From Coffee Cups to Climate Change, Do Local Efforts Really Matter?

Does climate action make a difference if not everyone is on board?

neil-farnworth/Flickr

It happened just before Thanksgiving, around the same time as the demise of that other indestructible American bounty, the Hostess Twinkie: the town of Brookline voted to ban the use of Styrofoam for takeout food containers and beverages.

The local TV news was all over it, revealing the cultural fissures of sustainability – interviewing customers outside Dunkin’ Donuts (but not Starbucks, which dispenses drinks in recycled paper cups). Most with steaming cups of coffee in hand scoffed – here goes the famously progressive community, trying to regulate our lives. Government, hands off our coffee cups!

The talk-radio jokes were easily anticipated. Maybe every resident should get a standard-issue re-usable cup. If you drive into Brookline from Boston with Styrofoam in the cup holder, could you be pulled over for carrying contraband? And what are you doing driving and not taking the T, anyway?

What could be next? Plastic grocery bags? Actually, yes. That topic is already being considered for another town meeting in the near future – though these days, forbidding disposable non-compostable sacks is hardly original. Many a supermarket shopper clambers out of a Prius with canvas tote bags already.

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The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Slate, and Wired.