5.5 per year in the county of San Francisco.
Plus a large increase in the number of ER visits.
That is the statistical conclusion from the Grocery Bag Bans and Foodborne Illness study by Professors Klick and Wright. You can download the study for yourself at the link in the previous sentence.
(Why is this post here instead of one of my other blogs since it is a bit off-topic from the focus here? Two reasons. First, my unintended consequence discussion is on this blog. Second, this illustrates the concept of unintended consequence which has huge implications for the missions community.)
In his article The Disgusting Consequence of Plastic-Bag Bans, Ramesh Ponnuru summarizes the study as follows:
Jonathan Klick and Joshua Wright, who are law professors at the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University, respectively, have done a more recent study on the public-health impact of plastic-bag bans. They find that emergency-room admissions related to E. coli infections increased in San Francisco after the ban. (Nearby counties did not show this increase.) And this effect showed up as soon as the ban was implemented. (“There is a clear discontinuity at the time of adoption.”) The San Francisco ban was also associated with increases in salmonella and other bacterial infections. Similar effects were found in other California towns that adopted such laws.
Check out just a few of the comments in the study. This is from their conclusion:
We examine deaths and emergency room admissions related to these bacteria in the wake of the San Francisco ban. We find that both deaths and ER visits spiked as soon as the ban went into effect. Relative to other counties, deaths in San Francisco increase by almost 50 percent, and ER visits increase by a comparable amount.
Here is more explanation of the fatalities:
We find that the San Francisco County ban is associated with a 46 percent increase in deaths from foodborne illnesses. This implies an increase of 5.5 annual deaths for the county.
They compared the illness and fatalities before & after the ban and looked at neighboring counties to support their conclusion.
If you are an accountant or statistician, you will love reading the study. Everyone else? Be forewarned it’s complex.
In this comment, the look at the tradeoff in birds and animals saved by the ban with the human fatalities caused by the ban:
A precise valuation of the environmental benefits is hard to come by. However, many advocacy groups suggest that plastic refuse (from all sources, not just bags)7 kills 1 million birds and 100,000 other aquatic animals annually. A conservative estimate is that global plastic bag use is at least 500 billion bags annually, of which 180 million were used in San Francisco prior to the ban.8 If we assume that a jurisdiction’s “share” of animal deaths is proportionate to bag use, and we ignore all other sources of plastic, this suggests that San Francisco’s annual contribution to animal deaths is on the order of 400 birds and marine animals. This implies a break even valuation of each animal of about $87,500.
If you read that carefully, you will find some major assumptions that overstate the number of bird deaths caused by plastic bags which would make the human death tradeoff worse.
Let me summarize that comment for you:
- Estimated 400 birds and animals survive – breaking that down shows 360 birds and 40 animals.
- Estimated increase of 5.5 human fatalities
- One human life is equal to 65 birds and 7 animals.
- That does not include the increased ER visits and associated medical costs. If those factors were included the tradeoff would be much less than 65 birds for one human.
The professors and other economists can explain to you that is a poor cost-benefit tradeoff. As an accountant, I understand their explanation.
Let me put that in a little more emotional terms. Five people are dying in San Francisco county every year and others are getting extremely sick so some birds survive.
Could someone explain to me the morality of giving up one human life in return for 40 or 50 or 60 birds?