California just passed a ban on plastic grocery bags. This is happening with relatively little dissent, because just about everybody understands the environmental issues associated with them.
But the irony is that plastic bags were originally seen as good for the environment. Can’t use paper bags… we need to save trees! That was obvious to everybody. So plastic bags and styrofoam containers replaced paper and cardboard throughout our lives. And we were happy: we knew we had done a noble thing.
Of course now we see a bigger picture. It does make you wonder what other “good ideas” that we all believe right now will turn out to be obvious mistakes in the long run. I think about this frequently in connection to the topic of sustainable agriculture. There is a new “conventional wisdom” emerging around local and organic foods, small scale farms and the like. And generally, I am very much in agreement with this thinking. But as an avid student of history, I know that at least one of these new tenets of faith is likely to prove embarrassingly wrong.
The only problem is that we don’t know which one.