It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I'm Not Surprised


It's not surprising that they wanted to stop giving those bags out, but perhaps they should have tried a lighter weight bag first.

11 comments:

King of the Road said...

Funny. I assume they mean pounds. That would make a bag a trifle under an ounce which seems pretty reasonable.

You HAD to know that this would be KOTR-bait.

David B. Benson said...

No bag is lighter than any bag.

Michael Tobis said...

Well maybe. But the interesting point is that all you have to do is say the word "million" to shut down people's capacity to think.

If I said I saved 1.6 tons for every 28 bags you would not take me seriously. But if I claim to save 1.6 million tons for every 28 million bags, people will nod sagely and support my initiative.

skanky said...

OT but related to an entry in your shared items. You may have seen this already:

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/pete.meg/wcc/facility-of-the-month/site-map.htm#DATE

I especially like the Coventry Velodrome.

chek said...

MT said: "But the interesting point is that all you have to do is say the word "million" to shut down people's capacity to think".

... although these days, for proper drooling, open-mouthed gullibility "untold trillions" is the more dramatic and commonly used contender (in certain circles).

Chuck said...

The story is told of Noah Webster. His wife caught him in a compromising position with the chambermaid. "Why Noah!" she cried, "I am surprised!"

"No, my dear," said the great lexicographer, disentangling himself, "I am surprised. You are astonished."

dhogaza said...

"If I said I saved 1.6 tons for every 28 bags you would not take me seriously. But if I claim to save 1.6 million tons for every 28 million bags, people will nod sagely and support my initiative."

I dunno, it gives one an idea of the number of bags a grocery chain goes through in three years. The obvious tons vs pounds typo strikes me as being just that.

You see similar reasoning regarding things like water leaks. A drip from a faucet contains about 1/4 mL of water, it's trivial. Three faucets dripping once a second adds up to about 17 gallons a day! Typical consumption by household through intentional use of indoor faucets ... about 11 gallons a day.

Those insignificat drops add up ... so do individual grocery bags.

Michael Tobis said...

If you are saying three orders of magnitude doesn't matter I have to disagree.

We need to put our efforts where they matter. People thinking they have done a good deed when they turn their car around and go twenty blocks out of their way to go get their canvas bags are very much a case in point. People thinking they have done a good thing when they exert social pressure to do just that, or to buy extra canvas bags when extra paper bags would do, even more so.

dhogaza said...

"If you are saying three orders of magnitude doesn't matter I have to disagree."

No, I'm not saying it doesn't matter, I'm saying people make boo-boos all the time.

Even you.

One could try the experiment of pointing out their error and seeing how they respond, for instance. That might help determine whether or not they're intentionally being dishonest, as you seem to believe, or whether some advertising copywriter unintentionally screwed up.

What's that old saying about malice vs. ignorance?

King of the Road said...

@dhogaza

I'd bet my own personal money that it's a mistake. I have a bit of a hobby of collecting such mistakes on my little blog. In fact, in one of Michael's shared items (Smil, Energy,...) we find "Globally we currently use about 13 terawatts (trillion watts) of energy per second of each day worldwide." Wow, that's a very high rate of acceleration of the conversion of joules.

Malice vs. ignorance, indeed.

Michael Tobis said...

Of course it isn't deliberate.

Understanding failure modes is important. It is interesting that this would make it into print, given that to some people it's transparently wrong.

My point isn't about canvas vs paper, though there is definitely an argument to be made there. Paper is often reused, cheap cloth often discarded and not recyclable. It seems a very marginal choice to me, even though there is a green consensus.

My point is about people's incapacity to think in large numbers that is so severe that they don't easily divide both sides of a relation like that by a million. I mean, I was saying "no" without any detectable lag from reading the sentence. I think I am an outlier in this way, and I think that is unfortunate. You don't need to accept my philosophy or religion, but I think you ought to be able to see that 28 million bags don't weigh 1.6 million tons without putting any conscious effort into it.

It;s almost as if a "million" was to great of a common factor to filter out. This is why the debates on the budget can so easily be misfocused on minutiae like public radio.

The same can be said about sustainability: if we don't know how to think in trillions in plain simple arithmetic we can't really talk about real problems and real solutions. Somehow (oddly, to the direct benefit of the grocery) we end up obsessing over grocery bags and not over how we got our groceries home, a far bigger issue.