Polluters Should Pay for Plastic Pandemic

I actually wrote this post a few months ago. I keep putting off its posting, because it feels strange to bring up yet another important issue when we all have so many other things on our minds. But it’s beginning to weigh me down, having it sit there in queue, gathering dust. So here it is. I hope you can see through all our other stressors long enough to take it seriously. Thanks for reading. Stay safe.

I just read a very disturbing article, and it wasn’t even about COVID-19. It is in the Rolling Stone, and it’s entitled, “Planet Plastic: How Big Oil and Big Soda kept a global environmental calamity a secret for decades.”

It’s a long read, and a disturbing one. Here are just a few of the statistics it mentions.

  • Each one of us ingests nearly 2,000 particles of plastic a week, from tap water, food, and the air. That’s the equivalent of swallowing 1 credit card a week.

  • Worldwide, we use 1 million plastic bottles a minute and 500 billion plastic bags a year.

  • A dump truck load of plastic enters our oceans every minute.

  • Since 1950, the world has created 6.3 trillion kilograms of plastic waste, 91% of which has never been recycled.

It goes on to say that the fossil fuel industry is doing its best to keep us consuming plastic, because as we start to break our dependency on oil, the only way they can continue to make a profit is by selling it to us in the form of plastic.

There is one bright note. A Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 has been introduced to Congress. This act would ban many single-use plastics, and force corporations to pay for programs to keep plastic out of the environment.

Making the front end polluter pay sounds like a really great first step, but this act faces forceful opposition from the oil and soda lobbies, and Trump is very much in favor of propping up the oil industry, so it will be interesting to see how far this gets. Ask your congressman to support this act.

We need to do something. We probably won’t. This has got to stop. It probably won’t. But at least there are people out there who are thinking about it, and they need our support.

Recently a dead whale was found with nearly 64 pounds of plastic waste inside his stomach. That’s real. The picture below is an artist’s representation of this. If this doesn’t stop you dead in your tracks, nothing will.

Shocking Picture Of Whale With 29kg Of Plastic In Its Stomach Alarms The World About The Huge Plastic Pollution Problem

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Mid-Month Marvels: Who Gives a Crap

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’ll be calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

Here are some disturbing statistics:

  • 2.3 billion people, or about 40% of the world’s population, don’t have access to a toilet.

  • 289,000 children under the age of five die every year from diarrheal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That’s almost 800 children per day, or one child every two minutes.

  • Every dollar invested in sanitation yields $5.50 in increased economic prosperity.

  • Most toilet paper is still made from virgin trees.

I got these statistics directly from the website of a company called Who Gives a Crap. As you can imagine, they have a great sense of humor. They don’t mind making fun of themselves. (See also this amusing video they made to describe the company and encourage start up capitol. It’s done toilet side, and rather makes me fall in love with their product.) The toilet jokes abound.

What impresses me is that they have not only produced environmentally friendly toilet paper out of recycled products, but they also donate 50 percent of their profits to building toilets and improving sanitation worldwide.

This is a brilliant company that we should all get behind. (See what I did there?) So put yourself on the waiting list (times being what they are) for their backlog of TP, tissue, and paper towels today! (“We’re completely wiped out,” is their tongue in cheek comment.)

who-gives-a-crap

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How We Can Stop Drowning in Plastic

One of the things I love most about this blog is reader feedback. I enjoy reading the comments on the blog itself, and also on my Facebook Group Page. Often I learn quite a bit, and I do my best to respond to everyone.

In my recent post about Ghost Fishing, James suggested I watch a documentary entitled Drowning in Plastic. I was very excited to see that it was available for free on Youtube.

Even so, I have to admit that I was hesitant to watch this documentary. It was fairly obvious to me that it wasn’t going to be upbeat or lighthearted. We have a huge problem with plastic waste on this planet, and this film was going to shine a big old ugly light on it. Did I really want to bear witness to something that I feel so helpless to combat?

But in the end, watch it I did. And yes, it was heartbreaking. And sobering. And scary. But it was also really fascinating to see all the innovative ideas people are coming up with to combat this problem. I can’t possibly do those ideas justice. I suggest you watch the documentary for more details.

But I can share with you some of the many scary facts that I learned while watching.

  • Every minute, around the globe, we buy a million plastic bottles, a million disposable cups, and two million plastic bags. Every minute.

  • Every minute, an entire truckload of plastic ends up in the ocean. Over a year, this adds up to 8 million tons.

  • The vast majority of the plastic that has ever found its way to the ocean is still there.

  • By the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is currently 3 times the size of France, and it’s not the only garbage patch on the planet. It’s just the most infamous one.

  • By 2050, annual production of plastic will have increased by 500 percent.

  • Every time you wash synthetic clothing, more than 700,000 microplastic fibers are released into the environment, and these fibers have been found throughout the food chain, from plankton to walruses in the most remote parts of the arctic. (And if that doesn’t get your attention, this article states that “the average adult consumes 2,000 pieces of microplastic every year from salt alone.”)

But there really are some simple things you can do to reduce your plastic usage:

  • Use a reusable water bottle.

  • Use reusable grocery bags.

  • Use a reusable coffee cup.

  • Stop using straws entirely.

  • Provide your own container and cutlery for takeout food.

  • Pack your own lunch.

  • Choose ice cream cones instead of cups. (No cup waste, no spoon.)

  • Avoid buying synthetic clothing.

  • Don’t buy plastic toys for your pets.

  • Use bar soap and bar shampoo rather than liquid soap and shampoo from plastic containers.

  • Refill printer cartridges.

  • Get a water filter and drink from the tap instead of buying bottled water.

  • Don’t chew gum. Gum is made of a synthetic rubber, which is a plastic.

  • Encourage manufacturers to reduce plastic packaging for their products.

  • Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor.

  • Buy detergent and soaps that come in cardboard boxes rather than plastic.

  • Use matches instead of a plastic disposable lighter. Better yet, don’t smoke at all, as cigarette butts contain plastic.

  • Buy food from bulk bins, using reusable bags, to avoid packaging.

  • Participate in river and shoreline cleanup efforts.

  • Recycle.

  • Shop locally to reduce plastic packaging.

  • Talk to your friends and family about our plastic problem.

Together we can make a difference. We can, and we must.

Great-Pacific-Garbage-Patch

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Let’s Talk About the Weather, Shall We?

I’m looking forward to a rare day of sunshine here in the Pacific Northwest, and the temperature is expected to rise to a delightful 65 degrees. Spring! Happy dance!

Meanwhile, a dear friend in Kansas had to hunker down the other day in anticipation of 2 to 4 inches of snow. In April. This is not normal. The world has gone mad.

It used to be that the weather was considered to be the safest of all possible topics. We are all told to avoid politics and religion over Thanksgiving dinner, but the weather… we could all agree on that, couldn’t we?

Not anymore. The weather has become political. At a time when California is burning to the ground, islands are sinking beneath the ocean waves, there is severe flooding, drought, dust storms engulfing entire cities, super storms of all kinds, and unprecedented ice cap melting, we are expected to avoid the meteorological elephant in the room. Even governmental websites are deleting any references to global climate change.

I never thought I’d see the day when liberals would be considered the most conservative people on earth, but we are the ones that are wanting to take precautions to safeguard the planet. Even if you don’t believe in the overwhelming science of climate change, even if you refuse to look at the evidence before your very eyes, how can you justify not wanting to take steps, just in case? If this really does turn out to be our last chance to save ourselves, don’t you want to be aboard that ark?

What is wrong with reducing our dependence on fossil fuels? Why not recycle? Would it kill you to plant a tree? Is it really so hard to be a little bit smarter about your water usage? Why is expecting our corporations not to pour their toxic waste into our rivers and streams so controversial?

Seriously. Explain it to me. Because I don’t get it.

global-warming
Surely we can all agree that this isn’t the best idea we’ve ever had.

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Architectural Salvage Yards

“Hey, where was that place that you got all the cool used doors and grates and glass blocks for the house you used to own here in Jacksonville?” He asked.

“Burkhalters,” I replied, and a tsunami of nostalgia washed over me.

I absolutely love salvage yards. I don’t know why more people don’t take advantage of them. If it’s true that “they don’t make ‘em like they used to,” then why not make use of older construction elements?

All over the country, beautiful old houses and buildings get torn down, and you better believe that those parts of the construction that can be resold will be. So why not get some gorgeous old handmade French doors instead of the uninspiring new ones that are on the market these days? Put a little copper-colored rustoleum on a wrought iron heating grate and you have a gorgeous design element for your home. Think of it as the ultimate form of recycling. The possibilities are endless.

That’s why I love salvage. The possibilities. But you have to leave your expectations at home. You can’t go in with preconceived notions. You can think, “I’m looking for a door,” for example, but if you’ve got it in your head that you want an 8 panel door with an arc of stained glass windows across the top, brass handles and a peep hole, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Salvage yards are an entirely different spiritual shopping journey. They are not just one more errand on the old to-do list. They’re an adventure. Close cousins to junk yards, they’re often in sketchy neighborhoods. You don’t walk in to a nice, clean, orderly space, grab everything that’s on your list and walk out. You have vague ideas. And then you wander around, sometimes seeing rats scurrying about from the corner of your eye. You dig through piles of stuff with sharp, rusty edges. You wait until something speaks to your soul. You imagine how something would look once you slap a coat of paint on it. You expect to get dirty. You also expect to have to go back more than once. Patience, Grasshopper.

Right now I’m at the beginning stage of the relationship with my new (to me) house. Things I’m doing now, like adding insulation, require new product. But once those elements are dealt with, I can’t wait to get down and even dirtier to make my house unique!

Salvage

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Lemons as Jet Fuel, or Why I Haven’t Given Up on the Environment

It’s really easy to despair at the state of the environment. Global climate change becomes increasingly impossible to deny with each passing day. But our government seems to be doing everything in its power to maintain our outmoded culture of fossil fuelishness.

And yet, even in this sea of pervasive ignorance and selfishness and greed, there are little islands of hope. We have made scientific inroads, and this progress seems to be exponential. We are discovering better ways to live in the world.

Just getting rid of our old fashioned light bulbs, for example, has made an undeniable impact. And a zero emissions trolley just rolled past my window. We are learning more effective ways to recycle. We are even coming up with methods of getting energy from our landfills. (You don’t often hear of anything positive coming from a landfill.) Our solar cells and batteries are becoming much more efficient, and wind power is gaining a foothold. We are starting to actually grasp how dangerous pipelines and fracking are.

Just the other day, I stumbled upon this intriguing article from the University of Queensland. A researcher there is coming up with a way to mass produce limonene, the chemical that gives citrus its smell, with the end goal of using that to produce a clean, renewable jet fuel. Now how cool is that?

Dr. Claudia Vickers maintains that it would be impossible to produce enough limonene from lemon peels, but she’s working with yeast that may create a synthetic form of it in larger quantities. I find this fascinating. And it gives me hope for the future.

Discoveries such as this are why we need to encourage our youth to embrace science. We need researchers and physicists and biologists and chemists and mathematicians if we are ever to pull ourselves out of this downward spiral that we have brought upon ourselves. Science doesn’t have to be hard or boring or geeky. It can be amazing and rewarding and heroic.

The bottom line is that science is our only hope. And we should never give up hope.

lemon

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Environmental Pragmatism

I care about the environment very much. I recycle. I conserve whenever I can. I turn off lights. I try to have as little impact on the planet as possible. If I could afford a hybrid car, I’d definitely have one. My purchases are green ones whenever that option is available and within my means. I have no doubt whatsoever that global warming exists, and that scares me silly.

But I do drive a car. I live in a big city. I consume. I rely heavily on infrastructure. I struggle to reduce my consumption of meat. My refrigerator is running even as we speak. I’m willing to bet that yours is, too.

There is a certain amount of damage one does simply by virtue of the fact that one is a modern human being. This saddens and frustrates me, but there you have it. This attitude is why I could never be considered environmentally radical.

I genuinely think that while we have a long, long way to go, we are trying. Every day at work I look down at the ship canal that cuts through the center of Seattle and I marvel that it’s so crystal clear. I’m sure that wasn’t the case in the 50’s.

I love that we have invented more energy efficient lightbulbs and appliances. I think it’s wonderful that our sewage doesn’t run in the streets like it did in the 1800’s, but make no mistake, the sewage still exists. At least now it gets treated, for what that’s worth.

I’m glad that we’ve taken lead out of gasoline and house paint. When I enter a modern building I don’t worry about asbestos. We have, at the very least, learned from some of our massive mistakes.

So I’m not bitter about the environment. I’m worried about it. I believe we all have a very important part to play in conserving it. But I haven’t given up hope.

[Image credit: eurocontrol.int]
[Image credit: eurocontrol.int]

Nifty Websites that Junk Mailers Do NOT Want You to Know About

It seems these days that the US Postal Service is mainly a purveyor of junk mail. When’s the last time you got an actual letter from Aunt Mabel? I miss those. What I won’t miss are the catalogs, flyers, credit card offers and magazines that I never asked for and do not want. With the holidays coming up, it will only get worse.

According to rainforestmaker.org, more than 4 million tons, or at least 62 billion pieces of junk mail are printed yearly. And 40 percent of that junk never even gets opened. Imagine how much more rain forest we’d have right now if each one of us stood up and said no to all this crap?

Well, you can do that. And it only takes a few minutes. Please visit this website and opt OUT of all this stuff today! It won’t cost you a dime. https://www.dmachoice.org/

And while you’re at it, opt out of getting phone books, too! Who uses phone books anymore anyway? https://www.yellowpagesoptout.com/

For countries other that the United states, if you have similar websites, please print the links in the comment section below. And if your country does not provide you with the ability to do this, ask them why not!

I may not be the Lorax, but I think I can speak for the trees on this one. Thank you.

rainforest

Donating Yourself

Times are tough and there’s so much need out there that it can be overwhelming. But it’s understandable when people can’t make financial donations. I for one am struggling to make ends meet. But there are so many other ways to help.

Here are some ways you can give of yourself, show the world how wonderful you are, and improve the lives of others without spending a dime, and if you need added incentive, in many cases you can write these donations off on your taxes.

  • Become a marrow donor. If you’re between the ages of 18 and 44, a simple cheek swab will get you registered, and if you become a match it could save someone’s life. Go here to order a registration kit.
  • Become a cord blood donor. Are you pregnant? Donating your baby’s cord blood after birth does not put you or your child at risk and could save someone’s life. Talk to your doctor and find out if your hospital participates in this program before your child is born. For more information, go here.
  • Donate your used clothing and furniture. It breaks my heart to see useable items on the curb on trash day when there are so many organizations who would be happy to take them off your hands. Many will even come and pick it up from you.
  • Donate your used car. There are a lot of organizations that will take your used car. Here’s a site that can connect you to various charitable organizations, but personally, I plan to donate my car to National Public Radio when the time comes.
  • Volunteer. Many organizations in your community could use your help. Here’s a website that can help you find those opportunities.
  • Give someone a micro-loan. I can’t say enough about Kiva.org. In a nutshell, loan 25 dollars, change someone’s life, get paid back, and hopefully do it again. What have you got to lose? Not one single penny, that’s what.
  • Help a neighbor. If you have a neighbor who is sick or elderly or disabled or a single parent, they could no doubt use your help. Whether it’s shoveling snow, running an errand, doing home repair or mowing the lawn, there are any number of things you could do to make their lives easier.
  • Donate blood. Another free opportunity to save a life! Imagine that. Go here to find the blood bank nearest you.
  • Freecycle. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Rather than filling the landfill with your perfectly usable but no longer wanted items, advertise them here on your local freecycle network. This is a great way to pick up things that other people are giving away as well!
  • Spread the word. Do you know of a way for people to save money or live healthier or safer lives? Don’t keep this information to yourself. Share it. Facebook it. Tweet it. Whatever it takes to share this with others. Knowledge is power.
  • Donate your hair. Planning to cut more than 10 inches of your hair off? Don’t let it go to waste! There are organizations that will make wigs for people who have cancer or alopecia. I don’t want to give any one organization special treatment, so simply google “hair donation” and choose the one you like best.
  • Listen. Sometimes all someone needs to turn their day around is someone willing to listen to them. Really hear them. That’s a skill. Please practice it.
  • Participate in Neighborhood Watch. Help keep your neighborhood safe the RIGHT way, with an organization that does not advocate vigilante behavior. Google Neighborhood Watch to learn more.
  • Be a mentor. Share your knowledge and expertise with someone who would benefit from it. Learn more about this here.
  • Recycle. Think of this as volunteering for the planet.
  • Report abuse and other crimes when you see them. If you witness domestic violence or any other crime, speak up. That’s the only way you’ll prevent its recurrence. This is a way of doing a good turn for a future victim. Simply dial 911, or if you are outside of the United States, find out your emergency number and keep it handy.
  • Be an organ donor. Sign up to become an organ donor in your state’s organ donor registry and you will not have died in vain. For more information, go here. Also, be sure to share your wishes with your loved ones so that there’s no conflict or confusion when the time comes.

There are so many ways to make a difference in this world, and you don’t have to spend any money doing so. If you can think of any other ways that I may have overlooked, please add them to the comments section. I do 13 of the things mentioned above, but doing even one will make the world a better place. Join me, won’t you?

volunteer

Remember when you were young and willing? It’s never too late.

[Image Credit: astdtn.org]

Climate Change: Points to Ponder

I think the worst thing that could have happened to those of us who hope to educate others about the dangers of climate change is one word. Warming. If it weren’t for the term “Global Warming”, people would be more able to focus on the facts rather than the terminology. Climate change deniers cling to the word warming as if it were a life ring in storm-tossed seas.

“Look! We had a snow storm in May!!! See? Global WARMING doesn’t exist!”

Poor short-sighted, deluded people. Because of increasing temperatures there is more moisture in the air. Ever notice that it’s more humid in the summer than in the winter? When increased moisture hits a cold front, what happens? Snow. And a crap load of it. Yup, snow is cold. But that doesn’t mean the earth isn’t getting warmer. It’s a complex system, people, and one which we learn more about with each passing year. But before I get into some facts that can’t be ignored, I have two sets of questions for those who so desperately want to cling to the status quo:

1)      What do you think scientists would gain by making all of this up? Do they WANT the end of the world as we know it? Why? Do you really think there aren’t plenty of other areas of scientific pursuit that they could, well, pursue? Do you really think that thousands of scientists, from various countries, races, religions and creeds are in a global conspiracy to terrify the populous so that they can keep their jobs or alter the economy in some diabolical way? You give them a great deal of power.

2)      Even if you are right and global warming doesn’t exist, why would you NOT want to do things in an environmentally friendly way? Are you in love with garbage, pollution, undrinkable water, the death of one species after another, and air that is increasingly dangerous to breathe? Do you want that for your children? Is it just laziness, or do you really prefer that sort of planet?

Okay, here are some points to ponder and some facts to feast upon:

  • I often hear people say that a few degrees temperature difference won’t matter much, surely. But if your baby’s average temperature is a few degrees higher, especially on a regular basis, you’d panic. You’d take that child to the hospital, as you know that such things are fatal. So too with our life on this planet.
  • Hurricanes are decreasing, but becoming stronger, and now they’re coming as much as 100 miles inland.
  • Islands are disappearing. The sea has risen 8 inches since 1870. It is expected to rise anywhere from 16 to 56 inches by 2100. The following island groups are already threatened: Kiribati, Maldives, Seychelles, Torres Strait Islands, Tegua, Solomon Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Carteret Islands, and Tuvalu, as well as the country of Bangladesh, where they’re learning how to grow their crops on floating rafts. They never had to do that in the past. Don’t believe me? Talk to the people who are on the brink of being displaced.
  • Most scientists agree that temperature stability relies on 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere or less. Anything more than that spells disaster. This carbon comes, for the most part, from the burning of fossil fuels. Coal is carbon. Oil is carbon. When we burn it, it doesn’t just disappear. That carbon still exists, and it’s now in our atmosphere. Humans are responsible for this. There’s no getting around that. Sadly, in 2012, we were already at a steady 390 parts per million. On May 9th, for the first time, NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory recorded daily concentrations of 400 parts per million. This doesn’t fluctuate downward. It’s a steady and ever increasing rise.
  • Deserts are burning. Other areas are flooding. You’ve seen it.
  • Arctic summer sea ice has shrunk roughly 34% since 1979. The arctic summer could be ice free by mid-century. In the past 50 years glaciers have lost more than 2,000 cubic miles of water. That can be observed by the human eye, and all that water has to go somewhere.
  • Ice reflects the heat of the sun back into space. When it’s gone, what you have is dark land and water, both of which hold heat. This is a downward spiral that any person with a modicum of logic can follow.
  • For the past 3 decades the oceans’ surface temperatures have been higher than any other time in recorded history.
  • Coral reefs are dying.
  • A lot of Australia is in permanent drought. Farms have been abandoned forever because of firestorms. Just ask the people of Victoria about the walls of fire that killed hundreds. This has never happened before.

I know what you’re thinking. This is just a cycle. The planet has gone through cycles before. That’s true. It can’t be denied. In the Pleistocene we had ice and arctic deserts. At other times the ice caps melted and the planet was mostly ocean. The earth is a subtle system with subtle cycles that are millions of years apart. The creatures living during the Pleistocene wouldn’t have noticed a change, however, because it wasn’t occurring within decades like it is now.  It wasn’t even occurring within centuries. We’re talking millions of years. The change we’re seeing now is not a cyclical planetary change.

And another argument is that scientists make mistakes. True enough. People once believed the earth was flat. They also believed the sun rotated around the earth. Does that mean that all science should be discounted? We learn more and more over time. We stand upon the shoulders of those who came before us, mistakes and all. The more data we accumulate, the more accurate our knowledge becomes.

Argument number three: Al Gore is an idiot who doesn’t practice what he preaches. Okay, let’s stipulate that that’s true if it gives you some sort of perverse comfort. How does that negate the findings of thousands of scientists? I personally think Carrie Nation was an extremist crackpot, but that doesn’t mean I discount the fact that alcohol ruins many people’s lives. Go to any AA meeting throughout the world and you can hear it firsthand.

Stop listening to the lunatic fringe. Stop desperately clinging to beliefs that are not based on evidence simply because you would rather not alter your current lifestyle. Think for yourself. Look around. Apply some common sense before it’s too late for you, because here’s the thing: the earth will survive, even if it’s just a barren, lifeless rock floating through space. It’s humanity that’s in danger. And you can see that with your own eyes, once you let go of the word “warming” and actually pay attention. And yet half the people I know don’t even bother to recycle, which is the world’s simplest of first steps. How hard is it to recycle? Come on.

Here’s another thought: if I’m right about global warming, then we all need to make changes. If we don’t, it will be fatal. On the other hand, if I’m wrong about global warming, then we don’t need to make changes, but if we do make them, how’s it going to hurt? Is there something wrong with the concept of conserving our resources, for example? I say it’s better to err on the side of caution, especially if it’s something that has to do with life on earth. To do otherwise would be the height of stupidity and selfishness.

If you want to get some amazing ideas about things you can do in your community on a grass roots level, things that can only be good for the planet whether you believe scientists or not, then visit the website 350.org.

environment

(Image credit: debonofoods.com)