|Early West Coast First Nations fishermen|
While there's no question all these new inventions, ideas, and methods have raised the standard of living and life expectancy of the vast majority of the human population, it has also come at a cost to our environment, particularly the oceans, where millions of gallons of industrial waste, fertilizer run-off, and sewage are discharged every year, along with an estimated 6 million tons of debris. 80% of this marine debris is plastic, everything from bags & bottles to shoes & toys and, because for the most part it doesn't bio-degrade, it continues to accumulate along the coastlines and in the centre of converging ocean currents known as gyres. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch just north of Hawaii is one example, and it's estimated to contain 3 million tons of plastic in an area twice the size of Texas.
|Marine debris on the Hawaiian coast|
Unlike organic debris which bio-degrades, plastic only disintegrates into smaller and smaller pieces until it becomes too small to be seen. Nonetheless it's still there, and testing now shows it outnumbers marine plankton 6:1 with an estimated 6 pounds of plastic per cubic metre of seawater as opposed to 1 pound of plankton in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. These plastics end up in the stomachs of marine birds and animals, eventually killing them because they can't be digested and, once they are consumed by fish, they also enter the entire food chain. Plastic bags which look like edible jellyfish to turtles and plastic 6 pack holders are particularly nasty.
The more we consume the more waste we produce and how long the ocean can continue to absorb all this trash is a topic being debated by scientists and lawmakers, but what doesn't seem to be debated is the need for all this waste in the first place. We have now reached a stage in our development where the economy is everything and it depends on goods being produced and consumed. It's not good enough for everyone to have a computer and a wide screen TV, a closet full of clothes, a kitchen overflowing with dish-ware and appliances, and of course a car; they need to be constantly replaced; and enough is never enough. If consumer spending declines then companies go out of business and people lose their jobs.
We've come a long way from having to worry about where the next meal is coming from and no one is suggesting we need to go backwards, especially when so many people in other parts of the world are still struggling to catch up with the more developed world, but perhaps there's a need for a new perspective on our world economy. For example, why can't production be shifted to areas that are more in need of the goods, and reverse rewards put in place for not consuming. Some of these reverse rewards could include higher interest rates for saving money instead of spending it and higher consumption taxes when you do. Instead of trying to encourage people to have more babies, (which the world does not need), promote more immigration from the disadvantaged countries. Rather than worrying about everyone working 40 hours a week we could instead institute a shorter work week and make unemployment a desired state by rewarding involvement in the arts, community service, and various recreational fields. We could put a special tax on pre-packaged food that would encourage people to start cooking from scratch again and, most of all, we could make disposable products more expensive than ones that last longer.