Every other week, The Seattle Times runs the EcoConsumer column, written by King County employee Tom Watson, telling people how to be good environmental consumers. Ironically, however, some of the advice in that column is actually harmful to the environment.

For example, Watson is a proponent of using “food miles,” the distance the final food product travels to market, as a surrogate for environmental impact of food. Every serious study of that notion, however, shows it is simply false since the final transportation distance represents a tiny percentage of energy and resources involved in bringing food to market. In many cases, locally grown food uses more resources and energy than food grown where the soil and climate are more appropriate.

So, why would the self-proclaimed EcoConsumer advocate something that no serious expert supports? Because Watson’s columns are more about ideology than reality.

Watson’s taxpayer-funded blog is full of such ideology-inspired foolishness.

Take the two recent postings on “green” gift giving and product stewardship. Watson encourages his readers to take a “revolutionary” look at Christmas, encouraging them to “Occupy Christmas” whatever that means. He also offers support for AdBusters which is, in his words, the “anti-consumerism group founded by Kalle Lasn that was the spark-plug behind the Occupy Wall Street movement taking off this year.” Imagine for a moment a state agency sending out information encouraging the public to join the Tea Party.

He also addresses what he calls “product stupidship.” The concept has several elements,  but each is reflective of a mindset that sees business as legitimate only when blessed by the ideological whims of government bureaucrats.

In order the characteristics of “product stupidship” are when companies:

“Put profits ahead of people (ties in well with “Occupy Wall Street,” doesn’t it?).” Yes, it does tie in with Occupy Wall Street. But I’m not sure why my tax dollars should be subsidizing county employees’ personal desire to promote such a silly (not to mention consistently violent) movement.

The assumption appears to be that if a company abuses its employees and customers they will continue to work and shop there unless an enlightened government employee saves them from themselves.

On the other hand, would Tom Watson criticize government-run Seattle City Light which spends $35 million a year more than comparable, private power companies? Is Seattle City Light putting profits ahead of people? My guess is that he would say “that’s different.”

“Use chemicals that haven’t been thoroughly tested.” Of course the word “thoroughly” is subjective and greens like Watson advocate using the “precautionary principle” which argues that if there is any doubt, ban a substance. Even Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s Regulatory Czar, calls this “logically incoherent” because it ignores the cost of unintended consequences. Ultimately Watson advocates a standard that says if he doesn’t like it (for whatever reason), ban it.

“Refuse to provide recycling options for their products.” This from the agency that taxpayers fund to provide that very service. Is he advocating replacing the agency with a privatized version? My guess is that he wants companies to pay and wants taxpayers to continue to pay his salary.

“Sell products too cheaply because governments and taxpayers pay external costs, such as for disposal.” Disposal is not an external cost. When I throw trash away, I pay for it. When companies dispose of waste, they pay to do so. An external cost is a disposal cost they don’t pay for. The cost of trash is tangible and encourages companies and individuals to waste less. This is a simple concept that he does not grasp.

“Fight safety advocates who want to restrict the use of certain questionable ingredients, instead of working with them to make sure products are safe.” Put simply, if activists claim a product is unsafe, companies should not disagree, or demonstrate that the claims are false. They should simply do whatever the activists say. For examples, when activists claimed vaccines were unsafe, the companies that produce the vaccines should not have pointed out that Dr. Wakefield is a fraud and that his research was a hoax. They should simply assume he was correct and change the formula of vaccines, even if it is less effective and increases the health risks for children.

“Fight any type of government regulation (even something as innocuous as making it easier for people to opt out of junk mail) by saying it will result in job losses.” If regulation actually does kill jobs, elected officials and the public should not be told that. Providing that inconvenient evidence might prevent those with nice jobs in the regulatory agencies from doing what they want. To be honest, it is still a bit jarring to me to see those who call themselves public servants advocating censorship in a free society.

Ironically, Watson reassures us that “Believe it or not, I’m sympathetic to the business perspective,” but only when it follows his dictates.

Perhaps the most telling sentence is this one toward the end: “Governments are going to keep pushing for true product stewardship (not stupidship)…” In other words, Watson sees the government as its own entity, with an agenda of its own.

Watson needs to remember that the government does not have a separate agenda – it exists to allow individuals to make choices in their own lives. Government exists for the people, not the other way around. Until Watson and others in regulatory agencies understand that, they will continue to use our taxpayer dollars for their silly and counterproductive pet political agendas.


[photo credit: vasta]