In praise of Mark Gold

Posted on | September 3, 2010 | 9 Comments

Few of us come so near greatness as to be crushed by a defeat. This week, after 22 years with Heal the Bay, the man synonymous in Los Angeles with the health of our ocean and beaches was crushed. Moreover, he was flattened while the nation was watching. Until the wee hours of August 31st, it seemed as if Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay, had led California, and hence the country, in a ban of the single-use plastic bags handed out in stores. Then the state senate rejected the ban, 21-14.

On the morning of September 1st, as news organizations reported how plastics industry lobbyists stopped the first bag ban in the nation, Gold’s blog “Spouting Off” was surprisingly empty. Over at Heal the Bay, the Action Alert asking Californians to call their senators to support AB 1998 still sat on the website.

Where was Mark? Aside from taking calls from reporters such as Steve Lopez, he was penning what eventually did come up on Spouting Off, “State Senate: Industry Bagmen,” a response whose coolest moment may have been the suggestion that we send Senators Aanestad, Ashburn, Calderon, Codgill, Correa, Denham, Ducheny, Dutton, Emerson, Florez, Harman, Hollingsworth, Huff, Negrete McLeod, Price, Romero, Runner, Walters, Wolk, Wright and Wyland our plastic bags.

A politician might have held fire, but Mark is an ecologist with a doctorate in environmental science who believes that the ever-mounting menace of marine debris is perhaps the one straightforward issue that every Californian, even state senators, should be able to understand. That is a reasonable belief and his defeat leaves California in a sordid light. As disgraced former assemblyman Fabian Núñez entered lobbying hard for the plastics industry, it became as simple and dark a story as the father of a murderer beat down the initiative of the son of a probation officer.

Mark’s defeat was a defeat for every Californian who goes to the beach, who cares about the Pacific, or who benefits from tax dollars of the millions to come to our state because of its spectacular coastline. (Note to Aanestad through Wyland, they don’t come looking for dead seals beached in a tangle of plastic.)

While in the woulda, coulda and shoulda department, Mark’s campaign might have benefited from fewer movie stars and more grocers who saw the sense in what he was saying and supported his bill, AB 1998 still should have passed. Mark still should have been carried off on the arms of Rosario Dawson and Amy Smart and run through many chic and fabulous places. As for those who suggest that Heal the Bay is somehow too Santa Monica, too glamorous, answer this: Who exactly needs clean beaches the most? Working class Californians who can’t afford to go elsewhere, or movie stars?

Before suggesting that Heal the Bay is somehow Warner Bros. by the beach, cynics who play the race or class card should try keeping up with Mark Gold as he hashes over the gritty on Total Maximum Daily Loads of pollutants that enter our storm drains, or goes head to head against utilities over power plant cooling systems. None of that is on the menu at Spago.

Mark Gold didn’t fail. California failed Mark and its own best interests. AB 1998 failed because we Californians failed to sufficiently impress on our senators that they had to pass it or they were fired. This fight isn’t over and when it is won, it will be a victory for all of us, not least Mark Gold.


9 Responses to “In praise of Mark Gold”

  1. Jessica Hall
    September 3rd, 2010 @ 9:46 am

    Forget not – a few tons of rank plastic bags can be acquired from any inland river near you – and also forwarded (wouldn’t COD be fun?) to the American Chemistry Council.

    Mark’s and Heal the Bay’s hard work has helped LA. Thanks for this post.

  2. EmilyGreen
    September 3rd, 2010 @ 10:06 am

    To those who wish to follow up on Jessica’s excellent suggestion:

    American Chemistry Council (ACC)

    1300 Wilson Blvd.
    Arlington, VA 22209 [directions]
    Phone: (703) 741-5000
    Fax: (703) 741-6050

  3. Judith Lewis
    September 3rd, 2010 @ 10:28 am

    I like that idea. When do we start collecting?

    Beautiful piece Emily.

  4. Jessica Hall
    September 3rd, 2010 @ 10:54 am

    coastal cleanup day is around the corner!

  5. Brent
    September 3rd, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

    Bad on me. The policy change to ban plastic bags seemed so obvious and simple that I (and many others) probably didn’t give it enough attention.

  6. Martha
    September 3rd, 2010 @ 2:59 pm

    The death of the bag ban and the ban on BPA in baby bottles despite wide spread support from many sectors including low income communities and communities of color really speaks to the lack of accountability on the part of many so called moderate democrats.

  7. LisaNewton
    September 3rd, 2010 @ 4:10 pm

    When I read the ban had failed, I couldn’t believe it. Just as Brent expressed, the ban seemed like a no brainer.

    Personally, I will continue to use my reusable bags, and hope that everyone else follows suit. I don’t need a law to know what’s good for me and my environment.

  8. Louana George
    September 3rd, 2010 @ 4:34 pm

    If you send you plastic bags back to them, they will probably just dump them in the trash–love the sentiment, but bad idea. Better–be the example, grassroots in terms of educating your friends and neighbors (I know, they forget to bring their reusables), and persistence–all of us, not just in CA, can show how to be environmental stewards by our deeds. Remember, shopping bags are not the only bulk plastic bags that are single use and clogging our waterways—single use plastic produce bags are every bit as bad. I flaunt my reusables and should we all.

  9. Melina Watts
    September 6th, 2010 @ 11:20 am

    Just as those in favor of equal marriage rights did not give up after the Prop 8 debacle, the proponents of a plastic bag ban should not give up. Individual cities have won this war (i.e. City of Malibu). We should look at city, county, state and, yes, federal bans on plastic bags. Why stop at California?

    Systemic change takes leadership and group support. We are closer than we know to success. Congratulations Mark Gold on having brought the issue to the attention of the State oF California. Thank you Emily Green for the fantastic article.

    Next time you do this, you will win.

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