Don’t worry, it’s just a stage in their development

Microplastic particles among sand grains. Credit: 5Gyres, courtesy of Oregon State University

Last night, I watched a video to show just how enormous the problem of plastic is. Plastic is every-fucking-where. It’s all over the oceans and we really don’t know how much has sunk to the bottom. We don’t know how much plastic is making it through the food chain into our bodies, either. But we know it’s there.

I think the problem is so large, that the companies that make plastics are eventually going to be sued out of existence and that we will make it so expensive to use oil based plastics, that hemp based or biodegradable plastics are going to look cost effective.

I can recall a certain public service announcement that used to air on TV. You might remember it. You know, the one with the American Indian with a tear rolling down his face as he looks on at how we polluted the land his family once inhabited. I remember the impression that made on me, one that I still carry to this day. My car may be a mess, but that’s because I won’t let anything out of the car and onto the road. Everything that is trash stays in the car until I can get it to a trash can. I also remember that even my dad would not let anything out of the car and made sure that we learned to pack the trash in a bag or box in the car and put that trash in the bin at the gas station. That was a stage in my development.

Ever since I saw that image of the American Indian crying for his land, his now polluted land, I became super conscious about the pollution that I created by buying things. All the packaging that is used to get stuff to my house for consumption and/or use, that stuff is recycled as best as I can get to be recycled. All of my dead or broken electronics will be taken to a state-run recycling facility. And if you don’t have one nearby, you can get The Big Green Box, from a company of the same name to ensure that your electronics and batteries are responsibly recycled.

We are in a stage of development that could make or break us. I think of how we pollute the planet now, and consider the pollution of our wars, something that has never really been measured. World War II was a big polluter with unregulated exhaust from vehicles, bomb shells, bullet casings, sunken ships with fuel in them and you name it, we’ll find it at the bottom of the ocean.

Modern warfare is even worse, because our troops are carrying more plastic stuff everywhere. Electronics, batteries, cases, cables, solar panels (yeah, solar panels are toxic).

The plastic in the oceans is from people who were careless about the junk they buy. The plastic in the oceans is a reflection of how much respect we have for the land, the water and the air. The plastic in the oceans is a reflection of how much respect we have for ourselves.

And where do we learn to have respect for ourselves? Our parents. To the extent that we degrade our environment, the ecosystem that makes it possible for us to just live, is the extent to which we do not respect ourselves.

Look, animals don’t shit in their water. They know that they must poop somewhere else. They know that they must respect their water or they will die. And they learn how to take care of their environment from their parents. They are either born with DNA programming, like instincts, or the parents model the behavior needed to care for the land they live in.

I recall reading somewhere, I think it was in a book called, Raising Human beings, that we have a choice about how we perceive a child’s messy room. We can assume that the child is not motivated to clean his or her room and keep it clean or, we can infer that the child lacks the skills to clean his or her own room for the peace of mind that a clean room can afford. We can look at a messy room as a result of a “bad child” or we can see a messy room as a stage in their development. As an enlightened father, I always lean to the latter.

Our polluted planet is a stage in our development. I see the giant work ahead of us to clean it up. Enormous industries will grow out of a need to clean up the plastic, clear the foul air and develop biodegradable alternatives to very permanent packaging solutions. We don’t really have any choice in the matter. Not us, nor our kids or their kids. This is a problem that will take many generations to solve.

Yet, I am hopeful. I am aware of the history of the planet. Our planet was inhospitable to humans a billion years ago. Early in the life of the planet, there were not enough plants sucking up CO2 from the volcanoes to make enough oxygen for animals. We had the water, but not the voluminous tiny factories gorging on C02 and sunlight to produce oxygen in return.

If we don’t figure the pollution problem out ourselves, life will. It will take a long time for life to figure it out, but eventually, bacteria will adapt to eating plastic. Even some larger animals will adapt to eating plastic. We don’t really know what they look like or will look like, but just as surely as we learned that there are now bacteria that eat asphalt in the hot desert, we will come across bacteria that eat plastic. Oh, wait. We already found one.

Over geologic time, the tectonic plates covered in sand and plastic will eventually be drawn down, below to the mantle, where everything that is not rock, will burn. Our planet is much, much bigger than us, and unless we pay the planet the respect due to it, Earth may just flick us off like a minor irritant.

I am hopeful because this time we are in right now, is just a stage in our development.

Write on.

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