3Ps: People, Plastic, Planet

As I sit here writing this post, I am surrounded by plastic.  The keys I tap are plastic.  The Auburn Tigers cup holding my drink, the clear sleeves clinging to my fridge, framing pictures of my puppies, the flimsy shopping bags stuffed into the cotton bag hanging from the doorknob, the dog bowls, the compost bin, the spoons and spatulas … all plastic, all within a five foot range.

Junk like this ends up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a humungous vortex of trash floating between Hawaii and California.   This tangle of detritus is twice the size of Texas, and growing.

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Map courtesy http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/encyclopedia/great-pacific-garbage-patch/?ar_a=1

What is plastic, anyway? It’s a durable, petroleum-based synthetic material used in place of glass, wood, and metals.  I started thinking about plastic and how it permeates every aspect of my life after hearing some feedback about my blog:  “It’s nice, but what’s the point?  What am I supposed to do?”  This is a question that I keep coming back to.  What are we supposed to do?  It depends, I suppose, on how we think about the future.  Now there’s a tangle.

The planet we inhabit has seen many changes.  Relatively speaking, humans are among the newcomers.  Before we mammals ruled the planet, it was the reptilians.  Something major some 65 million years ago, perhaps a giant meteor collision, knocked them aside, clearing the way for us to dominate.  Well, something major is occurring now.  Human civilization is dramatically affecting the earth’s biosphere.   The sixth major extinction is underway.  The ice core data shows that CO2 levels for over 600,000 years have hovered between 180 and 320 or so parts per million and that as CO2 levels rise, so too does temperature.  The CO2 hovering above us is now 395 ppm, and growing.

Everyone’s talking about sustainability:  sustainable agriculture, sustainable business practices … maybe it’s the concept not of sustainability but of durability that has me intrigued.  Plastic is durable stuff – it doesn’t biodegrade, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller bits.  These microplastics cannot be seen by the naked eye.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to be 7 million square miles.  Scientists have collected close to 2 million bits per square mile.  Some of the debris floats; much of the denser stuff sinks.  Microplastics accumulate, block the sun, and threaten the livelihood of the algae and plankton communities below.  These simple organisms are the foundation of the marine food web.

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Photo courtesy http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/09/photogalleries/pacific-garbage-patch-pictures/index.html

About that question that I keep coming back to … what are we supposed to do?  Democracy is a system where eligible citizens participate equally in political self-determination.  Unfortunately, our system of government is no longer democratic, because the citizens engaged are inherently unequal, with the notable example being the imbalance between individuals and corporations.  In addition, the talking heads at the top have locked horns in argument, a wasteful activity that hinders progress.  We have no time to waste.  Collaborative problem solving must replace endless debate.   This simple concept is the foundation of our future.

© Taryn Fisher 2013

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