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OPINION | Green policies backfire in a pandemic

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WE really knew there was a crisis when San Francisco, which 13 years ago banned single-use plastic bags in grocery stores, would now prohibit reusable bags as part of its effort to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus.


Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, as well as parts of Washington state, have also reversed their bans. Maine and New York have suspended implementation, which was to start April 22 and March 1, respectively. Starbucks similarly stopped filling customers’ reusable cups.
Plastic-bag bans aren’t the only “green” policy that has been found wanting in the real world of a pandemic. For decades environmentalists have hectored us to get out of our cars and crowd into subways and buses. “From Amsterdam to Tempe, Arizona, more and more cities are finding that eliminating cars from their streets makes people happier and healthier,” Fast Company reported in January, noting with satisfaction that in one Helsinki neighborhood, “none of the new apartments come with parking.”
You can’t have a car-free community without high-density housing, so environmentalists have promoted apartment living and a war on suburban “sprawl.” But now those living in dense apartment buildings risk their lives by walking out the door into common spaces and shared surfaces, even before they reach the crowded, densely populated streets below. Suburban families, by contrast, are often able to maintain community connections even while socially distancing and are more likely to have additional room for their children to roam while out of school.
If coronavirus winds up being seasonal like the flu, it could even turn out that global warming has health benefits. Environmentalists talk a lot about “externalities,” the unintended consequences of economic decisions. The pandemic is a reminder that policy decisions have externalities too.
Mr. McAleer and Ms. McElhinney host the podcast “The Ann & Phelim Scoop.”

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