Water is one of the most vital links to human life and existence. This slidecast will
attempt to answer some hard hitting questions about what people are willing to do
with polluted water that resides far out of sight in an Ocean of undrinkable sea
water. What does it take for humanity to act on environmental problems?
The purposeof this journey is to prove that in the case of environmental issues
humans are not concerned until we realize the effect on human life. This will be
proven through the case of the plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean. Not all
garbage ends up at the dump on land. Rivers, sewers and beaches do not catch
everything that the rain washes away. It is important to realize that currently the
Earth's largest landfill is not even on land. This is a story, a story of epic
proportion, a contemporary story which has just come into our relatively recent
knowledge. For the last six decades or so plastic waste has been washed out to sea
without anyone really knowing where it was. Until recently humans went on with
their everyday life with out so much as questioning where the waste was going.
This slidecast will shed light on humanity’s lack of concern for environmental
issues, until we realize its effects on us.
This story begins with the throwawayculture: People relying on plastic and
throwing it away
Following World War Two factories turned from focusing on defense
manufacturing to leisure and lifestyle goods forthe people. California was a
particular hot spotfor new products that represented the new fast paced lifestyle of
the California family. Plastic was a cheap, durable, expendable productthat made
its’ way into all aspects of life. From children’s toys like hula hoops and Barbies to
household appliances and plastic shopping bags; the culture shifted from the
prewar conservationism to a new found luxury of consumerism. Plastics were
popping up everywhere without any acknowledgement for where these dispensable
items would end up.
People not caring:
The Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch is far out of sight and out of mind. No one went
out searching for the unclaimed garbage because it simply seemed to have no
effect on humanity. As early as the 1950’s people speculated a patch of garbage
collecting somewhere in the world’s oceans but no affects were felt so nothing was
done. The water so far from home was not crucial for human existence because no
one needed salt water. The world is covered in salt water and the pollution miles
away from any humanity did not get any attention.
In 1997 everything changed, our story now leads us to the accidental discovery of
the Garbage Patch by Captain Charles Moore. The discovery of the huge plastic
dump was a result of a yacht race. Moore was in the race over 1000 miles from
shore when he began to sail through the thick plastic waste. The discovery kicked
Moore into action as he began to quantify what exactly he had found so far from
any civilization. Moore’s first reaction was to try and measure the amount of
plastic waste. “Trashed -Across the Pacific Ocean, Plastics, Plastics, Everywhere”
from a Natural History article was written by Moore to describehis first
discovery. In it Moore describes his first instinct to quantify the large amount of
debris through estimation. He quickly calculated that the debris was half a pound
in every hundred square meters of surface water. Then he multiplied the circular
area defined by their thousand-mile course through the gyre. He figured that the
weight of the debris was about three million tons and based off this original rough
quantification he knew he had to test his theories further.
Discovery itself plays a crucial role in acting on an environmental issue. The
problem however faced by Moore was that people did somewhat listen to the
stories he told but not really becomeconcerned or act because they could not
actually see the patch themselves or really feel any effects on their own lives. This
proves that discovery is not enough to make people act or push environmental
problems into any stage of policy. Moore quickly realized upon the discovery that
the patch of garbage was not located in anyone’s backyard but in a remote location
far from any human concern. The problem that remained also was ownership of the
waste, which was located in international waters. Who was responsible? Who’s
duty was it to care? And why should anyone care?
Why is it a problem?
It is now a good point to give a brief overview of why plastic is particularly a bad
pollutant to find in the Pacific waters. Besides the fact that there was so much
plastic found another issue was the fact that plastic does not biodegrade. There is
no natural process onearth that can ever break plastic down. To humans plastic’s
durability has been a reason to attract us to the product, however to nature it can be
seen as one of the most choking creation by man. Rather then biodegrade plastic
photodegrades, meaning that plastic fragments into smaller and smaller pieces
without ever breaking into simpler compounds. Theplastic it breaks down and
releases large amounts of toxic substances into the water. What ever could have
originally been stored in the plastic like DDT, PCBs, other oils and pollutants, is
also released into the water as the plastic breaks down. Anyone for some wild
Pacific Salmon? Even on a molecular level the plastic still exists, which meant in
the first stages of discovery the appearance of a plastic dump across the ocean was
even worse then the naked eye could see or measure. Greenpeace has stated that
“One sodabottle can break down in enough small particles to leave one on every
beach in the world”
Effects on Animals:
The first obvious step in quantifying the plastic pollution was to see its’ effects on
the creatures that did live within the patch. The two main animals affected were
obviously fish and sea-life and seabirds. The tiny plastic particles entered their
bodies just by being in the water. The particles along with bigger plastic waste
ended up poisoning many sea-birds and marine life or creating deadly blockages in
their throats and stomachs. Green peace estimates that a million sea birds a year die
form ingesting plastics. As a rule not many people knew about the garbage patch
upon its’ first years of discovery because it took many years of research to quantify
what exactly was occurring and what the effects of the mass plastic pollution was.
It is notable to realize that it has just been in very recent years that the public has
even become actually aware of the garbage patch and the research being done
How much plastic is out there?
The United Nations Environment Program estimated in 2006 that every square
mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic [source: UN Environment
Program]. In certain areas, the amount of plastic outweighs the amount of plankton
by a ratio of six to one. Of the more than 200 billion pounds of plastic the world
produces each year, about 10 percent ends up in the ocean [source: Greenpeace].
If so much plastic has found its way into the ocean wouldn’t you think that we as
humans of the earth would have known about this problem sooneror acted upon it?
The acceptanceand realization of plastic pollution on a molecular level seemed to
be a huge factor in getting more attention paid to the issue. The confirmation
through quantifying the plastic particles led to the reality that the plastic pollution
was not just a far away issue that was stagnating in some far away waters. Particles
of pollution flowed across the oceans onto land. The discovery of the wide spread
effects of the pollution was one of the worst discoveries but bestchance for the
problem to reach human acknowledgement. Knowledge that dead marine life was
washing to shore with plastic waste is a highly unfavorable effect on human life.
The garbage patches present numerous hazards to marine life which means the
hazard also effects fishing and tourism (especially on beaches with washed up
Plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean is a poster child for a worldwide problem:
plastic that begins in human hands yet ends up in the ocean, often inside animals'
stomachs or around their necks and then gets attention for how it affects humanity
in the end. The problem has just recently made a splash in media becausescientists
such as those hired by the EPA are linking this far away problem closer to home.
The main problem is that plastic has entered the food chain and humans have
began to take notice of this because we rest at the top of the chain. The plastic
never goes away but is getting into our food chain and onto our beaches and in the
end the reason that people are now becoming aware of the problem is because it
has been linked backed to our well-being.
A contemporary statement aimed to educated people about the Garbage
Patch can be seen in Jacob Silverman’s statement, “Besides killing wildlife, plastic
and other debris damage boat and submarine equipment, litter beaches, discourage
swimming and harm commercial and local fisheries. The problem of plastic and
other accumulated trash affects beaches and oceans all over the world, including at
both poles.” It is clear to see that human effects seem to outweigh the
environmental effects and therefore as of human consequences we start to pay
attention. The plastic pollution problem of the Pacific Ocean acts as an effective
example of what gets attention. People are more inclined to act when their own
livelihood and well-being is involved and wide attention only seems to be given
after we can find a link between humanity and the issue on hand.
In the end today we have heard in the news and seen in the papers human reactions
and actions beginning to try and take controlover the plastic pollution. It is clear to
see that humans only really began to concern themselves with the issue and finding
solutions once we have linked it back to our own survival. When the plastic was
first discovered and measured as being far away in large pieces of trash we did not
listen. When plastic got into animals we began to ask ourselves what this would
mean for us. Finally when quantification led us to discoverthat plastics was
breaking down into a molecular level we listened to how it could harm us. If
anything we should learn from history and listen much longer before we act only
on concern for ourselves.