Magazine October 28, 2019, Issue

The Click of Doom

Plastic drinking straws on display in a shop in Nice, France, November 22, 2018 (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)

If you want the modern Left encapsulated in an organically fertilized, sustainably harvested nutshell, it’s the comment from an L.A. politician on how smoothie enthusiasts could cope with the new plastic-straw ban. “Just have them blend it a little thinner,” Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said.

Is this America? This is not America. I want my smoothies so thick I pass out from cerebral blood loss trying to suck it through the straw. I want my milkshakes so thick that the straw is held in place by the neutron-star density of the shake and if I manage to pull out the straw from the shake I am immediately hailed as the king of England. 

It would be wonderful if someone calculated the carbon impact of all the blenders running for an extra few minutes and discovered that it is equivalent to 40 airplane round trips to New Zealand.

What do they think happens to the straws that we throw away? Do they believe they are carefully separated, placed into the hold of a cargo airplane, and then flown out over the ocean until the pilot sees some hapless turtles, whereupon he opens the bay door and the sky darkens with straws as with arrows at Agincourt? 

Doesn’t matter. It can be taken away, so it should be taken away. Which leads us to a very important piece on the Web publication Vice. It’s about the horrible carbon impact of . . . fun. To be specific, fun on the Internet. The author writes:

“No one seems to be talking about using Instagram, Netflix or Spotify less in the same way we’re saying no to plastic straws and bottles.”

That’s because we’re not tremulous lunatics who read the weather reports like verses of Revelation.

“The [tech] sector on the whole — everything from mobile-phone networks to your television — is on the same emission level as the global aviation industry.” 

That’s 2 percent of global carbon emissions. Maybe! It’s tricky:

“It’s difficult to definitively calculate the environmental impact of entire sectors . . .” 

But we know with expertly sciencey science that providing plastic straws “by request only” will reduce the rise of the oceans by 0.001 micrometers over eleventy-six decades.

“. . . since there are complex factors some studies consider and others don’t.”

The science has been pre-settled for your convenience, so minor details such as these are just interesting points to discuss at cocktail parties. 

“Should TV be included or not? And what about the impact of the extraction of coltan in the Congo, a fundamental component in the production of microchips?”

Will anyone decide not to buy a computer because of controversial coltan? No. Capitalism will provide a new market for Ethically Sourced Microchips, complete with a leafy-green icon on the product so that your conscience doesn’t claw at you like a ferret that got into the meth.

The article goes on to measure the impact of cloud services and streaming video, which require innumerable banks of whirring machines in freezing-cold rooms. (A 2050 reboot of Rocky will have the fighter go to a cold-storage facility to punch hard-drive arrays instead of sides of beef.) Netflix takes up 15 percent of global streaming traffic, which means that you can contribute to the planet’s collapse just by sitting home and watching two episodes of BoJack Horseman instead of one. 

“So even if you’ve stopped flying entirely, you cycle to work and don’t eat meat or dairy, you might still be contributing to the climate crisis by reading this on your phone or laptop.”

This . . . this is beautiful. The next time someone asks whether you’ve seen that new Netflix series, glower and frown! (Note: Glower and Frown, a hip cop show, is actually on Hulu.) Watch TV? How dare you! How dare you! 

We need remote-control registration. Oh, don’t be silly, no one’s talking about taking away your remote control. We just want sensible regulation. Something that shuts off the TV after 25 minutes. You can hit the fast-forward button if you want to see the whole show. By the way, the batteries on the remote are toxic, so your remote will be solar-powered; if you forget to leave it on the windowsill to charge every day, no TV for you. Which is good! You can read a book. But not on your Kindle! 

But even that’s not enough.

“We could also start using apps that automatically unsubscribe us from useless newsletters — which are also surprisingly bad for the environment.”

At the bottom of the story, the site asks you whether you’d like to sign up for their newsletter. Then there’s a link to a story about awesome $2 hamburgers you can get in Harlem, and an ad for a bespoke travel kit. As if pushing email, meat, and travel weren’t bad enough, Vice has nice graphics, which require more Internet traffic to download, to say nothing of the computer power needed to create them. 

If we have a climate emergency, the Internet should be reduced to bare-bones text pages, and Netflix and its streaming kin should be shut down. Movie theaters too, for that matter. Theater might be permitted, with solar-powered footlights. Any other measures suggest that it is not an emergency at all.

It’s a small step from thin smoothies to regulating Internet usage. Give them the first, and they have the moral authority to demand the second. But if you don’t need that straw, Leo DiCaprio doesn’t need to make that movie. Every reviewer who writes about his movie, and every media organization that publishes that writing, is complicit. You told people it was good and would be an enjoyable artistic experience?

How dare you? How dare you?

In This Issue



Energy Section