Wednesday, April 29, 2009

April 29, 2009 - What I just read.

Book club. Who can be without one? A great way to socialize, have a couple glasses of wine, fill up on finger food, and yes, even discuss a good book. I, of course, belong to a book club. It's small—six—and I like that. It's just easier to get your two cents in, and even if you remain quiet you are missed when not there. Last night we discussed "The World Without Us" by Alan Weisman. No one had finished the book—I came close—and I guess that speaks to the general feeling for the book, not great. But it's non-fiction, there's no real story line, and it's steeped in science. It's kind of like reading a episode of "Nova." Well, several episodes. Entertaining and informative, but sometimes you're just not in the mood. But the science community loved it and you might be better off visiting the web site with many links and videos visualizing just how our world would change.

Oh sorry, what is the book about you say? What if people disappeared from planet Earth? He doesn't get into detail as to why we would suddenly leave but did offer a few possibilities—the Rapture, an incredibly virulent disease, alien kidnappings—who knows. Call it an intellectual exercise, a Book of Revelation, an eco-thriller. We've been on this earth a long time and have, in my opinion, mucked up quite a bit of it. So what happens to the animals, the forests, our cities, our art, your house, our weapons of mass destruction if they were left on their own? What you get is a series of chapters/articles on the aforementioned subjects and much more. You also get a bit of history as to how a lot of this all came about and in so doing get a feel for what we might still be able to alter and possibly fix. If anything it shows you that we human beings may be the worst thing that's happened to this planet. Can you imagine?

A few things caught my attention but this is the one I'll focus on. If there was a garbage mass the size of Texas floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean you'd think it would be on the news every day. Global warming seems to have a permanent foothold in the media. Why not this? Have you even heard of it? I had, but this book brought it to me in graphic detail. You see scientists are discovering that all that plastic is collecting in some pretty out-of-the-way places. Like the ocean. In fact a TEXAS- SIZED area between California and Hawaii called the North Pacific Gyre or "The Great Pacific Garbage Patch." Sometimes known as the horse latitudes, avoided by sailors because of a slowly rotating high-pressure vortex of hot air that sucks up the wind. What is found there is a continent-sized area covered with floating refuse—styrene packaging, cups, bottles, fish netting, monofilament line, six-pack rings, spent balloons, sandwich wrap, and limp plastic bags that you and I have been gathering from every store on the planet.

Back in 1997 a Captain Charles Moore, founder of a volunteer marine environmental monitoring group described the "mess" as 90 percent plastic. "The real reason the world's landfills weren't overflowing with plastic, was because most of it ends up in the ocean fill" says Captain Moore. More devastating than this is that plastic never really goes away. It turns into a soup, miniscule particles that even plankton can ingest. Small multi colored resin bits of plastic have been seen trapped inside transparent bodies of jellyfish. Seabirds ingest small plastic pellets thinking they're fish eggs. Dead sea birds are found with undigested plastic parts still inside their stomachs. They die. Their stomachs are full of junk and doesn't go away.

During his first 1,000 mile crossing of the gyre, Moore calculated half a pound for every 100 square meters of debris on the surface, and arrived at 3 million tons of plastic. And there are estimates that the garbage can reach 10 to 100 meters in depth. Not to mention that a lot of the garbage sinks due to being covered in algae and barnacles. Once out of sun and in cold water the likelihood that the plastic even has a chance to degrade disappears.

And this isn't the only garbage patch in the ocean. There are many ocean junk yards. The chart below gives you some idea of the size and locations. In my short search for images and information on this subject I came across many web sites that can inform and show you more than you can possibly imagine. Along with the information that no one knows how to fix it, or if it can be fixed. So the next time you get the question "paper or plastic" the correct response is to pull out your cloth or recycled carry bags and say "I've got my own." Not to mention avoiding plastic as best you can. But we all know it's part of just about everything we purchase. And you thought global warming was a difficult problem to solve.

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