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Encountering plastics in the Caribbean PDF Print E-mail
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by Jan Lundberg   
29 March 2008
Culture Change Letter #182 -- One would hope that the plastic disaster depicted in the award-winning documentary "Our Synthetic Sea" would be mainly in the northern Pacific Ocean, the film's area of research. But no, you suspect that there really are monsters under your own bed, and not just "out there" in a horror-movie locale. You're right.

I found out how sad it is in Belize, where the trade winds coming west over the Caribbean nudge the turquoise waters up to the shores of golden sands and mangroves. It's not as bad as sticking your hand in the sand and pulling out countless bits of colored plastics, as seen on MSNBC last November when Captain Charles Moore's research was featured in Hawaii. Here it's more like, "Plastic here, plastic there -- oh, what's that in the sky?" -- yesterday I saw a huge sea bird, a frigate, soaring with plastic fishing line and tackle wrapped around its beak.

Capt. Charles Moore on Hawaii, courtesy

There is an awakening in this land, but to really turn the corner would be an immense campaign. Tourist areas post official suggestions to not trash the environment, but the plastic containers and other petrochemical crap are still sold freely, and environmentally aware shoppers use plastic bags needlessly.

I have found Reef Conservation International, Belize branch, to be interested in the plastics issue. But they are already fighting a losing battle with global warming and acidification. Belize has the second largest barrier reef in the world; may it be saved from homo non-sapiens. The Caribbean has for decades been a dumping ground for plastic trash from both cruise ships and garbage hauled from New York to poor islands' dumps.

The regenerative power of nature is such that after Hurricane Iris hit Belize in 2001 -- flattening coastal areas -- you can now see large trees and other plant species flourishing right out of the sand. The life force we all know seems to triumph over the plague of plastics thus far, but there can be a tipping point: plants depend on insects and animals who are in turn impacted negatively by plastics and other forms of petroleum pollution.

It seems coconut palms just need some salty sea water to enjoy that survival edge. But vigorous and cyclical growth, like the sun rising in the east every morning, should not be used as a license to be laid back. (Well, every species deserves be laid back except for our own, given our responsibility to repair and restore.) Alas, a shock is needed with a mixture of fear and some hope for a better way of living. Maybe this will help:

Go ahead, cut off part of your manhood, or slice away a piece of your breast -- for this is, in a sense, what you're easily doing when you ingest some more plastic molecules. They're so convenient in the bottle-cap you've just popped, that contaminated your beer or rum and your lips. Now that we know the stuff (bisphenol-A) is environmental terrorism against which we are seemingly defenseless, we have to worry about other, multiple plastic exposures -- like this computer keyboard and mouse contacting skin that was never designed for such abuse.

How reasonable are we, to put up with such insulting poisoning from the petroleum companies and their governments? Well, it's just so easy to keep taking schidt and suffer whatever the corporations come up with. Right-wing ideologues have been working over-time for decades to convince us that freedom means tolerating the elite's profiteering from carcinogenic products, and workers enduring exploitation while considered lucky to be clobbered by globalization.

Here comes your meal on a plastic plate with plastic utensils. Is this okay, because youíre in a hurry and the establishment canít wash dishes? Well, to be honest, I donít agree that itís anyoneís prerogative -- because itís my planet too, even if you have decided some estrogenic plastics are just dandy for your genes. Most likely you, perhaps as ďthe average person,Ē donít know beans about the affront of plastics in your face. If so, for shame that youíd trust corporations/government/Western Civilization/technology.

[Fill in your own paragraph here on positive thinking and the joy of opposing the dominant paradigm as we build a sustainable and just culture!]

This essay and the above rant, plus many other efforts in the campaign against the plastic plague, are not a waste of time: people generally react positively to the notion of clamping down on plastic pollution of the environment and our bodies. For example, the Creole waitress at this Caribbean beach-side restaurant was receptive to my objecting to the plastic serving-cup of tartar sauce, because, as she explained, thereís a local policy of discouraging plastic trash from getting into the lovely sea. This is part of a recent trend worldwide, praise to Jah or whomever.

Iíve spent four years now fighting plastics, and I donít regret a minute of it. Aside from whatever good Culture Change has done in San Francisco and elsewhere to ban plastic bags (a notion meeting approval wherever I go), Iíve enjoyed more effectiveness and gratification than in my dozen years fighting road construction and automobile domination.

But now itís time to accelerate the fight together and make great strides. The past year has seen major news-media exposure of the plastic plague, thanks in large part to one man: Captain Charles Moore who founded the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. (See note below on h is EPA award.) With his and othersí scientific studies and the support of visionary local-government politicians, the U.S. is catching up to the rest of the world in an important area of environmental protection.

With the momentum building against the plastic plague, when China, for example, has banned plastic bags -- while the U.S. doesnít even elevate the issue to a national item -Ė we are at a fascinating point in history that, say five years ago, we could have not guessed would be happening so soon. Some of us are partisans for upping the ante and taking our protest to the next level. Just as protesters have descended on Bear Stearns for that firmís irresponsible treatment of home buyers, we can rightly take on the plastic polluters. They comprise more than the petroleum companies and their executives and stockholders deliberately destroying the climate and poisoning us; itís you and me Baby.

* * * * *

Captain Charles Moore has been awarded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencyís Environmental Achievement Award. A ceremony will take place in San Francisco on Monday, April 14. The award "celebrates the work of those who have made significant contributions toward enhancing and protecting the quality of our environment... Captain Charles Moore has been chosen out of 130 nominees as an 'outstanding environmental advocate.'"

To obtain Our Synthetic Sea (DVD) contact Algalita Marine Research Foundation. The short documentary has just been made into a Spanish version as well.

Further Reading:

Mexico/Caribbean plastics are addressed by Centro Ecolůgico Akumal:
"Most of us are unaware that the health of the ocean underlies all life - even a cactus can't live without the ocean. And almost everyone is unaware that this basis of life on earth is dying. Many marine biologists now call their work 'documenting the decline.' The ocean provides at least 70 percent of the world's oxygen..."

Reef Conservation International:

Courtesy: Reef Conservation International

"Plastics are on the run in San Francisco, the nation's anti-petroleum capital" by Jan Lundberg. Culture Change Letter # 156 - March 29, 2007:

Older Culture Change reports: "Plastics: Your Formidable Enemy: Questioning exposure, recycling, biodegradability, alternatives" (see links at bottom to more recent reports such as "War on Plastics"):

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