The Plastic Ocean: A Cry For Help

I just finished reading “Plastic Ocean” by Capt. Charles Moore and Cassandra Phillips.  Hard to say much else but that this should be the “Silent Spring” of our generation.

Moore is a seaman who has become an oceanographer and environmentalist.  It was his voyages that focused attention on the huge amounts of pollution — mostly plastic — that are killing our oceans and depleting marine wildlife at a terrifying rate.  It is a well-researched, well-written and utterly scary book.

Moore notes that about 300,000 tons of plastics are produced every year, that two years’ production of plastics equals the weight of every man, woman and child on the planet, and the vast percentage of this plastic eventually ends up in the world’s seas, undegradable, killings species by the score, and much of it ending up in our food chain..

“Now, anthropogenic debris – man-made trash, 80 to 90 percent of it plastic – has broken the pristine perfection that is the ocean’s essence. It’s become her most common surface feature. Now, depending on where you are in the ocean, you’ll see dozens of balloons, buoys, and bottles bobbing by before ever catching sight of a leaping tuna. Trash has superseded the natural ocean sights, stamping a permanent plastic footprint on the ocean’s surface.” (p.70)

“I call plastic ‘the solid phase of petroleum,’ and think of it as polluting like an incredibly dispersed oil spill that lasts centuries and mimics food while sponging up toxics.” (p.328-9)

This plastic trash is affecting eveything negatively, from the smallest phyto-plankton, up to the apex predators of whales, albatrosses and human beings.  While the unpleasantness of the pollution, combined with plastics ability to mimic genuine food sources for marine life, is awful enough.  There is growing evidence that plastics, originally thought to be inert, immersed in seawater eventually breakdown to the their fundamental elements, thus spreading the danger to us and our children. And many of these elements are unknown, hidden behind trade protections and “trade secrets” laws.

On the same day that I finished “Plastic Ocean“, I read a PR piece by the recently retired former head of the British Plastics Federation, Peter Davis, who claimed that his biggest concern was the fact that “our national media prefer scare stories to the authoratitive views of bodies such as” the British Plasrics Federation.  The headline for the story was “Attacks on plastic products not supported by scientific fact.” Having just read 350 pages full of anti-plastic scientific facts, we know that Davis is dangerously wrong; and Moore explains why:

“The idea that we are bound to the current wasteful system because there can realistically be no other is to accept failure at the start of the game. Technology is poised to deliver sustainability but is corrupted by forces directing it toward the fulfillment of ‘special’ – ‘very special’ – interests that view humanity only as customers.” (p.317-318)

This is such an important topic, and one that will require enormous efforts to defeat the greed-driven corporations who are daily poisoning us and our planet.  Moore notes:

“The tipping point may still be distant, but a consumer groundswell against plastics is the most potent weapon in the change agent’s arsenal. In my decade and a half in the trenches, I’ve seen tremendous growth in awareness. But awareness must become resistance – even rebellion – if the status quo is to be changed.” (p.314)

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