The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.
To the editor:
Fifteen years ago, Michael Crichton gave a famous speech outlining why environmentalism is “the religion of choice for urban atheists.” Many people have taken issue with aspects of Crichton’s viewpoint, but his distinction between faith and science is one which many theologians and scientists find valid.
The environmental movement is ill-served by those who turn it into a system of faith and emotion untethered from empirical data and common sense. Facts matter, and if we are to make a positive impact on our environment it helps to rely on science rather than emotion.
Evan Brodie (The Gazette, week of August 9/15) says that DeCicco in the hamlet of Millwood “has already banned plastic bags” and adds that ShopRite should be concerned about losing customers, concluding: “DeCicco, here I come!”
Mr. Brodie’s statement about the Millwood store is correct, but he neglects to mention that the store has no choice in the matter: it is the law in New Castle. In fact DeCicco has nothing against plastic bags and at their large Brewster location almost all customers use the DeCicco-logoed plastic bags.
ShopRite is at the southern edge of Croton, so most Croton residents will have to drive past ShopRite to get to DeCicco’s location in Millwood.
For a hypothetical Harmon resident, driving the additional distance to DeCicco is 6.42 miles each way. If that person shops once per week, that means an additional 667.68 miles per year. Many families shop more than once a week, so the true mileage is over 700 miles per year.
The most popular non-truck vehicle in the US last year was the Toyota RAV4, with a relatively fuel-efficient EPA mileage rating of 26 combined; the EPA ratings are a bit on the generous side. If we use the Univ. of Washington data of 130.82 megajoules per gallon of gasoline, each mile traveled uses 5.03MJ.
It is difficult to get a precise estimate of the amount of energy used to make a single plastic bag, due to multiple variables. However, the “1 Bag at a Time” company estimates that the energy used in the finished bag plus the production process is equivalent to 0.48MJ and since they sell reusable bags, if anything they have a bias to overestimate the energy used to make a “single use” bag.
The result is that each mile driven equals 10.479 ShopRite bags. The “1 Bag” folks use an estimate of 6.7MJ per mile, and thus around 14 bags per mile.
That means someone following Mr. Brodie’s advice would burn the equivalent of 6,997 bags per year. If you went to the supermarket more than once each week or if your car gets less than 26mpg you would burn the equivalent of even more bags.
For those who want to signal their virtue and gain status in the eyes of their Croton neighbors, Mr. Brodie’s boycott of ShopRite makes sense. Bashing Croton businesses is a popular pastime, and the target du jour is ShopRite.
The fact that ShopRite is our largest employer, a major philanthropic supporter, and has the lowest price groceries is not going to overcome the zealous passion of those unpersuaded by basic math.
In Croton, the person schlepping home each week with 10 plastic bags is the object of public scorn and Mr. Brodie is worthy of emulation. In reality the person using plastic bags at ShopRite will use less hydrocarbons in 13 years than the self-satisfied DeCicco shopper will use in 1 year.
Environmental activism is not the same as concern for the environment. The former is a matter of passion and faith, the latter is a matter of tradeoffs and hard decisions. No fact is going to sway a Croton resident more concerned about their social status than science, but the facts are there for those who are serious about our environment.
There is nothing to prevent any of us from taking a reusable bag to ShopRite. There is nothing to prevent us from driving to ShopRite in a fuel-efficient car rather than a gas-guzzling SUV. There is nothing to prevent us from cutting back on red meat, eliminating ice cream, or using tap water instead of having our water shipped in from a spring in Maine or Fiji.
We all make daily decisions that affect our environment, and some of our choices are wasteful and damage the environment. Virtue-signaling is a respected art form here in Croton, but a little more focus on logic might be better for our environment.