Environmentalism: Why we give the government power

A plastic bag floating through the water. The new plastic bag tax encourages shoppers to use reusable bags instead of single-use plastic bags. Photo by Brian Yurasits/Unsplash

I vaguely remember one night a few years ago, when a family member complained about the plastic bag tax newly implemented in Connecticut at the time. They didn’t want to pay an extra 10 cents for bags, so instead they opted to use reusable ones. And while their anguish at the concept of having to pay for something that used to be free is completely understandable, I remember thinking that if the simple principle of paying extra money for something you could do for free is causing you to help the environment, then didn’t the tax work well after all? In fact, when a similar bag tax was implemented in Chicago in early 2017, a study showed that this was not an isolated incident, as “the bag tax led to a 28 percentage point decrease in the use of any disposable bags… over the next year.” 

At this point, it is more or less widely accepted that the environment is threatened by human activity. A 2021 poll by Pew Research Center found that 64% of adults in the United States say “reducing effects of climate change should be a top priority to ensure a sustainable planet for future generations.” Yet, if most adults in the United States feel this should be our primary priority, why is climate change such a big issue? I would argue that a significant benefit of our federal republic system, where the people give up some of their personal freedoms in order to create a powerful government that can serve the greater good, is the fact that those in power can make the hard and uncomfortable decisions that many are unwilling to make. The majority of people claim climate change is a big issue, but do their actions truly reflect this conviction? 

One of the ways our society has worked to combat climate change is through electric and hybrid vehicles. The same Pew Research Center poll found that 47% of American adults “favor phasing out the production of new gasoline cars and trucks by 2035”; however, another poll conducted that same year found that only 39% of American adults “are very [or] somewhat likely to seriously consider purchasing an electric vehicle for their next vehicle purchase,” while 46% answered “not too [or] not at all likely” and 14% “don’t plan to purchase a vehicle.” Almost half of American adults are willing to phase out gasoline cars, yet fewer adults are likely to make serious considerations when it comes to purchasing these environmentally friendly vehicles. Additionally, concerning recycling, the EPA reported in 2018 that the nationwide recycling and composting rate was 32%

What should be noted through all of these statistics is that people in the United States recognize the importance of environmental issues, yet are often not taking the personal steps needed to help fix them. While the mindset and convictions of the American people are in the right place, their actions do not match their convictions, making it necessary for the government to step in and take action. It is also possible that people cannot afford electric cars and other technologies such as solar panels, which is even more proof that the government needs to play a role in creating a more sustainable future. Some of these actions may change our lives or take away certain comforts, but need to be taken for the common good. And at the end of the day, this is the fundamental reason why the people give the government some of our personal liberties and freedom — to make hard choices that help everyone, which individuals alone are not willing to make.

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