Saturday, July 19, 2014

July 19 2014: Could we really fill our oceans with plastic? And, by the way, why would we want to do that?

“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.”
Jacques-Yves Cousteau

“You wouldn't think you could kill an ocean, would you? But we'll do it one day. That's how negligent we are.”
Ian Rankin, Blood Hunt

As best I can recall, I first became environmentally aware, in the sense of feeling personally concerned and outraged—when I was 16—so we are talking 1960 here.

I was visiting the Aran Islands—off the West Coast of Ireland—for the first time, and had fallen in love with the location. The islands were wild, wind-blasted, and wonderful—and achingly beautiful in a barren, rocky, inhospitable sort-of way.

Rugged or not, they were inhabited by equally wild, wind-blasted, and wonderful people—who still spoke Irish in those days, and dressed in traditional clothing.

It was another world—and, at that time—virtually free of modern appliances and amenities. If you wanted to fish, or travel to another island, or the mainland, you rowed in a traditional currach—once covered in animal skins, but now made from pitched canvas over a light wooden frame—frail transport indeed in the context of the awesome power and unpredictability of the Atlantic. But the Aran islanders are—of necessity—a hardy people.

The Aran Islands—as my readers will speedily deduce—led to my creation of Fitzduane’s fictional island, where the protagonist of many of my novels, Hugo Fitzduane, lives.

Then my friend and I came to the stony beach of the largest of the three islands, Inishmor, and we were somewhat shaken to see that this unspoiled gem of a place—as we had thought—was polluted with debris clearly brought in by the Atlantic tide.

It all seemed so wrong.

Little more than half a century later, I find it hard know what to say when I contemplate the damage we have done to the environment—and in particular to the oceans.

These gyres of waste plastic are bad enough—and the scale is frightening—but the situation is worse still when it is realized that an additional quantity has been pulverized and has ended up in the food chain—and who knows where else, and with what side effects.

Actions have consequences. Treating the only earth we’ve got in the way we do is going to have the severest of consequences.

It makes me sad—but glad I’m a writer. I can fight back, even if only a little. But if enough of us fight back…

So far, there are not enough of us. I’m confident there will be. Whether we’ll be in time is another matter.


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