Friday, November 02, 2012

Stay Glued To Your TV Set

Morning maties. Well today Mr.Sheephouse has depressed the hell out of me.
It's been a long time since we been there, but he says there's trouble afoot in the Doldrums and not even anything can be done about it. This makes me sad, because many's the time we scooted the Goode Shippe FB up into the becalmed waters to lay out a sea anchor and drift with the currents.
But no more.
Some stupid bastarding Cap'n has been emptying his bilge there and the water's gone bad.
Not only gone bad, but gone unusable. At least you can boil bad water. But this new stuff isn't just water - it's mixed with a new sort of bilge and there's no escaping it.
Why? Where's the sense in it?
Me old shipmate Berty McGurty had an adage that I still carries with me:
"Don't shit where you eat."
Common sense really, but there's precious little of it when it comes to the world.
It makes me powerful angry.
There's no thought from some folk.
Neptune rot 'em.


Sorry folks but this week's FB is not at all photographic again. Normal service will be resumed soon, but to be honest I just haven't felt like writing about photography, hence this weeks little diatribe. I suppose that is the nature of blogging really. You can write whatever you like and there is no set agenda, but please be aware that unless you are of sound heart and mind, this FB is going to fill you with despair.
Because what has been actioned can never now be returned to it's original state.
It is a problem so vast that everyone (and by everyone I mean the Governments of the World) tries to ignore it.
There are a lot of concerned individuals out there, but like a lone voice calling for calm at a Nazi rally, there is no one listening. (Even the WWF are simply not addressing it in the way they could - honest, as a supporter I have written to them about it but never received replies.)
But what I am going to tell you about (though surely you must have heard of it) is like a hungry bear outside a Honey Factory. It isn't going to go away. It isn't even going to bother hiding around the corner. Sooner or later when it gets hungry enough it is going to beat down the factory gates and enter and there will be nowhere to hide.
The story starts simply:
Once upon a time someone on a ship carelessly chucked a piece of rubbish overboard.
It can also start with:
Once upon a time someone, somewhere, on a lost highway, threw a piece of packaging out of a window, and the wind and a river took it on a great journey to the sea.
Nothing new in that, the ocean has been the depository for mankind's detritus for centuries, but this wasn't rope or wood or glass, this was plastic.
This little piece of plastic was joined by other debris from everywhere, carried by wind and water and keel and foot: bottles and tyres, floats and fishing nylon, cellophane and wrapping, carrier bags, more bottles, syringes, grommets, washers, bottle caps, bags, beads, toothbrushes, fishing nets, lighters, bags, junk food cartons, more bottles, gloves, toys, shoes, bracelets, razors, condoms, wrappers, bags, polystyrene food cartons, plastic nurdles *, more bottles and larger items too: synthetic rope and plastic barrels, panelling and lost life preservers. Lists of items so vast that even the namer of names in Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea books (Kurremkarmerruk, in case you were wondering) would be hard pressed to keep a count of a tenth of them.
And the sea gathered this mass and moved it and circuited it and worked its magic the way it has always done and the way it will always do: softening them with wave action. And the plastic, responding to this coarse and gentle wooing, did as anything will do; it started to break down, slowly and with time.
Strong UV enbrittled it, so it became less pliable and resilient.
Storms crashed through and with it.
Surges smashed and crushed and weathered and continued the breaking process.
The larger chunks becoming smaller and smaller and smaller still.
The smallest pieces were scooped up by hungry birds, by hungry fish; by whales and turtles and all creatures of the waves.
The pieces that escaped this hungry attack became smaller still so that now they were tiny, and then, through time, tinier still, eventually becoming like plankton.
The source of all life.
Except plankton is a biodegradable organic material.
It is food and fertilizer.
It gives life.
But this was plastic plankton. Man made. Nature-formed.
Plastic plankton that is even now, at this tiny size, becoming ground and pummelled and stressed.
Like stars.
Like sand.
Like atoms.
Until it can become no more.

The obvious face of sea-borne pollution.
Sadly it is mostly nothing like this

And when it can become no more, it settles in vast clouds, like a never-ending drift of silt.
But not real silt, the stuff of stone and sand and mud. This silt has the names of the great plastics manufacturers of the world embedded in its DNA. It is the stuff of bottles and garbage and packaging gathering in the great currents of the world, generated in such mass that you could fill an ocean with it.
And we will continue to make this wunderkind material until the last drop of oil is gone. But then what?
What happens to this layer of plastic silt?
Does it affect all life?
Is there, as I believe will happen, a great big plastic full stop placed on marine life because they cannot separate miniscule plastic from real food, and stomachs and beaks, gills and maws become blocked and unable to function, and the creatures die? And die not just in ones and twos, but in vast uncountable numbers.
And when life in the oceans dies what happens to those oceans?
They die too, because oceans and their creatures are symbiotic relationships.
A dead ocean is a terrible concept.
Everyone knows what stagnant water is like - water that has gone bad because it has lost the ability to be oxygenated.
Can you imagine the Pacific devoid of even the most basic non-bacterial life form?
Dead water. Ocean sized. Vast and stinking with the carcasses of ruin.
How will mankind eat?
What will happen to planetary weather when the driving force of the oceans (the creatures it gave life too) are gone and the ocean can no longer function as a living entity and dies too?
A dead ocean?
Non-regulating, wild and appalling?
Can you imagine?
And thinking further, does the plastic silt become sedimentary? Does mankind (if it somehow survies) in umpteen million years time find thick layers of plastic sediment become stilled and solid and become stone, or oil re-born?
Can you see what I am saying?
When you really start to think about it, this is an environmental disaster of such magnitude that it moves beyond the bounds of the mind, it moves beyond fiction - it is now stomping around the globe in the land of the inconceivable.
And what would happen if the plastic became so small that it was capable of bonding to water molecules and being evaporated from the sea inside them?
Can you imagine that?
Plastic rain on dwindling crops?
Or is it a thought too far?


When I was quite young I loved to pore through my Uncle's National Geographics.
They were a rich snapshot of the world and a fascinating insight into the wonders of life.
But one day I found something that concerned me.
At the time, I loved fish, and I also loved fishing, but what I saw I think put down roots in my mind that have never left me - they changed how I felt about my beloved hobby.
They caused me concern.
The issue I was reading was an old one, from about 1965, and one of the articles was about one of the great American rivers and concerns at the time about environmental pollution.
Anyway there were lots of pictures to accompany the article, but the one that hit home was of a pair of legs, two arms and the most massive ball of fishing line.
The line contained lures and hooks and so on and had been recovered from a pool downstream from a popular fishing beat.
Initially I thought - Gosh, imagine, all that free fishing tackle, but then I realised that the man holding it could barely carry it.
You couldn't see his torso, and you couldn't see his head.
His arms were spread wide to contain this mass.
It was huge.
This is a bad thing, I thought.
It was one of those moments.
And that was then. Early 1970's, and an old article, from when plastics were just coming into their own.
Can you imagine it now?
Nearly 50 years of popular fishing.
All the lead and shot, all the hooks and lures.
And I love, well loved, fishing, so I am not knocking it in the slightest (indeed most fishermen I have met are mostly highly concerned environmentalists) but if that is one small concern (albeit one of the world's most popular hobbies) and doesn't take into account the mass littering of this beautiful planet then what can it be like now?
The rape of the sea is another thing altogether.
Every second of every day, waste is ejected into it, like it was the flushing of a toilet. Chemicals and debris, waste and garbage. Is it any wonder we have one angry planet on our hands?
One broken and lost fishing net at sea is a matter for concern. it is firstly a huge financial loss, but worse still, it is it's own environmental disaster.
Some purse nets are larger than Westminster Cathedral.
Can you imagine one of those loose and lost, with everything that will get stuck in it, as it drifts slowly on a current like an enemy you cannot avoid.

Actually, hold it a second - forget about the animals - what do they matter.
They're a minor concern compared with what is building.
And anyway, they're all going to die.
Nope what is growing and growing has the power to change things forever. And it isn't going away.
Massive quantities of waste plastic are dumped overboard by the worlds navies and commercial shippers every day of the week and no one cares.
Littering goes on in unimaginable quantities and no one thinks.
My friend, Canadian Bob, loves Hawaii, for its whale watching and clear waters and being a good stop-off point for migratory birds, but I don't think he knows that on Kamilo Beach on the South East corner, where few tourists tread there is a layer of plastic (more plastic than sand) over a foot deep.
Gyred and washed up, conveniently, in an out of the way place.
Here's a picture of it:

On Pagan Island (between Hawaii and the Philippines) they have a beach called the shopping beach.

It's a great place. You can pick up pretty much anything you like, very reasonably. Well, free actually.
All detritus.
All dumped with no thought.
And that is just the Pacific.
Plastic debris has been carried and moved everywhere. It is an increasing and insurmountable problem in all the world's oceans.
A man on Radio 4 a couple of years back had written a book about trying to find wilderness in Britain. He said he had walked a large portion of the West Coast of Scotland and there on nearly the Northern-most tip, he found a beach, calf-deep in plastic, carried on the Gulf Stream. And that is Britain. That is one of the wild and unpopulated parts of old Alba
Look to all the nodal points of the world's great currents and you'll find mass.
Surfers and concerned marine types talk about it. But no one listens, simply from the fact that nothing can be done. It is quite simply, the biggest environmental problem the world faces, bigger by far than climate change, because this is not transitory.
I'll liken it to a Big Plastic Tattoo on the world that will never be erased.
But because you cannot see the mass of it, no one seems to  care. Out of sight out of mind.
Concern will only start to occur when it hurts mankind most.
Right in the Fish Supper **.
When the EU bans you from eating Haddock and Cod and Mackerel. When Shrimp and Langoustine are out of bounds. Anchovies on your pizza sir? Sorry. They're banned because they've been found to contain trace micro-plastic.
When seals are washed up with micro-plastic particles suffusing their guts.
When fishing fleets are locked up for good, because the catches are polluted.
Certainly fish stocks might increase, but what good is that when they are inedible.
Can you see how fcecked everything is?
And yet no one listens. And maybe that is because there is nothing that can be done.
Like that fast-approaching train, nothing can stop it and anyway you're bound too tightly to the tracks.
As Jim Morrison said 'my friend, this is the end'.
It might not be the end right now, but it will be.
We are born of the oceans, they drive the world, but hey-ho, they're dying; no blue flag award for a clean beach can do anything about this.
At the end of the day, there is only one thing that rules this world and that is money. The plastics manufacturers are fully geared up to continue manufacturing. It is  BIG business. But it isn't really their fault.
We want our food perfect and in pristine condition.
We want our bottles of pristine water. The manufacturers are just responding to demand.
I don't know about you, but I struggle with my plastics recycling. The City I live in has a great record as being one of the early adopters of pretty much full recycling, and yet plastic . . . it seems to accumulate in massive quantities.
I tried not to buy so much of it, but to be honest it became actually so impossible that I have given up.
It is endemic.
It is epidemic.
Everything has to be protected.
Not prepared to get your cakes in a little cardboard carton?
NO! I want my cakes to be perfect.
Any sliding about within the box is not allowed.
Give me my cakes in individually isolated plastic.
And so on they go.  Demand and supply.
More plastic nurdles shipped and spilled and used.
Day and night.
More packaging and stuff and more and more, until the last drop of oil (remember a finite resource) is gone.
Until the last sea bird dies.
Until the last turtle drowns.
The last fish rises to the surface.
The last whale sinks.
Until the vast expanse of the world's greatest rubbish tip is filled.
Then and only then will the unconcerned consumer and litterer stagger forth from their home or wherever with their starving, dying children in their arms and look around at the plastic world they made.
And it really will be the end.
I used to think that maybe the problem was surmountable. I used to believe that someone somewhere would come up with a solution, but you know what,  I now realise, some 8 or 9 years after reading about it, that it isn't going to go anywhere and thinking logically, there is simply nothing that can be done.
How could we be so stupid.
I know some of the concepts in this piece can seem a bit far-fetched and SF-like, but just because they're not visible and a long way away doesn't mean to say they're not happening.
You just have to apply some lateral thought.
God bless and thanks for reading.
I hope I haven't depressed anyone, but you really do need to know about stuff like this.
The carpet simply isn't big enough to sweep all of this plastic under.

* Nurdles. Basically these are pre-production plastic pellets. They're moved around the world in vast quantities and are to be found in all oceans.
** In Scotland we call Fish and Chips a Fish Supper, just in case you wondered.

1 comment:

  1. To add to this, many people mistakenly believe that the majority of our breathable air comes from the rain forests. This is not true. The oceans supply somewhere between 50 - 85 percent of the earth's oxygen, mainly produced by plankton. If the oceans die, so do we.