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Pacific trash vortex

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1richardbsmith
May 11, 2012, 2:40pm Top

I have seen a couple items on this in the past, and it seems like there has been more on it of late.

http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/05/11/the-great-pacific-garbage-patch-poses-new-th...

Anything can be done - can we create biodegradable plastics?

There is no way to expect that plastics use will be stopped. Is there a way to manage better the disposal of plastics?

3Lunar
May 12, 2012, 1:58am Top

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's entry for The Great Pacific Garbage Patch reads, "Mostly bullshit." This is a vast improvement over an entry in a previous edition of the Guide which had read, "What James Carville has in place of a comb-over."

Otherwise, bring on the bioplastics!

4richardbsmith
May 12, 2012, 6:19am Top

I hope the coverage is overstating the problem.

5Jesse_wiedinmyer
May 12, 2012, 6:38am Top

Wikipedia displays much less controversy on the issue.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_Garbage_Patch

6Lunar
May 22, 2012, 3:40am Top

There's a new more accessible article debunking the nature of the garbage patch titled "Lies You've Been Told About the Pacific Garbage Patch."

7margd
Edited: May 22, 2012, 8:16am Top

I think biodegradable plastic is just small particles of the stuff in degradable (cornstarch?) matrix, so becomes available quicker for small aquatic creatures to ingest. Best for planet, for most efficient use of oil, and for human health to minimize use of plastics where one can, and to recycle. Amazing how much plastic is in our homes since "The Graduate" aired. (I'm right now trying to minimize its use in food prep.)

Newsweek recently published a good, though depressing, overview from scientists' point of view of where marine life is headed:

‘The Ocean of Life’—And the Sorrow Beneath the Sea
May 14, 2012 1:00 AM EDT
Imagine an underwater world without whales, sharks, and dolphins, where jellyfish and algae rule. It's already happening, says marine biologist Callum Roberts in his new books, The Ocean of Life.
http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/05/13/the-ocean-of-life-and-the-sorro...

8margd
Edited: May 22, 2012, 8:16am Top

ETA: Sorry for double message--thought I'd lost first one when I went to fetch Newsweek article. Authors can't delete posts anymore?

9jjwilson61
May 22, 2012, 9:44am Top

Never could.

10DugsBooks
Edited: May 23, 2012, 11:32am Top

One situation I did not see mentioned in the links above {quick scan} is the acidification of the ocean. This impedes the formation of calcium carbonates which make up corals & other marine animals and effect the breeding ability of different organisms. This comes from the CO2 in the air dissolving into the ocean mainly as I understand it.

The leatherback turtles mentioned in #7I recently saw a report on where their population fluctuations seem to be determined by food distribution. Turtles in the Pacific have to swim constantly to forage on widely dispersed jellyfish while the Atlantic population, which is increasing {very slowly and still endangered}, has areas of concentrated jellyfish where they can kick back and eat at their leisure. I have read where all types of turtles frequently mistake plastic for jellyfish & have problems as a result.

And of course the Atlantic cod and other fish going the way of the buffalo is a problem. Cuba ironically has some of the most intact coral reefs in the Caribbean I read. They seem to recover more quickly and display a higher diversity than others around the gulf which have higher ecologic pressures from humans.

There was legislation introduced 15 years ago or so for the east coast of the USA which would have created large preserves along latitudinal lines for fish who don't migrate that much. It would have created populations of very large fish we used to have which are the most successful breeders. This was all shot down by commercial fisherman, they were particularly livid about it

11jasonseidner
May 23, 2012, 10:51am Top

One of the things I learned when I used to live in Tokyo was that because there's no "extra land" anywhere the Japanese tend to fix things--they can't just start again next door. Here in the states, we have towns that get dirty or poor or become eyesores and we just up and move 4 miles west and build a new town.

This is just an analogy, of course, but I sense that this landfill will be a problem when we run out of space. It doesn't matter if it's bigger than Texas or Alaska or Brazil, because it's not here where we can see it. I don't quite know how you change that.

12Lunar
Edited: May 24, 2012, 2:50am Top

#11: Run out of space? The golf courses they make out of landfills are nothing but space. Oh, and you know that The Simpsons episode where they move the town a few miles down the interstate is fiction, right? On the bright side, deluded left-wing superstitions are funnier to point and laugh at than right-wing superstitions if only because right-wing superstitions are old-hat.

13margd
Edited: May 24, 2012, 7:30am Top

#10 (preserves) would have created populations of very large fish we used to have which are the most successful breeders. This was all shot down by commercial fisherman, they were particularly livid about it.

I have had the privilege of sitting in on US-Cdn meetings in which fish managers discussed commercial quotas for fish that can be harvested at ~three years of age. It always amazed me that fishermen always pressed to capture the fish ASAP and not let them live longer (just a year!) to produce a bigger population. Managers had to gather a lot of info, generate a lot of models, and stand together to counter the pressure. Mind you commercial fishing is one of the most difficult, dangerous jobs, and this one at least has been in decline. Also, the market calls for a "pan-size" fillet. Tragedy of the commons probably also at play, although in this case the number of fishers was limited by license, and so one would think they should have felt some sort of stake in future fishery ...

14jasonseidner
May 24, 2012, 8:01pm Top

This may be a silly question, but who decides that it's "okay" to start putting trash out on international water like this? Are there no international restrictions on such things? Who makes the call?

15jjwilson61
May 24, 2012, 9:50pm Top

I don't think most of it comes from someone putting it out there. Some comes from ships but the vast majority is stuff that's washed down rivers to the ocean or it gets blown into the ocean by the wind.

16jasonseidner
May 24, 2012, 10:19pm Top

I see. I was under the impression that this was an allocated area where we literally dumped trash from ships. Still it's fascinating; with the world's human population growing at a rate of about 200,000 people a day (approx 350,000 are born while 150,000 die every 24 hours) I can't imagine it just fixing itself.

At our current rate of both growth and consumption worldwide, does anyone have any statistics on where we expect to be 50 or 100 years from now? I mean, think of where you were last Thursday: since then the world population has grown by 1.4 million people. That's just scary.

17Bretzky1
May 24, 2012, 11:05pm Top

At our current rate of both growth and consumption worldwide, does anyone have any statistics on where we expect to be 50 or 100 years from now? I mean, think of where you were last Thursday: since then the world population has grown by 1.4 million people. That's just scary.

If you're talking population, the UN predicts a world population in 2050 of just over 9 billion. The current number is estimated to be just over 7 billion. One thing to keep in mind about the UN's estimates, though, is that they have been consistently scaled back after every major revision. I remember that around 1990 the UN was predicting a world population of about 9 billion in 2010.

In all likelihood, world population will hit something like 8.5 billion in 2050 and probably not make it to 9 billion at all. The pace at which the fertility rate is decelerating is absolutely unprecedented in human history. And it is occurring all over the world.

Of course, people all over the world are also getting richer, which means they will be able to consume more goods and services. By far the greatest increases in total consumption from now until 2050 will occur as a result of increased incomes rather than increasing numbers of consumers. I've seen estimates of world GDP as much as trebling between now and 2050, with the bulk of that growth occurring in East Asia, South Asia, and Latin America.

18jasonseidner
May 24, 2012, 11:49pm Top

17>

When you say we'll probably not make it to 9 billion "at all" what do you mean? I sometimes worry that we'll kill off the human race with nuclear war or something but that's the only thing i see slowing us down, even if fertility rates are remarkably low worldwide. Do you really think we'll reach a point where population growth either becomes stagnant or recedes?

But let's say you're right and growth isn't as fast as expected: can we still get waste and consumption under control? When you look at the economic growth in places like India and China and Brazil (and their desire to copy our lifestyle) can we honestly expect to ever get this problem under control?

19Bretzky1
May 25, 2012, 1:16am Top

Do you really think we'll reach a point where population growth either becomes stagnant or recedes?

Yes. In fact, I think it likely that world population in 2100 will be lower than it is in 2050 even without some major environmental catastrophe occurring between now and then. Between now and 2050 a number of countries that contain a fairly high percentage of the world's population will hit population peeks: China, Russia, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Ukraine, Italy, just to name some. I doubt that very many countries will experience rising population levels throughout the entirety of this century (the U.S. is one of them though).

When you look at the economic growth in places like India and China and Brazil (and their desire to copy our lifestyle) can we honestly expect to ever get this problem under control?

Can we expect to get consumption under control? Yes. Will we? Who knows?

Technological advancement is an iffy thing. There are any number of technologies that could be implemented in the future that might make non-renewable natural resources consumption either manageable or possibly even nil (e.g., if we would be somehow able to replace fossil fuels with solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal energy sources, then that would go a long way toward a solution; my parents, for instance, today already produce all of the electricity they consume from solar panels installed on the roof of their house, enough in fact that they put some back into the grid).

Nanotechnology also might be able to provide extremely strong and durable materials that could be built in a lab as opposed to manufactured from natural materials. And nanotechnology also offers the possibility of much more efficient recycling, perhaps to the point where it is more cost effective to recycle materials than to make them from scratch (which is already the case with aluminum).

Just consider the state of mankind's technological advancement just 20 years ago, let alone 50. The world in which we lived in 2000 would have seemed like magic to someone from 1900 who was just plunked down in the U.S. without the benefit of seeing how things progressed. My paternal grandfather got to see that progression as he was born in 1902 and lived to the age of 99. Even if the pace of technological change just stays the same from 2000 to 2100, it will be mind-boggling, but history tells us that that pace will in fact accelerate mainly because it always has.

And just imagine what kind of technological change can be created when it's no longer just a very small slice of the world's population contributing to it. Technological advancement over the past 500 years has been driven almost entirely by Europe and, since about 1850, by North America. Only Japan has really managed to contribute much within that time period and their contribution has really only occurred since the 1970s. But as education and wealth start spreading around the world, tens of millions of new scientists and engineers will start contributing to technological and scientific understanding and their contributions will ramp up innovation to such a pace that will likely compress the kind of change we experienced over the last century into a decade at most.

20lawecon
May 25, 2012, 1:25am Top

~14

"This may be a silly question, but who decides that it's "okay" to start putting trash out on international water like this? Are there no international restrictions on such things? Who makes the call?"

You may not have heard, but international waters are not owned. That is what makes them "international waters."

21jasonseidner
May 25, 2012, 1:45am Top

I like your optimism and I hope you're right. The one thing that you must remember, however, is that the big countries with explosive potential tend to also be 2nd and 3rd world economies: I don't see them spending tons of money on solar and geothermal and windmills. I also don't think they care as much about air quality and how trash is disposed and the long term effects--in truth, when you're growing at that pace you make the money now and worry about the details later.

When I picture the thousands of new cars on the road every day in China I envision a society that only hopes to prosper; I can't imagine them dwelling over emissions testing and the environment. That's where my concern lies--if we in America already consume too much and we don't know how to dispose of what we use ourselves,, how will the world be better than us if they can't afford to make such standards (or improved standards) a real priority?

22Lunar
May 25, 2012, 3:44am Top

#21: What you perceive as the necessity of saving third world savages from themselves is just the same old "white man's burden" mentality. Luckily, brown people the world over will enter modernity without the likes of you having anything to say about it.

23DugsBooks
May 25, 2012, 10:42am Top

How about a "perverse" adaptation if we can't stop plastic from entering the ocean. "Doping" the plastic with traces of iron and other minerals to stimulate phytoplankton production since iron seems to be a limiting factor for bio productivity in the oceans. {Wiki Link to topic}

Maybe the little critters that attach to the plastic as a substrate would degrade the plastic more quickly.

24jasonseidner
May 25, 2012, 3:19pm Top

22>

Saving third world savages from themselves? What topic are you imagining? This isn't a haves/have nots issue; rather, I'm wondering how you can impose cleanliness standards on cultures that can't afford the upkeep.

23>

Great link!

25Lunar
May 26, 2012, 2:28am Top

#24: I'm wondering how you can impose cleanliness standards on cultures that can't afford the upkeep.

You're right. Totally different from those 19th century imperialists who cited the mistreatment of women as an excuse to "impose" their own rules on others. What were those unenlightened anti-progressives thinking?

26DugsBooks
Edited: May 26, 2012, 1:44pm Top

Going way out on a limb, a guess is that it is actually a breakdown of cultures that result in ecologically threatening habitats. Most cultures would have evolved in a semblance of harmoniousness with the ecology and this would be broken by - culture shock? Multinational corporate disruption etc. profited from by a small native oligarchy perhaps could be made responsive {by sanctions} to international standards of oceanic pollution. I notice no one dumps radioactive waste into ocean trenches any more for example.

27jjwilson61
May 26, 2012, 3:40pm Top

Why would you think that cultures typically evolve in harmony with ecology? It seems that in reality wherever humans have appeared they've wrecked the ecology of a region. It seems plausible that humans entering the America's doomed the large mammals that used to live there. And farming cultures around the world have nearly always eventually lost their topsoil leading to the decline of that civilization Dirt the erosion of civilizations.

28DugsBooks
Edited: May 26, 2012, 4:27pm Top

Just for arguments sake, if there was no feedback loop with the environment there would be no time to develop a complex culture I would think. These cultures would shatter and or reorder in events like Easter Island or when natural events changed environments as has been proposed with some South American civilizations.

Does Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations mention the Terra Preta soils discovered in S. America? A probably rare instance of soil improvement.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terra_preta

29jasonseidner
May 26, 2012, 4:34pm Top

24>

The difference between clean air/water and your imperialist example is that the cleanliness of air and water directly affects the whole planet. If 80% of the world's population cannot afford to follow sanctions what's the other 20% supposed to do? Is there a realistic solution?

30Lunar
May 28, 2012, 12:10am Top

#29: Yes, the details of your excuses are different. I'm not confident that the means will be.

31margd
Jun 19, 2012, 5:13pm Top

"An environmental survey of Lake(s) Erie, (Huron, and Michigan) to be done this summer will, for the first time, identify how seriously micro plastics pollute the lakes, food supplies and even the world's oceans."

"...Unlike an easy-to-spot soda bottle bobbing on the water's surface, micro plastics can go unnoticed. The fragments can be as large as flaked fish food or as small as a microscopic polymer chain."

"These remnants act as powerful magnets of petroleum, industrial chemicals and other harmful pollutants."

""The amount of pollutants found on micro plastics can be up to a million times greater than pollutants found in the surrounding water," said researcher and 5 Gyres Executive Director Marcus Eriksen."

"As intact plastic trash degrades, it begins to resemble fish food. Fish eat the toxic plastic, and consumers eat the contaminated fish, Eriksen said."

"He added that most plastics found in the Great Lakes begin their journey on land. Once the pollution reaches the lakes, it is carried into the world's oceans via the St. Lawrence Seaway."

""It all gets washed out to sea," said Eriksen, who is currently studying garbage patches that have collected in the North Pacific. "Part of that is coming from the Great Lakes.""

""There is a myth that ocean trash comes from ocean activities. That couldn't be further from the truth."..."

http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2012/06/plastic_pollution_study_to_be.h...

32lawecon
Jun 23, 2012, 9:15pm Top

Oh my goodness! Large groups of people living in an area results in litter. Just like it use to result in piles of horse shit. Who would have imagined, Chicken Little?

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