One day, one issue, thousands of voices. Today is Blog Action Day where bloggers from all over the world will speak their minds about climate change. In that context, I’ve decided to take a kind of sideways look at how we human beings impact on our planet.
Have you heard of the North Pacific Gyre, an area the size of a small continent, covered with floating refuse - bottles, tangles of fish nets and monofilament line, six-pack rings, cling film, deflated balloons, condoms, broken toys and other detritus. In nine years, the North Pacific Gyre expanded from 10 to 25 times faster than models of global warming predicted and it is at least twice the size of Texas. It has expanded to the northeast into the eastern Pacific and portions of the Hawaiian archipelago – the northwest island chain and the Papahnaumokukea Marine National Monument. That is flippin’ terrifying.
Believe me, this isn’t going to be a ‘holier than thou’ diatribe about how sensationally eco-friendly I am. On the contrary. I do try, but sometimes I forget. This post is really just a memo to me.
Alan Weisman has confronted the impact of our infection of the biosphere in his fascinating and thought-provoking book ‘The World Without Us’. The book provides a mental jolt to remind us how vulnerable and insignificant we all are compared to the long history of the earth – but it also makes us realise how much of a lasting impact our lifestyles can have on the natural world around us. Weisman’s premise is based on an unsettling yet compelling thought experiment – what would happen to the planet if humans were to vanish from its surface overnight? The answer is both illuminating and frightening.
Within hours, underground train systems would flood. Within a few weeks, untended nuclear power stations would begin to over-heat and eventually explode. Within a few years, our cities would start to crumble and become overgrown with vegetation. The seas would once again burst with formerly depleted fish. Yet some of the plastic rubbish we’d tossed away would still be around for thousands of years after we’d gone.
Weisman’s hypothesis is fiction – it is highly unlikely that we’ll all disappear off the face of the planet in a puff of smoke – but it does make it clear that the durable poisons that humans have injected into the environment will persist with or without us. Waste from nuclear generating plants, plastic polymers of all sorts, polychlorinated biphenyls, phosphate and nitrate fertilizers, and fluorocarbons - these are serious ecological issues that concern us TODAY.