An Inspiring Week: World Environment Day and Plastics in our Oceans

I have had some experiences this week that have had a profound impact. On Monday we celebrated ‘World Environment Day’ by joining with colleagues from The Society for the Environment and other professional institutions for a conference about ‘Innovation, Partnership and the Value of Nature”

Amongst the speakers was our own David McHugh, Trustee of CIWEM, who presented on ‘The Role of Professional Institutions in a Post-Trust Era’. Like it or not, post-truth is the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year 2016.

Donald Trump’s announcement last week that he is taking the US out of the Paris agreement was a decision based upon disbelief of scientific evidence and, or, a choice to disregard evidence. I have heard this decision, and any denial of climate change, described as ‘stupid’ but I have never found this satisfactory as it trivialises the gravity of the situation. David cited a recent article in The Irish Times and a quote by one of its journalists, Fintan O’Toole who said:

“In itself, climate-change denial is not stupid. It is much more evil than that. It is a concerted, lavishly funded, highly organised campaign by corporations that profit from pollution and carbon emissions.”

He went on to say:

“The people who actually believe it may be ignorant or desperate or both. But the people who create it are sleek and slick, highly paid and highly educated. They know it’s a lie. They know at the very least that they are taking huge risks with the lives of hundreds of millions of people and the habitability of the planet.”

Now that’s more like it, that frames the issue with the importance that it deserves. That, for me, is profound and it motivates me to support CIWEM’s members in tackling this issue.

 

This quote also illustrates the importance of language that we use to express a point of view. The antithesis of post-truth is fact and we must seek facts and distil them to allow us to form a position. However, this is nowhere near enough on its own and we, as professionals, must express our position in a way that really touches people. I believe that the quote from Fintan does that.

My thanks to David for his thought-provoking talk and to The Society for the Environment for organising the conference.

 

It was World Oceans Day this week and I attended a launch of the Thames Plastic Lab exploring plastic pollution in the River Thames. The evening chronicled the ongoing mission of artist Maria Arceo to highlight the damage caused by waste plastic in our environment. I first met Maria as an entrant to our Environmental Photographer of the Year Competition last year. Please do check her website www.thamesplastic.com. Amongst other things you will learn of her audacious plans for a piece of floating artwork on the River Thames.

The evening also included a screening of a film “A Plastic Ocean”. Never has a film affected me more profoundly than this one. I defy anyone that watches it not to take a serious look at their daily practices and those of their own personal supply chains.

I thought that I understood this issue but I realise that I did not.

The statistics give some idea but it is the imagery in the film that really hits homes – again facts:position:expression.

  • More than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year
  • 40% of this is packaging
  • 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide and each one has a ‘working life’ of 15 minutes

https://www.plasticoceans.org/the-facts/

There are many other statistics but it was the image of a blue whale trawling for Plankton but instead ingesting vast quantities of plastic that impacted on me as well as a post-mortum on a sea bird whose stomach was completely full of plastic.

I felt shocked and angered but I am not moved to look elsewhere for the blame but to look firmly at myself. I am the consumer that chose the convenience of packaged food and to buy a coffee each day with a plastic lid. Whilst there are many changes needed to address this problem the biggest of these is behavioral change in individuals, businesses and governments.

Next week I will share with you an idea that are proposing to all of the major global ‘coffee’ outlets which could be a catalyst of change.