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It was very interesting to watch the most recent episode of  Horizon  where David Attenborough spoke about the grim projections for the world population and its potential impact on our planet.

How recently it was that the number of people topped 5 billion people in the late Eighties – now we are already almost 7 billion. The fact that the resources to sustain this quantity of people are finite means that there are only that many more people who can be accommodated before we run into serious trouble and start fighting for food. Arguably in some parts of the world this process has already started.

In fact, as some scientists think, we have already over-stretched the Earth’s renewable resources beyond the point where they can regenerate (severely depleted Atlantic fish stocks spring to mind straight away) and hence are already living beyond our means. In other words, there are already too many of us about.

There is a maximum limit of people that can be sustained, which can be calculated with reference to their average demand for consumables and the total “productive capacity” of planet Earth. The methodology of calculating these figures obviously is extremely important and I am sure there is no total consensus on the figures – and also hot debate around how these are derived. David Attenborough argues that the “lifestyle” of existing humans is all-important. If everyone wanted to live like US consumers, our planet can only sustain 1.5bn people. If we lived like Rwandans, then it is 18bn.

It’s a scary thought, and one that personally has been on my mind for a while. Whilst we all carry on living our reasonably easy lives in a consumerist society we don’t worry about the impact this is having on our world on a daily basis. So what is one to do? Surely we won’t all give up our cars, nice holidays, stop buying clothes, or quit our jobs so that we can tend our plots and grow our own vegetables.

This brings me to another thought which has already been debated on this blog. The biggest impact humans have on the environment – in terms of our carbon footprint or our demand for scarce resources – is by having more children. After all, by bringing another one kid into this world we create another human being which will end up consuming comparable amounts of “stuff” and creating comparable amounts of “waste” which will have an overall impact when taken en masse.

So whilst after watching Horizon I did indeed started feeling a renewed sense of guilt that I don’t ride a bike everywhere, or have recently indulged myself by buying a few new items of clothing, I guess should I console myself with the fact that since we don’t – and probably can’t – have children, we are sort of doing our bit for this planet, or at least not creating extra future consumers.

Hmmm.

Maybe the planet has found a way to self-regulate its population, and that is infertility of its creatures at the top of the food chain. Wise move, Mother Nature!

CuriouslyInspired

My other half and I been pondering this very question recently, so it’s quite funny that today the BBC site has an article on this very subject. Our own thoughts on this matter are that yes, it is selfish and not socially responsible given existing pressures on this planet’s resources.

Read the rest of this entry »

I was profoundly shocked to see these pictures of the floating rubbish in the Pacific ocean yesterday. See some disturbing the pictures of this Global ecological disaster here.

The size of the problem: Plastic rubbish, referred to as “rubbish soup” or “trash vortex”, which has been accumulated in the sea for decades, has created two floating continents up to twice the size of USA in the middle of the Pacific ocean, and continues to grow at an alarming rate. Plastic is not biodegradable and cannot be digested, so it stays around forever. It does however break up into smaller pieces as the result of exposure to sun’s rays (or photodegrade) and after that, causes untold environmental harm.

Where does it come from? Around 20% of the floating “soup” comes from rubbish discarded from ships and oil platforms, with the rest coming from land.

How it was discovered: Because the debris are translucent, to a great extent broken up into small pieces and float just below the surface, they are invisible to satellites. Bizarre as it seems, it was discovered only by chance in 1997 by an americal oceanographer Charles Moore who was taking a shortcut home after a yacht race and literally sailed into the Eastern rubbish patch. He says that this was an ocean he had never known:

There were shampoo caps and soap bottles and plastic bags and fishing floats as far as I could see. Here I was in the middle of the ocean, and there was nowhere I could go to avoid the plastic

He ended up sailing through it for a week and said that the rubbish float probably went on for hundreds of miles. It was then estimated that the size of the patch was the size of Texas and was going to double in size in the next decade.

Why the Pacific? A combination of Pacific currents sitting underneath a stable high atmospheric pressure system with very light winds (also called the Gyre), typical of the Pacific ocean’s natural rhythm, cause the the “soup” to accumulate during the winter months in two areas of the ocean, so that it reaches its maximum density by spring. Changing currents then disperse it so that some of it is washed ashore in great quantities, small pieces creating plastic dunes, large pieces visible to an untrained eye.

Environmental impact: The “soup” is causing harm in several ways:

  • It is highly concentrated (outnumbering plankton by up to 6 times and rising) and can be broken up into small pieces. Birds mistake plastic for edible things and pick out large amounts of it, later dying of malnutrition, blocked digestion, or getting slowly poisoned as the result
  • As plastic breaks down further and further, it enters the food chain of the entire living ocean and gets into the human food chain
  • Particularly dangerously, huge masses of tiny plastic pellets called nurdles – the raw materials of the plastics industry – are lost or spilled every year. They are likened to chemical sponges that attract dangerous chemicals like pesticide DDT, which also enters every living creature’s the food chain. Consequences include cancer, obesity, infertility, immunity problems, and many other nasties.

Algalita Foundation: Charles Moore was so alarmed by his discovery that he set up a non-profit organisation Algalita Marine Research foundation dedicated to protection of the marine environment through research, education and restoration.

What can be done by us: To stop the plastic soup from getting any larger, we need to change the way we think about plastic in our daily lives.

The easiest-to-do things include:

  • Use canvas or recycled bags for your shopping
  • Use items packaged in metal, glass, or paper packaging – instead of plastic
  • Spread the word! Not everyone is aware of the dangers of plastics
  • Speak to manufacturers and ask them – why do they still use non-biodegradable packaging? There are plenty of much greener alternatives out there and people want to see these used.

It’s a call for action. It is up to us to make the change, and demand a corresponding change in the attitudes of industry and commerce.

For more information about Algalita, check out this site

http://www.algalita.org/

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