Friday, May 8, 2009

gyrating Crow

Cousin Fred has been visiting the past few days telling us more about the North Pacific gyre than we really wanted to know. For those who haven't heard it's become known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," or "trash vortex" - essentially a floating expanse of waste and debris in the Pacific Ocean now covering an area as big as the US and Canada combined. Best guesses are it contains almost 100m tons of flotsam, a vast "plastic soup" stretches 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan.

It's not like a big island of plastic junk and can't be seen by people who just sail across the region. It's way more insidious than that since most of the garbage is underwater from the surface to a depth of 40ft but not tightly compacted. It's there to strangle, trap or suffocate wildlife with the natural effect of killing millions every year. That's why Fred looks so worried. His family has known about it for years but the toxic soup of refuse was discovered by people in 1997 when Charles Moore, an oceanographer, decided to travel through the center on a whim. (picture from Greenpeace)

He found bottle caps, plastic bags and polystyrene floating with tiny plastic chips. Discarded plastic worn down by sunlight and saltwater disintegrates into smaller pieces. In subsequent trawls Mr Moore discovered that the chips outnumbered plankton by six to one. Does that sound healthy? The tiny fragments are the worst since they act as sponges for heavy metals and pollutants until mistaken for food by small fish. The toxins then become more concentrated as they move up the food chain through larger fish, birds and marine mammals. Guess who's at the tippy top?

In June a Japanese ship called Kaisei (meaning Planet Ocean), along with a decommissioned fishing trawler carrying special nets, will travel to the zone to see what they can do to begin a cleanup. It's being funded by the Scripps Oceanographic Foundation and the Brita Company which makes me wonder if they're planning to fill a really big jug and pour clean water out of the other end.

I know there's a lot of bad stuff going on right now and you probably don't want to be reminded of more. Television people have been trying to convince you this country practices a kinder and gentler torture than the Japanese in WWII or the Spanish Inquisition. Don't listen to them! I met Torquemada and you really don't want to go down that road. Then there's the bombing being carried out by stealth drones operated by guys sitting in military virtual reality game centers outside Las Vegas. Why are first person shooter games funded by the government? So they can train your children to kill without remorse, that's why. I'm not even going to talk about the continuing economic crisis other than to mention it makes no sense for a car company to get $35 or whatever billions and fire 80k employees just to save the company name and wealthy stockholders. I mean if they'd said they were going to retool and start building wind powered trains or something I'd probably agree it was a good idea. What is a car czar and why do you need one?

Anyway, Cousin Fred has his new heavy weather supplies and is on his way back out to sea. The one thing he did mention on his way out the door was that it might be a good idea for companies to start making plastics from hemp. It has lots of cellulose and really does break down but it would be best not to throw it in the sea. Please.


Liberality said...

Hemp rather than plastic. Good idea!

pursey said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. Will read your writing toot suite, which means Sunday!

Lover of Life said...

OMG! Let's all start sending e-mails to the Obama/Biden website insisting we use hemp instead of plastic. I have been sending off e-mails with some regularity and for the first time - I think it works!

As for plastic bags - no one needs to use them for shopping anymore. We have shopping bags for the grocery store and I carry one in my purse that rolls up for everything else. No more plastic bags!

P.S. Your comments on my blog have had a very interesting effect - you'll leave a comment, then I read it somewhere, then I think - that's why I'm doing that! Thanks for being such a great inspiration and teacher!

Seraphine said...

if we can catch hundreds of tons of fish, we can catch plastic. all that is needed is the will.
and i love the idea of hemp. that's a grape idea.

Spadoman said...

I've read about using hemp for so many things. During WWII it was grown and used a lot. So versatile.
There is so much that can be done, by corporations and by individuals in the area of ecology.
We came across some fabric bags that we hang just outside the kitchen door. We are suppose to grab these and use them to haul home groceries. It's been a hard habit to get in to. Just yesterday, we stopped at the store and didn't have our bags with us. The cashier asked, "Paper or plastic?"
We looked at each other and said, "Neither." We carried the few items into the car and carried them into the house. It's a start.
Sad as it is to get bad news, it's needed to remind us all that we are the problem. We can change directions.


Leigh Russell said...

Just for a second, I wondered if that was a photo or an illustration - then I saw the yellow boots. (Not terribly observant, me.)

I wonder if you'd email to enquire why they can't dispatch my book before October when it's published in June... (readers in USA lagging 5 months behind the rest of the world? not possible!)

Leigh Russell said...

We should not only eschew plastic bags, but packaging too. Remove unnecessary plastic/polythene covering of items bought in supermarkets and leave it for the store to dispose of. We don't approve of plastic rubbish!

Randal Graves said...

Hemp. Oh great. While the ocean gets clean, all the landlubbers will be getting high and listening to the Grateful Dead. Is that a world you want to live in?

And it's not like the animals won't adapt to all that plastic in their diet. Everyone needs a little artificial roughage. Now that's good eatin'!

René Wing said...

Yes, we've been dumping stuff in the sea forever, as if it were bottomless, as if nothing we do has any effect on anything else. So sorry cousin Fred (although the little yellow boots look adorable on you). Years ago I was part of a Greenpeace action in NY on a sludge barge-- they used to haul all the human waste out into the ocean and dump it there. Maybe they still do. Our poor beautiful planet.

I hope your new sewing machine is holding up and lasts for 150 years.

Lisa said...

It hurts to even think about it. The things that we as a nation spend money on has never made sense to me. We appear to like spending money to hurt people more than to help them. And animals, too.

susan said...

liberality - If this country wasn't so rabidly paranoid it could have been done decades ago.

pursey - You're always welcome here. I'll visit you again too.

lol - You've reminded me of a few other thoughts. Most of us carry our little string bags or whatever but I hate having them filled with stuff encased in plastic. It wouldn't be such an ubiquitous problem but for the fact big US business (oil companies?) have insisted goods being imported here be wrapped in such a way that it's difficult for the most careful shoppers to deal with the stuff responsibly.

ps - It's mutual.

sera - Trawling for the bigger pieces can be done with the understanding they'll be catching fish and other creatures too. The problems increase with the tiny bits. I'm going outside to plant some hemp now.

spadoman - Damn stupid paranoid government simply cannot figure out the difference between hemp and you know what. Yes, the stuff that grows naturally and possession of which accounts for 40% of those imprisoned in this country. Never mind the border problem. It all makes me very angry. We're supposed to feel better about our reuseable bags and shut up about the plastic shells everything is packaged in. There's as much plastic used to wrap my toothbrush as there is in the handle.

Thanks, I needed to get that off my chest :-)

leigh - As a longtime customer I'll be happy to write to Amazon US about your book distribution.

Yes, the packaging thing really does annoy me. I'm sure the world problem is driven by the US market and by that I don't mean the people.

randal - World I'd like to live in? errr, yes it is :-)

rene - It's kind of like another term in common use that really kills me - landfill. Like the land is empty and bereft without our garbage.

Fred, like Crow, is a painting done by one of my favorite artists, Rudi Hurzlmeier. He transforms our conceptions about birds and mammals rather than anthropomorphizing them.

lisa - Yes, it's true what you say and so very unnecessary. Nevertheless, the more we know the stronger we become.

linda said...

susan, you have a wonderful way of teaching a miserable truth...were you a teacher in a past life perhaps?

anyway, this huge floating plastic sea is the scariest thing I've ever seen...I was watching something put on by the Cousteau people with the grandson Phillipe, down beneath actually swimming through this mass of crap off the islands in the Pacific and it was could see the fish swimming amongst it all, some entangled and gasping, a few seabirds, all dead of course, a couple of dolphin, it was so horrible and yet so HUGE, I could hardly take it all in!! thank you for writing this in a way that is manageable and still makes it clear the precarious situation this could is staggering...hoping the well dressed little guy makes his flight without a landing in the mass of it all!!

susan said...

linda - If I was I certainly don't remember but it seems to me now it's important to speak about the possibility of better things even as we grow to comprehend the worst. I've been following this issue for a long time and I feel as sad and sickened by the whole thing as you do. It's important to remember our prayers and meditation energy aren't limited to the human world of samsara.

Leigh Russell said...

susan - thank you very very much for your support. Your email to amazon was impressive. Let's see how they respond... and compare them with more about this in my reply to you on my blog.
Best wishes to a "friend and fan" - thank you!

Seraphine said...

ohh. i see the problem about picking up the water trash. that's terrible.
what the world needs are more simple solutions. it's all too complicated.

susan said...

leigh - It was a pleasure to send a note on your behalf.

sera - Yes, the size of the problem area is unbelievable and it's not the only one, just the biggest. Other than a longterm cleanup plan for the big stuff the best we could do is add no more.

dragonflydreamer said...

Until moving to the country and being given our first pet which was a beautiful mutt my Mother saved from the pound at six months old because his parents decided he was disposable, I'm sad to say that I went through my life oblivious to anything but consume thoughtlessly and think of recycling and such as much too complicated for my chaotic lifestyle. I now get the strangest looks from clerks and store owners when I ask them not to put my purchases in plastic bags and i stuff everything in my purse. Thank you for sharing this and keeping my awareness up. When I was a young military wife living in Italy one of the topics of conversation I remember most is the Italians talking about what a disposable society America appeared to them. They sold products made to last and be repaired rather than thrown away by family businesses and were curious about our Malls and shopping as a pastime. I know that connecting to the earth through gardening and being in awe of the birds, squirrels and deer mended the disconnect that blinded me to the connectedness of every living creature on this planet. I am disgusted by how much trash my own little family once generated and strive to limit it even more.

Steve Emery said...

Wow - I knew about the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico (phosphate fertilizers in the corn belt) but I have never heard of this mess. Yikes.

susan said...

dragonfly d - It's good to try and limit the unnecessary from our lives while treasuring the rest. Humans have always thrown stuff away (we're a littering species) but giving us stuff that never decomposes was a bad idea.

steve - I hope I didn't wreck your evening but understanding can't be a bad thing overall.

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