Ying, yang, and disproportionate effects

24 10 2014

I just got back from a business trip to Las Vegas. Almost a week.

I hate that place.

It oozes excess and waste and pointlessness.

Arriving home this afternoon, I underlined my hypocrisy by getting onto the internet, burning up a few watts of electricity and seeing what vital bits of trivial nonsense I’d missed whilst I was away. Almost immediately I depressed myself by watching a documentary online about the great Pacific Gyre. A huge area of the northern Pacific where the currents conspire to trap and concentrate pretty much anything that floats. Historically this was mainly organic waste, and so it became a great feasting place for animals. and the animals that ate those animals. Now though… it traps plastic. The wave action and UV from the sun break down that plastic into ever smaller pieces. This is NOT a good thing. All that happens is that the pieces of plastic eventually get to a size where ever smaller animals can eat them. Even larger pieces such as plastic carrier bags are consumed. They look surprisingly like jellyfish, and get eaten by relatively large predators. But the tiny pieces of “microplastic” can be eaten by the smallest of fish. It’s depressing.

Even people who don’t consider themselves polluters are culpable. We consume. We might not directly throw plastic into the sea, but we consume any number of things wrapped in plastic. Only a fraction of that plastic is recycled. In my entire stay in Vegas (a city built on vacuous consumption) I didn’t encounter a single opportunity to recycle plastic or aluminium drinks containers. Of the non-recycled plastic, some “escapes” during transport to the waste tips. I was surprised how much of the ocean pollution was of plastic pellets – “virgin” plastic. It hadn’t even made it into a consumer product before it became pollution! Lost freight off a transport ship perhaps.

Thoroughly depressed, I was consoled by this short film. Despite the huge onslaught that the human race makes against our shared home, this gentle Indian man shows how the efforts of just one of us can help reverse some of that damage. In this case, soil erosion due to deforestation. One man. A labour of love over 35 years. A huge impact. So what if we did one small positive act? As small but as frequent as the many daily negative acts.