How to solve the problem? - Used under Creative Commons License

The Environment Secretary is to consider the banning of plastic straws. Pubs and so on will be forced to use paper ones instead. Apparently it is better to kill trees these days than to use inanimate feedstocks like oil and gas – things the environmentalists tell us we’ve too much of already.

However, this is to fail Chesterton’s Fence – for why do we use plastic straws in the first place? This isn’t something we know ourselves but given that people do use them we’re really very certain that there is a rational reason for their use. Until we know what that is, and whether it still applies, we should not be going around banning things.

Chesterton’s Fence comes from the late, great, GK of course. The point being that if you’re out and about and come across a fence then before you try to decide whether to get rid of the fence or not you’ve got to understand why? Why didn’t someone put the fence there, why a fence at all? Only once you’ve understood the original reason can you consider whether it’s still a valid one for the fence’s existence.

So, why do people use plastic straws? As above, we don’t know. We can postulate but we’ve no evidence. Perhaps they’re cheaper than paper ones? Meaning that banning them makes all drinkers poorer? Perhaps there’s less energy usage, fewer CO2 emissions? The point though isn’t that we know, but that we’re certain that the Environment Secretary doesn’t either. That it hasn’t even crossed the politician’s mind to find out either. And yet that is the important thing to be doing.

There really is some reason that people use plastic straws. Until we work out what it is, then whether it’s still a valid one, we cannot go about banning their use. For doing that is not just to fail Chesterton’s Fence it’s ignorant.