Education Matters: Antonovich's arguments are short-sighted

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

Mike Antonovich was the lone dissenting voice on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in voting to ban plastic shopping bags in all markets and convenience stores in unincorporated areas. He defended his position by stating that it is not "sound public policy" and that it was not the "appropriate time to clean up our environment" or "impose regulations on business."

I honestly don't know where to begin to express my disdain for this elected official. He's been around for a number of years, has represented his constituents well in matters of overdevelopment in our area, but falls flat on his face in this one. Let me try to address some of the supervisor's concerns.

He says it's not the time to be thinking of cleaning up the environment because our economy is bad. I find that an interesting set of priorities for one we look to for leadership. That exalted title has more to it than seeing to the short term comfort of the voting population. It should include, it must include, decisions based on the welfare of unborn generations, and if that involves urging "sacrifice" for us all now, then so be it. Anything less than that is a dereliction of duty. Just where is Mr. Antonovich coming from on this one?

I've got to believe that the plastics industry has ample weight to throw around in its continuing campaign to absolve itself of any liability whatsoever from the harm that its products cause. I know enough about the political process in this country to be just a little wary whenever a politician sides with a major industry that has come under public scrutiny, or, heaven forbid, government regulation.

But there is another industry, more powerful by far than plastics that enters into this picture. The enormous demand for plastic bags ties into the surging global demand for oil — plastic bags are made from ethylene, a petroleum byproduct. In the United States alone, an estimated 12 million barrels of oil are used annually to make plastic bags that Americans consume.

That is not to suggest that our supervisor has been unduly influenced by established, vested interests — he may indeed be thinking of (or fixated on) lost jobs — but how in the world does he square his vote with the following?

Plastic bags have become a major component of our landfills. They flap from trees. They float in the breeze. They clog roadside drains. They drift on the high seas. They fill sea turtle bellies. They take months to hundreds of years to break down. And as they decompose, tiny toxic bits seep into soils, lakes, rivers and the oceans.

But hey, that's not our problem, right Mr. Antonovich?

Countless plastic bags end up in our ocean, circling the globe in a plastic floating island the size of Texas, causing widespread harm to marine life, and in turn affecting a food chain in which we humans are inextricably linked. But what the heck, Mr. Antonovich, that's all very vague, right?

We should be thinking more practically of jobs in the plastics industry and businesses that may leave California. Best to leave subjects like the health of our planet and future generations to the tree huggers and the eco-Nazis, right Mr. Antonovich?

Each year across the world some 500 billion plastic bags are used, and only a tiny fraction of them are recycled. Most will have a short lifetime with consumers, being used solely for the few minutes it takes to get from the store to home. Most will be released into the environment where they'll become part of the soil and water that feed and nourish us.

Any attempt to avoid this, like a fee charged to discourage the use of plastic bags, are "draconian" as Mr. Antonovich sees it. "Big Brother at its worst," he laments — right up there with seat belts and catalytic converters and warnings on cigarette packages and disclosure of contents in food packaging.

The list is long and points clearly to the absolute need for government oversight of business and industry. In this case, the government is reacting to a worldwide problem and is asking people to address it by making a small sacrifice.

Mr. Antonovich urges that we "educate our residents" about the harm caused by illegally disposed plastic bags. We've been doing that for the last two decades or so and look how wonderfully it has worked. I would urge this supervisor to educate himself and start by reading "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair. Then move on to "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson and follow that with "Unsafe at Any Speed" by Ralph Nader.

Each of these works, and many more I can recommend, gave rise to government regulation of major industries that, left to their own devices, would continue killing people while the government sat by idly, trusting that market forces and the profit motive would act as natural regulators.

The manufacture of 500 billion plastic bags each year may not be killing anyone, but the enormous degradation they cause to our environment should no longer be tolerated. That Mr. Antonovich cannot see that is a blindness we can ill afford in those who assume the mantle of leadership.

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at

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