Friday, 3 July 2015

03/07/15 - Pacific Trash Vortex

Humans, as a species, aren’t great at cleaning up their mess. Not bad, could be worse, but really not that great either. I’m no fervent environmentalist, but it’s a truism to point out that if we cut down more trees than we replant, we’ll eventually choke on carbon dioxide; if we can’t think of alternative power sources that work reliably, we’ll hit a brick wall of energy when the dino-juice runs out; if we don’t deal with our waste smartly, we’ll eventually be swamped by our own leavings.

Still it’s not all bad news. We don’t have to put too much effort in. Our enthusiasm for throwing rubbish into the sea has created a whole new continent. That’s pretty impressive, isn’t it? Go, humans!

The continent in question is the Pacific Trash Vortex, which is a real thing that exists, despite sounding like the name of a shit Hoxton electro duo. It exists within a gyre (which is basically a large system of rotating ocean currents, caused by the Coriolis Effect [which is what makes the water spiral the wrong way down the plughole in Australia], whereby a bunch of significant currents effectively swirl round in a colossal circle), and is formed from a whole miasma of forced-together ocean debris. It’s mostly made up of plastics and chemical sludge, which makes it hard to accurately estimate how big it is as the edges are all wibbly, and reported guesses range from ‘twice the size of France’ to ‘as big as the USA’ or even ‘8.1% of the size of the Pacific Ocean’. Whichever is true, the clear fact is that it’s a whopper. And it wasn’t there before people evolved, that’s for sure. We did that.

There are people who aren’t entirely convinced of its existence, or at least view these estimates as somewhat hysterical. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) posit that the idea of a massed floating garbage patch is misleading, suggesting that rather than it being countless miles of Evian bottles, it’s more akin to ‘flecks of pepper floating throughout a bowl of soup’; they also suggest that rather than being one vast patch, it’s likely that there’s an eastern trash vortex south-east of Japan, a western counterpart off the coast of California, and a sort of vast interlinking rainbow of rubbish across the ‘subtropical convergence zone’. Either way, there’s a shitload of crap floating around out there.

The tricky part is that it’s actually not all that easy to see. Most of the PTV’s contents is suspended below the surface of the water, so this fresh new litter continent that may or may not exist in solid form is definitely something you couldn’t walk on without at least getting your ankles wet. But whatever – there used to be seven continents, but now we’ve made another one. If that isn’t recycling at its finest, I don’t know what is.

…although, actually, fish are eating it. And then we’re eating the fish. The toxins in the plastics we’re throwing into the sea are ending up in our stomachs. Um… OK, everybody stop throwing rubbish in the sea! You’ve made a continent, that’s impressive, but maybe your recycling bin needs a workout now. Or just stop eating fish, whatever.

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