It’s in the bag
News came last week that Park City is in the early stages of studying whether to ban the use of plastic shopping bags. No decision has been made yet. They city hasn’t even appointed the committee to hire the consultant to study it. But the idea apparently has some traction.
The thinking is that plastic shopping bags have a half-life about equal to plutonium; they blow around in the wind and get stuck in the trees, are made of oil, and so on. Replacing them with reusable shopping bags is relatively painless. The reusable bags can smugly ride around in the trunks of our Priuses, get schlepped to the bus stop, or carried when we put on our Birkenstocks and walk to the grocery store. And just like that, the world is saved. Don’t you feel better already?
The statistics on plastic grocery bags are, I’m sure, shocking. And the people bagging the groceries are almost fanatical about using as many as possible. It really would be OK to put more than one item in a bag. When I look at how we live around here, and how our economy functions, plastic grocery bags aren’t exactly at the top of the list of environmental problems. The lifeblood of our economy is jet fuel. If you had any doubt about that, you should have looked around last week. All of Chicago was here, mostly driving around in circles looking for a place to park their rented SUVs. Without large numbers of people flying in, there isn’t much around here that could operate on the scale it does.
We live in a climate that requires firing up the furnace about 10 months a year, and then build huge houses. The biggest of them sit empty a good portion of the time, heated to a level that protects not only the pipes but the finish on the imported furniture. Even on the lower end, starting this week there will be hundreds of vacant condos, each with a water heater keeping 50 gallons of water heated to 120 degrees for no reason. The heated driveways must add up to a couple of miles, and when heating the driveway isn’t enough, we also fire up the roof deicers. We love our snow, but only in the right places.
The amount of electricity consumed by the ski industry is astounding. They partially offset that with wind credits, but juice is juice. The grooming cats don’t run on moonbeams. Then there are "fire features" that burn natural gas for entirely decorative purposes. The Olympic torch at Stein’s Lodge wastes enough gas every day to heat a couple of normal-sized houses, and that’s one of the more modest gas leaks in town.
We locals rely on long-distance commutes in heavy four-wheel-drive vehicles. When the vacationers aren’t jetting in to ski, we are jetting out to the beach. It all adds up to a wonderful life. Highly consumptive, energy intensive, bad for the environment, and not the least bit sustainable, but absolutely wonderful.
Taking a stand against that overall picture of excessive and often wasteful consumption, the city wants to regulate plastic shopping bags. It’s the least we can do. Literally.
The city has commendably shown real leadership on energy conservation on its own projects. It’s a good example, but the city has been unwilling to push to the next step and require it on private development. As long as there are heated driveways and great walls of fire, the discussion on plastic bags just seems silly.
The weather gyrations that pass as spring around here continue. I had zero one morning followed by an afternoon high the next day in the 50s. The driveway is back to the high-tide mud condition for now.
There were a couple of surprisingly good ski days in there. It’s hard to say that five inches of heavy new snow on top of the glacial ice is a real powder day, but in a year like this, I’ll take it without complaint. I sort of forced myself out one day as an alternative to working on my tax returns, and it turned out to be one of the best of the season. You just never know.
A flock of Canada geese has moved into my neighborhood. There isn’t much open water anywhere yet, so I don’t know where they are settled in. I hear them flying around the valley a couple of times a day. The honking sounds like they are arguing about where to land. "We could use that pond over there, eh?" They make a couple of large laps around the valley, then settle in someplace for several hours before repeating the circuit.
The aspen are starting to blossom. Spring is coming.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.