Today on many news channels throughout the USA and Europe, people are being told about the mountains of plastic being dumped intentionally or accidently into the ocean. The micro-fibres have now been found in fish in both polar regions, as well as mussels and other edible shell fish. These are basically micro-plastic fibres that come from our clothing! Yes, even your clothes are made of plastic. There’s very little you can do about that!
Who should we blame? Is this a tragedy of the commons problem like using motor vehicles that run on petrol and diesel? Is it due to a demand for plastics that has grown since the 1950s, because plastic containers, fibres and materials are just so useful and so easy to mould or manufacture? Certainly all those ideas are valid points. We cannot get away from the fact that plastic is a very useful material and it comes in an enormous variety! There’s not one type, but thousands! You can make a yogurt pot or a milk bottle from one type, a plastic covering for a vehicles dashboard from another, but they all have the heritage. Plastic is oil based.
That’s why it is important to understand that as we extract oil out of the ground or from deep sea ocean beds, or via fracking, we don’t just get a fuel. We obtain a very useful commodity that allows our take, make and throwaway civilization function!
Ever tried living without plastics? An ex-colleague of mine who is now married to a local TV presenter recently tried just that! It was extremely difficult to do, but not impossible! Her little children had great fun trying to live without plastic packaging. The challenge would have been impossible if they were also to have cleared their home of all, clothing, furniture and gadgets, and tried to buy products that contained no plastics! Everything we have contains either embedded energy from oil, or plastic! That’s the way the Oil Age we live in rumbles along!
The show was really informative about how humanity is now wedded to the oil based economy! No-one though spelled out the link between plastic and oil. Let me spell it out. Oil like all forms of energy is subsidised. This is not unusual. In fact most renewable energy, be they micro-renewable or large scale often receive subsidies, grants or other forms of government tax based assistance. Energy is a priority and governments recognise this fact! However, oil is a greenhouse gas producing commodity. That means it also suffers from carbon or other types of taxes. In the USA this is less important than say in Europe, but everyone agrees air pollution from burning diesel fuel is bad for everyone’s health, hospitalises thousands each year, and we really need to do something to stop it. Now we need to add another reason! Oil is what makes most if not all plastics. If we want to get rid of plastic waste, we need to solve the problem of finding substitute fuels for oil. Then we can use science and technology to develop cheaper and better natural alternatives to plastics.
Who should we blame? I’d say, we need to blame everyone, including previous generations for allowing plastic to become a dominant material, just because we had oil. These two could have been dealt with by careful legislation from informed leaders. However, politicians are notoriously under educated when it comes to the environment. Many are poorly qualified history, economics or occasionally sociology graduates. Therein lies the problem! Even if they have advisors, the political system with its need to supply the demands of the masses, along with corporate lobbyists, who really control the governments, always fails to solve the problem before its upon them!
It’s time to get busy. If you want to do something about this problem, you’ve got get knowledgeable and then politically active. You need to know all about our we are going to transition from the Oil Economy to one of the 3 to 4 alternatives. Click here for more information. Only when we tackle the oil industry, will we solve the plastic problem!