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Hullabaloo


Sunday, April 22, 2018

 

On Earth Day, just one word

by Tom Sullivan

Besides alarming data about the rapidity of melting in Greenland and Antarctica, and the disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic, Vox has a rundown of some significant environmental stories, both hopeful and not, you may have missed since last year. But Vox begins with a problem thought larger now than a year ago.

Punctuating the moment is the dead sperm whale that washed ashore in southern Spain last week with 64 pounds of garbage in its stomach. Most of it plastic, but also rope, netting and other junk.

Vox explains:

The plastic crisis is a truly global one, and the numbers are staggering: A 2015 study found that between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic makes it into the ocean from land each year. By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight.

Since plastic is synthetic, there are few natural processes that break it down, allowing bags, straws, and packaging to linger for decades if not centuries. And we’re not very good at containing it to landfills. About 32 percent of plastics make out into nature, where it often end up in the bellies of fish, birds, and whales. And, as it turns out, potentially in our stomachs too.
The New Republic adds:
This threat demands the type of aggressive action that only certain groups and countries are taking. After the dead sperm whale was discovered in Spain, the government launched a widespread awareness and cleanup campaign. Canada is using its presidency of the G-7 this year to push for international action on plastic pollution. In America, nearly 2,000 restaurants and organizations have banned straws or implemented a straws-only-upon-request policy, according to a July report in The Washington Post.
Cleanup will take more than banning plastic straws, staff writer Emily Atkin found at a pre-screening of the final episode of BBC’s Blue Planet II. It's focus was not about damage to undersea life:
It was about the vast damage humans are doing to the ocean. In one scene, a scientist comes upon the bloody carcass of an Albatross chick whose stomach was punctured by a toothpick. “Something as small as that has managed to kill the bird,” she said. “It’s really sad to see.” Later, the episode documented the story of a baby dolphin, discovered dead after drinking her own mother’s milk. Her milk, researchers found, was contaminated with microplastics.

Four years ago, the Guardian called microplastics "the biggest environmental problem you've never heard of." Mary Catherine O'Connor, co-founder of Climate Confidential, wrote:

Ecologist Mark Browne knew he’d found something big when, after months of tediously examining sediment along shorelines around the world, he noticed something no one had predicted: fibers. Everywhere. They were tiny and synthetic and he was finding them in the greatest concentration near sewage outflows. In other words, they were coming from us.

In fact, 85% of the human-made material found on the shoreline were microfibers, and matched the types of material, such as nylon and acrylic, used in clothing.

It is not news that microplastic – which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines as plastic fragments 5mm or smaller – is ubiquitous in all five major ocean gyres. And numerous studies have shown that small organisms readily ingest microplastics, introducing toxic pollutants to the food chain.
They also find their way into drinking water. Browne laundered a polyester fleece jacket through the wash and filtered 1,900 fibers from the wastewater (this writer types, looking over at the one hanging on the back of the door). In 2015, Patagonia commissioned a study:
The study, performed by graduate students at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that during laundering, a single fleece jacket sheds as many as 250,000 synthetic fibers—significantly more than the 1,900 fibers Browne first recorded. Based on an estimate of consumers across the world laundering 100,000 Patagonia jackets each year, the amount of fibers being released into public waterways is equivalent to the amount of plastic in up to 11,900 grocery bags.
Keeping us all living in the style to which we have become accustomed is seriously fouling the only habitable planet we have. Vox reports that researchers have discovered a batch of seven Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone of dwarf star Trappist-1. MEarth Project found another Earth-like planet, LHS1140b, orbiting a nearby star a fifth the size of our own. But, "Trappist-1 is 40 light-years (12 parsecs) away from us. LHS1140b is also about 40 light years off. It would take eons to get there." So let's not foul the planet we have in the hand for one somewhere in the cosmic bush. Humans might need it a few years longer. The wildlife, longer still.

Google's Earth Day 2018 doodle is a video featuring a well-regarded fan of wildlife, ethologist, conservationist, and activist, Jane Goodall:

"Every single individual matters. Every single individual makes some impact on the planet every single day," Goodall believes. "And we have a choice as to what kind of difference we are going to make."

We don't have an alternative planet, but we do have a few alternatives right here, including alternatives this November to the people currently misleading us.

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For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.