huge plant to make more plastics — especially single-use plastic packaging. The world already is choking on plastic. We’ve seen vast expanses of floating plastic garbage bobbing in our oceans; our air is full of the by-products of producing plastics. Yet more will be produced and used because large corporations are driven to make more and more money for their shareholders, even if doing so irreparably harms the planet. Make no mistake, this is about making money. This is about capitalism unrestrained by sane regulations.
Making more plastic harms the environment in at least four ways.
- Extracting and transporting fossil fuel to create plastics releases greenhouse gases. “In the US alone in 2015, emissions from fossil fuel (largely fracked gas) extraction and transport attributed to plastic production were at least 9.5-10.5 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents.”
- Refining and manufacturing processes for making plastics consume huge amounts of energy and are highly polluting. In 2015, 24 ethylene facilities in the US produced as much CO2 as 3.8 million passenger vehicles. Two new plastics plants in Pennsylvania and Texas are projected to belch as much CO2 as 800,000 new cars on our roads.
- Disposing of plastic waste requires landfilling, recycling or incineration. Incineration, which creates hazardous emissions, is expected to increase dramatically worldwide as landfilling and recycling become more problematic.
- Then there’s the effect of plastics that remain in the environment, chiefly our oceans. We’ve seen images of tractless expanses of plastics undulating in ocean swells, like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, estimated to be twice the size of Texas. The effect on marine life is largely unknown now; we only know it can’t be good. All this plastic may also inhibit our oceans’ ability to absorb and sequester CO2.
Here’s a link to a study done by Plastics and Climate. The executive summary — just four pages — explains more than I have room for here.
The study makes several recommendations. The first is to end production and use of single-use, disposable plastic. If we could get our legislatures to merely discuss this, it might send a message to Formosa Plastics and DuPont and others that investing in more plastics production is not too swell an idea. I suspect, though, that the plastics lobby has more power than the poor residents of St. James Parish. Profits trump people. (Apologies to readers who find me too negative.)
Under this rubric I have both bad news and good. First the bad: I read this week that the PGA Tour will set aside $40 million in a fund to reward its most popular players. Now you’ve heard me rant and rave about the PGA before. They’re a bunch of plutocratic spoiled brats who regularly earn well over $1 million for a victory in even the most obscure tournaments. They stage made-for-TV events featuring aging golf superstars risking nothing but their time for huge purses. (Of course, my animosity is grounded in my affection for the LPGA, whose players are real people who only make about 20 percent of the purse money the men get.)
It’s been reported that the PGA dreamed up its new $40 million kitty to compete with the Saudis, who want to start their own international golf tour with purses that would make the PGA’s look miserly. Why do people insist that the very rich need to get very much richer?
Now the good news on sports. The Super League of European soccer lasted only about 36 hours. The billionaires who thought it up were humiliated by a universal outcry by fans against the elitist idea. And JP Morgan Chase, the wanna-be league’s banker, got a much-deserved black eye. It showed that at least on the international field, little people can occasionally impose their will.
It is my dubious distinction to be linked familially to the state of my birth. And, through my own choice I am now linked to the state of my alma mater — Tulane University. So my reputation is being tarred by the giant brushes wielded by these two rather stupid states — South Carolina and Louisiana. These two Deep South states are competing to see which can be the most repugnant. To wit:
- South Carolina is chomping at the bit to restart executions. Because lethal injections have become legally problematic, legislators sent a bill to the governor to legalize execution by firing squad. And, of course, Gov. Henry McMaster has vowed to sign it. What else would you expect from a man unknown to most Americans before he began following Donald Trump around, smiling unctuously at his every word.
- South Carolina also is in a hurry to recreate the Old West by allowing “open carry”. Heretofore, macho men and women who packed concealed weapons couldn’t show off their valor and patriotism by strapping on a holster and swaggering around with their six-shooters visible. Not to worry. The SC legislature cobbled together a bill that will finally right this wrong and allow its brave citizens to sally forth from their homes carrying guns prominently displayed. And, you guessed it, Gov. McMaster is eager to sign the bill.
- South Carolina’s senior senator, Lindsey Graham, has cemented his place in history as the most loyal Trump toadie by making it clear that his party is nothing without Trump.
- Now to Louisiana. . . . Not to be outdone on guns, Louisiana is about to pass a bill that will allow citizens to carry concealed weapons without any permit! But wait: We already can carry one without a permit if the weapon is not concealed, so this snappy bill will simply do what every red-blooded Louisianan wants — make owning and carrying a weapon anywhere, anytime the law of the state. Take that, South Carolina.
- On the education front, Louisiana is protecting its children from radical liberals by outlawing any teaching that casts a negative light on our country’s sad history on race. The chair of the House Education Committee proposed the bill, and in defending it declared that “the good, the bad, and the ugly” of slavery would be open for discussion. Lovely turn of phrase. The committee then voted on a bill that would mandate the teaching of “American Exceptionalism”. While we Americans have always proven exceptionally good at patting ourselves on the back for our greatness and machismo, Louisiana is making sure its children get a full dose of jingoism. Wow, I didn’t make this up.
- Finally, Louisiana is outdoing itself environmentally. A legislator from northern Louisiana has proposed a bill that would make us an oil and gas sanctuary state. The bill would mandate that within the state, any law or regulation deemed harmful to the oil and gas industry would simply not be obeyed. The bill is of doubtful constitutionality but you’ve got to give credit to the legislator — he’s all in for oil and gas! He would make Louisiana a safe haven for producing and consuming fossil fuel for decades as our Southern shoreline disappears under the ever-rising Gulf of Mexico.
Today is the day of the Preakness Stakes. This competition between my two heinously governed states reminds me of a horse race. But instead of racing to the finish line, Louisiana and South Carolina are two powerful thoroughbreds racing to the bottom. Instead of the Woodlawn Vase (the famous trophy for winning the Preakness) for the winner, the prize will be almost universal acclimation as our country’s most repugnant state! So either Gamecock or Bayou Bengal fans will be able to attend SEC football games next fall proudly brandishing giant foam fingers and chanting ” We’re Number One!” My money’s on South Carolina since it’s Governor is clearly more heinous than Louisiana’s. But I wish both states the best of luck.