Here comes another global disaster!
Scientists thought it was bad, but it's even worse than they imagined. Now it's a potential catastrophe that will affect all our lives — unless we take action now. Otherwise, life on Earth will be irreparably harmed.
I'm not talking about global warming. I'm talking about global warming part II: microplastics!
Today, Fox News reported the release of a "groundbreaking study" of Monterey Bay by the Scripps Oceanographic Institute. A Scripps scientist summarized the findings: "Everywhere we looked and in every animal we looked, we found microplastics!"
The accompanying film was oddly irrelevant. It showed ocean waters filled with trash — pieces of metal, wood, glass, and plastic. Ugly, to be sure, but nothing that threatened the ocean's inhabitants. And nothing, obviously, that was microscopic.
Jonathan Hunt of Fox News elaborated: "Scientists say this is a, quote, 'wakeup call for the world[.]' ... What they found horrified them. Microplastics — tiny broken-up pieces of plastic everywhere, from the surface to the seabed. Those small pieces are being eaten by small creatures and, in turn, by bigger fish, then turning up on our dinner plate."
If this is a problem off the coast of eco-friendly California, it must also be a problem elsewhere, right? "It's highly likely," continued Hunt, quoting scientists, "that pretty much every single area of every single one of the world's oceans is already littered by plastics pollution."
We are already...doomed.
Fortunately there's hope. Scripps scientists promise to work on a solution in concert with corporations and government. "But," they told Hunt, "it starts with each of us getting rid of those single-use plastic items, such as plastic water bottles."
Aha — this has a familiar odor. The microplastic scare has all the earmarks of the global warming scare. Its effects are hidden to all but experts. Its chief culprits are elsewhere — centered, in this case, in the Philippines and southeast Asia generally (and in Canada, who, until very recently, shipped its garbage to the Philippines). Its prescriptions for Americans are symbolic rather than effective.
And ultimately, it's going to cost lots of money. Trust me on this.
In the meantime, I have some questions. We don't dump microplastics per se into the ocean. Rather, we dump plastic things, like six-pack ties, straws, plastic bags, and water bottles. Do these things decompose into micro-particles? I had thought that plastic things don't decompose, and that was the reason (during an eco-alarm of yesteryear) that they were so worrisome as garbage.
And what are microparticles, exactly? Jonathan Hunt calls them "tiny broken-up pieces of plastic." But micro implies they're really, really tiny to the point of invisibility to the naked eye. That would explain why Fox News couldn't show them and why I've never seen them.
Lastly, the scientists found microplastics in "every animal" they looked at (dissected, presumably, since the plastic wouldn't be around their necks, as with Robin Williams's Lovelace in Happy Feet). It is of interest to anyone who takes science seriously to know how many animals the scientists "looked at," which species they were, and how the animals' lives were impacted. I suppose I'll have to get the study to find out.
I'm suspicious because I'm an animal freak. If Australia's Deadliest Animals were showing opposite America's Got Talent, I'd rather watch the irukandji jellyfish than Simon Cowell. I've seen a sea turtle (on TV) nibble at a six-pack tie, thinking, no doubt, that the plastic was one of its favorite delicacies, a jellyfish. But it didn't eat it, and it couldn't have bitten through it if it had wanted to. And even if the plastic were bite-size, I don't think the turtle would have eaten the damn thing, except inadvertently. Animals have taste buds, too.
So before we start using paper straws (yuck, by the way) and insisting that our water and soda come in glass bottles, I'd like to see more evidence of plastic decay into microparticles and a fishy appetite for eating them.
Every nation should stop dumping inorganic material in the ocean, and we should clean up whatever is economically feasible. That's sound, commonsense ecological practice. But to imply that our oceans are in a state of ecological disaster, and that taking away our straws and water bottles is a necessary and useful first step for solving that disaster, is unscientific hogwash.
When it comes to purely symbolic, idiotic nuisance prohibitions, I'll paraphrase Charlton Heston: "They're gonna have to rip my plastic water bottle from my cold, dead hands."