I was playing a game of Battleship with the boy last night, and I got to thinking about forever. Maybe it's because my life is revolving around plastic debris these days, but as I looked at the little red and white markers in my hand - the ones that mark "hits" and "misses" on the game board - I couldn't get past the idea that these little chunks of plastic would outlive me. Would outlive even the boy, not to mention his children as well. These tiny pegs of petrochemical magic are going to last and last, longer than the pyramids, longer than steel, longer than the NHL playoffs.
In some areas of the northern Pacific, small pieces of plastic outweigh the amount of plankton by a ratio of 6-1. Fish eat it. Birds eat it. If they eat enough of it, they die. But that's not the worst of it. Plastic never completely disappears, but it does get smaller. So small, in fact, that it can actually enter the cells of fish, changing their molecular structure. And, just in case you are thinking this is simply some kind of esoteric fish problem, remember that fish get eaten, by people. Our cells, the building blocks of our very physical beings, are in the process of being transformed by plastic, by something that didn't even exist a hundred years ago.
It's easy to get overly dramatic at this point and the more I learn, the more I have to combat that urge, but this is beyond serious. I think it was an interview with Yvon Chouinard that I heard years ago (that's how I remember it, anyway), where he said that, when it came to environmental issues, it felt to him as though all the people on Earth had signed a suicide pact, and then had forgotten about it. We are killing ourselves in ways we can't even comprehend.
And that's not being dramatic. Even though it might sound that way. There is not a single beach anywhere in the world where you won't find plastic. Antarctica, remote islands in the southern ocean, Queen Maud Land, nowhere. Forget diamonds, polymers are forever.
We leave for the coast later this week. Most of the debris we come across is going to be plastic of one sort or another, much of it styrofoam. Some of it is going to be of special significance because it is here as a product of the tsunami but there is going to be plenty of other plastic crap, foreign and domestic, that is here as a result of normal ocean currents and deposition. If I think about it too long, it gets sort of depressing. I don't remember signing any suicide pact, but then I've forgotten a lot of things.