Yes, you have to pick your battles. But most of our battles are interconnected.
When I first started writing for TreeHugger more than a decade ago, I spent a good deal of time worrying about which environmental problems were actually worth worrying about. When a rap video about banning plastic bags went viral, I gently made the case that we might have bigger things to worry about:
On a case-by-case basis I have no problem with banning the single use plastic bag. But, given all the environmental challenges ahead of us—from peak oil to climate change to clean water issues—and given the uphill struggle we face getting any kind of action in Government, I do think it is worth asking how much political capital we want to spend on laws that address one of the most visible symptoms, but not the root problem of excessive fossil fuel use.
Since then, the issue of single-use plastics seems to have blown up in the public consciousness. And from hotel chains banning straws to plastic bag taxes drastically cutting the amount of bags being found in the ocean, there's very real progress being made against the problem of ocean plastic pollution.
This success alone has caused me to rethink the musings of my younger, more opinionated self. After all, even if global climate change is the most pressing overarching problem we face, there's little doubt that ocean ecosystems will be better able to adapt if they are not simultaneously inundated by a sea (sorry!) of plastic trash.
But even this backtracking misses the more important reason that I was wrong. And that's the fact that by refusing or restricting single-use plastics, consumers and organizations are directly undermining the fossil fuel economy too. As Lloyd noted before, thanks to fracking, fossil fuel companies are now awash with feedstocks for plastics and they are busy expanding the production pipeline massively. So every time you refuse a plastic straw or bag and—more importantly—push for corporate and/or government action to limit plastic consumption, then you are not just making a contribution to trash-free seas. You are also striking a small blow against oil demand and thus helping to mitigate the climate crisis too.
Of course, the opposite is true also. Every time you ride a bike, or choose transit, or opt for electrified transportation, you are not only cutting back on carbon emissions, but you're disrupting the economy that's flooding us with plastic. BP has just admitted that plastic bans might curb demand growth, and it's also keeping an eye on vehicle electrification and its impact on future profits. Accelerating the adoption of both simultaneously seems like an excellent way to send Big Oil a message.