Various environmental organizations have been using imagery of dead baby birds with toothbrushes in their guts and solid floating masses of garbage to describe and raise alarm about what has become known as the North Pacific Central Garbage Patch. Yet, the small but important amount of research that has been done there shows that the NPCGP consists of many (alarmingly many) pieces of plastic that are very small, the largest being “about the size of the fingernail on your pinkey.”
Albatross may or may not be affected by garbage, but it is not likely that the garbage shown in the guts of the baby birds in these particular media comes from the NPCGP. Yes, the plastic in the NPCGP and elsewhere may have a negative environmental effect, but the pictures of floating garbage, which are all from coastal estuarine regions down river from major “third world” population centers, are NOT of the NPCGP and thus constitute bald faced lies. Bald faced lies by organizations like Green Peace is the fuel that right wing anti-environmental pro-business neo conservative yahoos run on.
But the situation is even worse than that because of what appear to be the misguided efforts of a British Billionaire who has managed to frighten those best in a position to criticize him into remaining silent. In fact, I’m a little nervous writing this blog post.
One of the elements of the War on Ocanic Plastic is a recently launched boat, and the attending organization and marketing, called Plastiki. “Plastiki” is a play on words, and it turns out to be a meaning-drenched play on words.
Plastiki comes from the name of the boat “Kon Tiki” which was an effort by rich-guy Thor Heyerdahl, many years back, to prove that people could have survived long distance travel across the pacific in a boat made of local materials using traditional methods. He wanted to prove that Polynesians did not end up populating the various Polynesian island in the form of barely surviving pregnant females clinging to logs washed by major storms from island to island, but rather, on purpose, because they could, and they could becauase they were oceanic travelers of some significant prowess.
This effort by Heyerdahl was done in the context of a racist Western world that preferred to see all brown people as less than capable (it’s easier to define some as lesser if all are lesser) so his stunt … building a Polynesian style boat and replicating a trans-Pacific voyage … was under the microscope. And, because he framed it wrong, he screwed it up.
Kon Tiki was a huge failure (at the time) for several reasons. In my mind, the fact that Heyerdahl was eventually able to make the trip is part of the proof that long distance sailing using traditional boats is possible. But he was unable to launch (or, really, land) the boat in surf. The boat was not able to handle the chop, which also means that if he had run into serious storms along the way, he would have sunk. He had modern maps and modern geographical knowledge, and modern (for the time) navigation equipment, and perhaps most importantly, a certain amount of modern food stored on the boat. So, people who did not want little brown Polynesian people to succeed in the bright light of history cold look at Kon Tiki and say “Heyerdahl cheated! Those “living archaeologist” hippies are liars!!!!11!!”
And they were. Thor Heyerdahl pretended to have been doing what the ancient Polynesians did, but he wasn’t. He cheated. But there is a lost lesson here: If Heyerdahl could have brought forward in time ancient Polynesian mariners, they would have pointed out dozens of things he was doing wrong. Only heteronomrative postmodern cauaseo-European hubris (which was a feature of the pre-processual European archaeolgical community) wold allow Thor to think that a decade or two of working on this problem would give him the knowledge and skills that the ancient Polynesians would have had. So, a partial success is a success.
Unless you claim that a total success is the litmus test, fail at that level, then lie about it.
So, it is uber-ironic that this new boat …. Plastiki … is named in part after Kon Tiki. Plastiki seems to be making the claim to be self-sustaining.. .they have a garden to grow their food, and a solar collector to run their motor, and a sail to drive them across the ocean. The boat is made out of discarded plastic bottles. They will sail into the Gyre and do battle witih the plastic.
Except it is all lies!
A sail boat can’t sail into the plastic gyre because it is a gyre!!!! It is a part of the ocean that sail boats have to sail AROUND because the wind is calm. That’s why the plastic accumulates there! By definition, by physics, by Neptune, Plastiki can not sail into the gyre!
But it can use it’s motor. Powered by the sun. I do not know this for a fact, but I’d bet money that there is also a fossil fuel motor on board, and that this solar panel will not be sufficient to motor the boat into the gyre. Or, they simply are not going to the gyre.
I doubt the boat is “made out of plastic bottles.” Yes, I’m sure there are lots of bottles used to make the boat (I’ve seen pictures) but it is ALSO made out of other stuff. The main ingredient of a boat is … air! Right? It is the ingredient that gives a boat buoyancy. The main ingredient in Plastic Bottles is … air! Do the math. This plastic bottle thing is probably not a complete hoax but it probably is a bit of creative framing, and when we learn that the boat is actually made out of baby bunny rabbits (or whatever) the shine on this project may dull a bit. OK, it won’t be baby bunnies, but it will be something. And I’ve got a feeling it won’t be pretty.
Are they actually going to live off the food in their garden? I’m not sure they’ve said they will, but they’ve said they’ve got a garden and they’ve not said how much of their food will come from it. My money is on the garden failing and the parts getting tossed overboard in a storm. A storm of irony, it will turn out.
None of the Plastiki rhetoric I’ve seen mentions a chase vessel … a large deisel powered boat that would follow close behind the Plastiki in case anything goes wrong. Or perhaps some other way of getting a boat or a chopper to the Plastiki quickly. I’m not saying there is such a boat, but we don’t know there is not such a boat. If we find out later, when the boat is actually used to rescue the crew, or deliver supplies (like a bunch of bottled water?!?!?) or to tow the boat into or out of the gyre, we will be witnissing a public relations failure which will cause MORE suffering among the baby albatross, not less. I could be wrong about the follow boat. I simply don’t know. But I wait patiently to find out.
In fact, the bottle part of the story is already starting to fall apart:
…anonymous sources involved with the project revealed to Earth Island Journal recently that the project team was not able to get as many used bottles as were needed to build Plastiki; some of the bottles used are actually new. Of the used bottles, many were found in dumpsters and washed by underpaid and poorly treated workers from Mexico and Guatemala, according to one source. EIJ
In the end, Plastiki may do as much damage, or more, to efforts to address the problem of the NPCGP as Kon Tiki did (for a while) to experimental archaeology and the concept that Polynesians although brown and tribal and all, could do smart stuff. Earth Island Journal’s article (quoted above) references a number of other problems with Plastiki, and the overall strategy of the boat’s owner, British billionaire David de Rothschild.
Go read that article, but when you do, I want you to take note of something more important than any of the details I’ve given here or given in the EIJ article.
In that article, you will see two references to apparently important facts that are attributed to anonymous sources … to sources that are afraid to speak out loud because they are afraid of Rothchild. I’ve blogged about this topic before, and I also have sources on which I’m relying, who have asked me to keep their names out of this for similar reasons.
Is it really true that David de Rothschild is some sort off media-hound-of-the-Baskervilles, ready to pounce on anyone who stands in his way? Sounds like it. I can only hope that our collective contacts in the Pacific are overly sensitive. If Rothschild, or Greenpeace, or other entities that seem willing to make stuff up to frame their argument really are dangerous, then the Ocean Conservation Movement is a ship with a leaky hull.
It has been said that marketing is more important than facts, that framing is more powerful than truth. I disagree. And by saying so, I appear to be putting myself at some risk.
That makes me laugh. But not in a funny, ha ha way.