Saturday, February 11, 2012


By now, most of the world has heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the area of that ocean where apparently a great deal of discarded plastic has accumulated. Plastic Ocean is written by the man, Captain Charles Moore, who made the first recorded observations of a lot of plastic debris in that area, and the book is a fairly in-depth and revealing look at the breadth of the problem of the pollution of the oceans. Plastic takes a long time to completely break down, and its effects in the environment are not totally understood--but the data, much of it collected by Moore over the last twenty, rather convincingly points out that is not a good thing for any living marine creature that there is this much plastic in the ocean, and the problem is getting worse, not better (and isn't limited to the Pacific, either). The narrative skips around a lot, delving into topics such as the way plastic is manufactured, how so much of this crap gets in the ocean (the answer appears to be "through rivers"), the incredible common prevalence of plastic ingestion by marine animals, the ineffectiveness of attempting to limit plastic pollution, and the stalling tactics of economic interests who have inundated the world with plastic over the past 40 years (summarized as "if people won't throw the stuff away, there would be no issue", which completely ignores that the basic appeal to the consumer by those same interests of the plastic products is their disposability, that the consumer not only needs these products, but needs to replace them. Seen a milkman lately?).
I found the jumping around in time a little annoying, and some of the chapters got very technical, but overall this is an informative and disturbing book. This is a real issue, and if the real pessimists are right and the marine food chain collapses because the bottom of it (plankton) are overwhelmed by plastic pollution, it would be an apocalyptic event. And for those who think that a solution somehow will come to hand--well, the most common plastic object found in the oceans now are the screw caps to beverage containers. There are a trillion of them made every year. Even if only 2% eventually end up in the ocean, and even if they are a half-inch diameter-- still , that's "Uh-oh." And they are hardly the only thing out there. It's bad, getting worse, and no end is in sight. And plastic is still a relatively new product; there is a lot of data pointing in the direction that outgassing and breakdowns of the molecules are actually poisonous to human beings. There is a link between certain compounds being used and the lack of male offspring, to take one intriguing and disturbing bit of information. Some think that the ubiquity of plastic is going to essentially geld the human race within four or five generations. And it won't be fun to find out.
And as always, if a reader clicks on the title of the post, you will find yourself on the Amazon website, either for further information or to actually purchase the book.

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