A Quick Aside

May 16, 2018

Note: A post on a world-wide issue that relates to Climate Change.

Climate Change is not the only area where humans can have an impact on the entire Earth. Two stories from last month, one that received widespread coverage in the mainstream press and one that didn’t, talk about the widespread problem we have with plastic pollution.

On February 27, 2018, the body of a juvenile male sperm whale washed ashore on a beach in Cabo de Palos, Spain.  Necropsy results found that the stomach contents included 64 pounds of plastic, cloth, fishing nets, and other man-made debris. The emaciated state of the carcass and the contents of its stomach led researchers to determine that the whale likely died of peritonitis—an abdominal infection that probably resulted from the inability of the whale to expel the debris.

Then, on April 6, a paper entitled, “Human footprint in the abyss: 30 year records of deep-sea plastic debris,” by S. Chiba, et al., was published in the journal Marine Policy. Using the publicly available database, “Deep-sea Debris Database,” the authors documented that land-based human activities have had a significant impact on the Earth’s oceans, to the farthest reaches and the deepest depths. The most unusual finding was a plastic grocery bag found at 10,898 m (6.8 miles) deep in the Mariana Trench.

This follows from an earlier study conducted by Newcastle University under the auspices of Sky Ocean Rescue, an anti-plastic pollution campaign in the EU. Lead researcher, Alan Jamieson, examined small shellfish collected from the deepest trenches in the Pacific Ocean. Man-made plastic fibers were found in the digestive tracts of many of the samples, ranging from 50% of organisms in the New Hebrides Trench to 100% of those at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

In 2007, Brian Bloom published an editorial on the Financial Sense website, entitled “Why (really) is Our Planet Warming.” In it, he stated:

"To suggest that humanity is capable of impacting and disturbing forces of such magnitude is reflective of a self-centered (sic) arrogance that is mind numbing (sic). Humanity is a subset of Nature. Nature is not a subset of humanity. We have travelled (sic) full circle. We are back in the mindset that prevailed when Society’s leaders dictated what people in Copernicus’ days may or may not think. The Earth is once again flat."

In 2012, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in an address to a Voice of Christian Youth America radio program, stated:

"[M]y point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous."

And in 2015, Senator Inhofe, in his new role as chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said when addressing the Senate:

"The hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change climate. Man can’t change climate."

It is typically quite difficult to see the direct effects of Climate Change, and many people will express skepticism at the notion that anything humans do can have that big of an effect. But the prevalence of plastic in our oceans is another area where the cumulative impact of 7 billion people can have a profound effect. Shockingly, it is estimated that about 8.8 million tons of plastic are dumped in the ocean each year. This is about 2.2 pounds of plastic waste per person per year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that plastic waste in the oceans kills an estimated 100,000 marine mammals annually, along with millions of birds and fish."

In closing, in 2015, it was estimated that about 55 billion tons of carbon dioxide (or the equivalent) were released due to human activities. This is almost 7.5 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per person per year. If just 2.2 pounds of plastic waste per person per year can have such a huge impact around the world, how much impact can nearly 7.5 tons of CO2 per person per year have?

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