The Pandemic of Marine Plastic Pollution

“We have not inherited this earth from our forefathers; we have borrowed it from our children”


The origin of earth started about 4.5 billion years ago when clouds of dust and gases started to solidify into a mass. Earth has existed for almost 25% of the Universe’s existence with numerous extinction level volcanic events in its history. The Homo sapiens in comparison have existed for a few hundred thousand years, merely a second in the entire day, if put on the timeline of earth’s age. In the entirety of its existence, Humans have only started to get an edge on the battle to control nature in the last few centuries, resulting in major imbalances to the geological forces. Foremost among them is the planet’s vast water resources. Over 71% of earth’s surface is covered by water with 96% of it in the oceans.. The word ‘Ocean’ comes from the Ancient Greek word, ōkeanos, meaning ‘great stream encircling the earth’s disc’. This was at the time when everyone believed that the earth had only a single piece of landmass. Oceans were still used for trade, waging wars, and providing livelihood. Civilizations and societies have the intrinsic desire to progress economically, socially, geographically, etc. For the same purposes, every culture has taken the necessary raw materials from nature, exploiting them to their very limit, thus putting the ocean and itself on the very brink of destruction and calamity.

Oceans have been exploited for fish, rare minerals, tourism, and as a garbage bin in the past few decades. The first living beings are said to have evolved from oceans. Many civilizations have collapsed because they could not maintain sustainable growth and, in turn, over-exploited nature. The oceans provided the first continuous shipping routes and have helped humans throughout history to survive and thrive. Oceans are valuable assets to the tourism industry, fishing industry, shipping industry, mining industry, the cruise industry, and others.

The developed economies of the world, also known as the Global North or the Western world, have been the major polluters of the world’s oceans from the mid-eighteenth century, following the Industrial Revolution. These countries first developed the technology for better and more thorough use of nature’s vast resources in different areas, ranging from medicine to transportation fuel. The oceans provide a free, year-round means of transportation with zero maintenance cost. This may be the precise reason it is taken for granted in the ever-growing pursuit of resources to the industrial needs and to fulfil the demands of the growing population.

The oil spills from tankers, the surface runoff from agricultural fields to rivers that meet the oceans and carry oil, fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides, and other chemicals contribute to the ocean’s destruction. Instead of investing in treatment facilities, the Global North locally ships their garbage to third-world countries, particularly Southeast Asia, where extensive manual labour is used to sort out and process the trash. China and Indonesia account for one-third of the world’s total plastic pollution, but only about 22% of Global GDP. Data and statistics have shown that the more a society is developed in economic and social terms and in Purchasing Power Parity, the more garbage it produces. The Global North’s blaming of China and Indonesia for marine plastic pollution is discriminatory at worst and unfair at best.

The countries with significant financial resources have always found a way around the treaties and agreements to protect the environment and nature. They have used their global presence and reputation to their benefit by finding loopholes, diverting attention, and spreading propaganda. The requirement for an international body with its independent resources and working can be seen in the Global context. This international body would not be dependent on other countries for donations, bureaucracy, and military support. Still, it would be impartial to take the stand against any nation, big or small, weak or powerful, developed or developing. It can also hold countries responsible and act as independent enforcers of agreements and treaties.

Dead zones had constantly been growing at an explosive rate from 146 in 2004 to 405 in 2008. The most harmful fact about plastic pollution is that it takes an average of 400 years to decompose and release toxic chemicals in this centuries-long process. The lack of knowledge about the effects of actions on the health of oceans is a major contributing factor behind the growing rate of pollution.

The current state of oceans would make it seem as though humans are persistently digging their graves, slowly and steadily, to the point where they are bound to fall into them. There has been some progress in the Conservation front, not so much from national governments as much as from private players, both multinational corporations and small localized NGO’s. This seems to be the way forward. But there is still a long way to go with governments and garnering popular support to strengthen these local organizations in what is essentially a race against time.

‘We have not inherited this earth from our forefathers; we have borrowed it from our children’. This quote by Lester Brown aptly describes the immediate need to preserve the hydrosphere of the planet. The collective actions of humans would be seen with flabbergasted eyes by our successors, if we continue to practice the exploitative policies from our past in the coming years, instead of pondering over them and changing our course,

REFERENCES

Brower, David. & Chapple, Steve.  1995,  Let the mountains talk, let the rivers run : a call to those who would save the earth / David R. Brower with Steve Chapple  HarperCollins West [San Francisco, Calif.]

Geyer, Ronald Jenna R. Jambeck and Kara Lavender Law. Science Advances. Vol 3, No. 705 July 2017. Retrieved from: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782/tab-pdf

Howard, Jenny. 2019. Dead zones, Explained, National Geographic. Retrieved from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/dead-zones

Ritchie, Hannah and Max Roser. 2018, Plastic Pollution. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution

A lifelong student of History, who loves to learn. If given a chance, he would choose to spend his days learning new things, anything from a new language to Rationalism, from Ancient Greece to International Relations. He has a very short attention span with only a few things which are able to catch his attention.

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