Friday, February 5, 2016
Going to School on Fish
I just read how a single Bluefin tuna recently fetched a hefty $104,700 price from a couple of Japanese sushi restauranteurs. It was a stunning number, working out to $370/pound, a record. But the real story is the rapid depletion of the Bluefin tuna from our oceans… and if you look carefully enough, at the overall reduction in sea creatures generally all over the world. In addition to NOAA’s (the government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s) announcement that 2015 was the hottest year on record, beyond the polluted “dead zones” surrounding so many coastal cities and the harsh reality of overfishing using mass-harvesting technologies that make commercial fishing so efficient, there is the impact of our proclivity to discard used plastics by the ton into our waterways and oceans.
So when 39-year-old Dame Ellen MacArthur addressed the late January assemblage of world leaders at Davos, Switzerland, she stunned the audience with research from her foundation showing how, by 2050, there will be more plastic waste in our oceans, by weight, than fish. Who is this woman? “On 7 February 2005 she broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe, a feat which gained her international renown… Following her retirement from professional sailing on 2 September 2010, MacArthur announced the launch of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity that works with business and education to accelerate the transition to a circular economy.” Wikipedia.
“According to [that] new Ellen MacArthur Foundation report [The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics] launched at the World Economic Forum on [January 19th], new plastics will consume 20% of all oil production within 35 years, up from an estimated 5% today… Plastics production has increased twentyfold since 1964, reaching 311m tonnes in 2014, the report says. It is expected to double again in the next 20 years and almost quadruple by 2050. Despite the growing demand, just 5% of plastics are recycled effectively, while 40% end up in landfill and a third in fragile ecosystems such as the world’s oceans.
“Much of the remainder is burned, generating energy, but causing more fossil fuels to be consumed in order to make new plastic bags, cups, tubs and consumer devices demanded by the economy.” The Guardian (U.K.), January 19th.
“An overwhelming 95 percent of plastic packaging worth $80-120 billion (73-110 billion euros) a year is lost to the economy after a single use, said a global study by a foundation fronted by yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur, which promotes recycling in the economy… The study, which drew on multiple sources, proposed setting up a new system to slash the leaking of plastics into nature, especially the oceans, and to find alternatives to crude oil and natural gas as the raw material of plastic production.
“At least eight million tonnes of plastics find their way into the ocean every year -- equal to one garbage truckful every minute, said the report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which included analysis by the McKinsey Centre for Business and Environment… Available research estimates that there are more than 150 million tonnes of plastics in the ocean today.” Yahoo.com, January 19th.
With ocean eddies and currents, we’ve noticed that a substantial portion of the garbage dumped into our oceans has formed massive patches of trash sitting idly in massive accumulations. The above map, prepared by NOAA, shows the location several of those floating garbage dumps in the Pacific Ocean.
Dianna Parker from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, on NOAA’s Website, notes: "The words 'garbage patch' accurately describes what it is, because these are patches of ocean that contain our garbage. But they're not areas where you can easily go through and skim trash off the surface. First of all, because they are tiny micro plastics that aren't easily removable from the ocean. But also just because of the size of this area. We did some quick calculations that if you tried to clean up less than one percent of the North Pacific Ocean it would take 67 ships one year to clean up that portion. And the bottom line is that until we prevent debris from entering the ocean at the source, it's just going to keep congregating in these areas. We could go out and clean it all up and then still have the same problem on our hands as long as there's debris entering the ocean."
This is our planet, source of food, water and the stuff of our society. And our planet is a mess. God isn’t coming down to fix it. Nature isn’t going to alter the laws of physics, biology and chemistry to accommodate a twisted vision of the environment where we get to prioritize industrial growth without regard to the consequences. These are our choices, as a society right down to the individual level. And so far, we’ve been making the wrong ones.
I’m Peter Dekom, and we do have choice, choice as to our individual consumption patterns and our political leaders; if we continue to make the wrong choices, we can kiss our growth assumptions goodbye in a world that will soon be consumed with dealing with a roiling series of mega-natural disasters.