Great Pacific Garbage Patch

I don’t know how I didn’t know about this sooner – how everyone doesn’t know about this already – but there is a huge, continent-sized, pile of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean. Or actually there are two masses that sometimes join together to create, by some accounts, an area that is twice the size of the entire United States. Why isn’t this something that we care about! Why aren’t we doing something about this? Who/what is to blame? Well, for starters, plastic. Plastic is believed to constitute 90 per cent of all garbage floating in the oceans. And there are garbage patches in most of the world’s other oceans too. The UN Environment Programme estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.

Deformed sea turtleThis is having devastating effects on marine life. In addition to blocking sunlight from getting down into the ocean which can affect algae production (and thus be a contributor to global warming), marine animals can ingest or become entangled in the debris like this photo of a deformed sea turtle who likely crawled into that plastic ring when it was much smaller. From GreenPeace’s website:

The larger items, however, are consumed by seabirds and other animals which mistake them for prey. Many seabirds and their chicks have been found dead, their stomachs filled with medium sized plastic items such as bottle tops, lighters and balloons. A turtle found dead in Hawaii had over a thousand pieces of plastic in its stomach and intestines. It has been estimated that over a million sea-birds and one hundred thousand marine mammals and sea turtles are killed each year by ingestion of plastics or entanglement.

The garbage patch can even provide a mechanism for invasive species to travel to parts of the world they would never normally get to by floating on the plastic.

This actually has led to action, with some governments, like the city of San Fransisco putting an outright ban on the use of plastic bags. Many countries are also following suit, with Australia, Bangladesh, Botswana, Canada, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kenya, South Africa, Singapore, Taiwan, Tanzania, Uganda, and perhaps most surprisingly China banning plastic bags. Found out about most of these from last week’s ZapRoot videoblog from ViroPop (which I get through the increasingly impressive TiVoCast downloads functionality on my TiVo). Completely coincidentally ZapRoot has a feature about the garbage patch or Gyre on this week’s show.

Find out more about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch at Wikipedia or listen to this NPR segment.

Macro Meme: It’s the environment, stupid.

Blog Action Day Logo I have been in something of a theme with my current reading and when you are keenly aware of a topic it is hard not to notice an aggregation and honing of ideas starting to happen both within me and in the world at large. And since it is Blog Action Day and the both the topic of this year’s action and the one I have been immersed in are the environment, a post seems in order. I have been meaning to post on several environmental topics recently but now these will all just be jumbled into this one post.

  • Cradle to Cradle by By William McDonough & Michael Braungart is a great book I have had on my to read list for many years and really got me thinking about the way we make things. The mindset we have when we create (and ultimately purchase, use, and dispose of) things is crucial to starting to see the full life of that thing – far past its initial use.
  • I have just begun reading The World Without US by Alan Weisman (more on the book, with interviews) and it mirrors nicely with the last fiction book I read: Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (which I highly recommend). Both deal with life after the fall of mankind, albeit in much different capacities.
  • Jason posted about green accounting and included a great excerpt:

    When a majestic, 300-year-old red-wood is cut down and turned into picnic tables, the logging and picnic table-building activities add to the gross domestic product (GDP), while no deduction is made for the loss of that tree and all the nonmarket services it provides. When a paper mill dumps dioxin-laden wastes into a river, the paper-making boosts the GDP, but no deduction is made for the costs associated with the water pollution. Conversely, no addition is made to the GDP for the air and water cleaned by wetlands or old-growth forests.

    It is long overdue that we start accounting for non-monetary assets in the way described.

  • Lastly, this article about bottled water really got me thinking. “We pitch into landfills 38 billion water bottles a year–in excess of $1 billion worth of plastic.” I drink bottled water, or I did, and never really thought much about it (typical brain-dead consumer). The amount of energy that it takes to make the bottles, fill them, transport them , and consume them (not to mention market them) is astronomical. The article tackles the issue of bottled water from many angles and presents varying viewpoints – it is worth reading. One of the facets of this topic that most interests me is the mentality that bottled water is somehow better than tap water in the United States and how the bottling and selling of water takes a large toll on the environment and that this tool, at least in the U.S. is mostly unnecessary, and as it turns out, very costly on a personal level, too.

    In San Francisco, the municipal water comes from inside Yosemite National Park. It’s so good the EPA doesn’t require San Francisco to filter it. If you bought and drank a bottle of Evian, you could refill that bottle once a day for 10 years, 5 months, and 21 days with San Francisco tap water before that water would cost $1.35. Put another way, if the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000.

    We do quite a lot in this country to make sure we have potable drinking water in every home, we pay for the infrastructure in taxes and when we build our homes. Why not make use of this resource and forgo the petroleum-based container variety?

  • Too smart to be put in place

    Charles Wheelan, author of Naked Economics has a new Big Idea: An Energy Tax (link no longer works because Yahoo doesn’t understand the Internet)

    Create a carbon tax — basically a tax on energy calculated based on its carbon content — and use the new revenue to provide offsetting cuts in the income tax, the payroll tax, or both.

    The whole package should be revenue neutral, meaning that it will not increase or decrease the total amount of revenue the government collects. The money will simply come from different sources.

    The idea is a great one and constitutes a progressive tax that also happens to be completely “fair”.

    The tax burden will go up for those who use more than the average amount of carbon-based energy and down for those who use less.

    In the grand scheme of global injustice (e.g., being born in a malarial village in rural Africa), that just does not strike me as terribly unfair. If you contribute more than your fair share to global warming, traffic congestion, air pollution, and propping up a repressive regime in Saudi Arabia, then you should pay more.

    And if you bicycle to work from your modest, solar-powered home, then society should cut you some slack.

    The only drawbacks I see are that the tax base could erode as more people reduce their carbon usage and the cost of reducing carbon usage could cause some inflation in consumer goods. I like the idea of axing the income tax altogether and instead using just a carbon tax and a sales tax (with some modifications for luxury and near-luxury items to make it less regressive). Something like this tax is the only way to get people to seriously consider reducing their use of fossil fuels. Smugness can only get us so far.

    Amazing photos of a nearly tame, completely cute fox

    Photo of Fox

    Fuzzy Freddy – by Rob Lee

    I wish I could take credit for such a great photo but alas no, this is not my almost-pet fox. Rob Lee from Evergreen, CO holds that honor and he has a whole slew of great shots of this creature. Over the course of a year this fox has become decreasingly timid of Rob and had even come inside the house when the door was left open. The comments on many of these photos warn of feeding wild animals (which Rob does not do) which apparently someone has been doing.

    Mundane post title here

    WWKCD – What would Kirk Cameron do?

    • Patent Room is a very neat site showcasing drawings submitted with patent applications of the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.
    • I really need very little reason to post a link about Daniel Quinn’s novel Ishmael Jason’s post/mini review of it seems like reason enough. I have been thinking more and more about these issues lately. These things go in cycles.
    • Flash + Evangelical Christianity + Kirk Cameron = A maddening desire to kill
    • Nice CSS dropshadow technique that doesn’t use CSS hacks or javascript.
    • If you saw any of the following: Hollow Man, Vertical Limit, A Knight’s Tale, The Animal, or The Patriot in a theater you may be entitled to your money back (pdf). Looks as though Sony used a made-up film critic named: David Manning to hype those films. God, if I could just get the same deal for: American Psycho, Blade, Congo, The Haunting, Malibu’s Most Wanted, and Mr. Deeds.
    • Snopes’ list of unanswerable questions they have received that have a sense of urgency to them. Some favorites include mention of: Cat’s eating a dead person’s face off, hickies, penguin eggs, bananas, witches, and Corona among many other bizarre requests. Some of the requests however really give Snopes a lot of credit. Here is my favorite:

      if anyone understands what im (sic). saying please e-mail me at this e-mail adress (sic). does anyone here bilieve (sic) that there are aliens in other planets? who really made us is there really a god? im not saying there isnt (sic). but who made god? seriously please answer back at me

    • Ever wanted to compare Google Maps and Microsoft Virtual Earth side-by-side?
    • Atheist. Agnostic. Thanks to the writings of Kurt Vonnegut, I now have a new label to use when describing my views: Humanist

    Apples, angles & architecture