Petroleum products have not been around for long but they have certainly had an impact on our lives and the environment. Our love affair with hydrocarbons has spawned all sorts of useful things including my favourite – polyurethane wheels for skate boards. The 70’s saw the explosion of plastic inventions including Tupperwear and cling wrap or ‘glad wrap’ (aptly named for the time). I remember my Dad keenly wrapping everything in my lunch box so much so that completing a rubix cube might have been easier to solve than how to get into my sandwiches. These days almost everything comes wrapped in some form of plastic. Sometimes I want to laugh hysterically, don a balaclava and run into a fruit and vege shop with a craft knife and free all cucumbers and cauliflower that are suffocating in PVC condoms and polystyrene.
The relationship with this stuff needs to change. We need to break it off as a species and get honest with the cost – not the monetary value or economic impact – the cost to nature. I’m not sure if you have tried enjoying a walk on the beach recently but I don’t so much as enjoy it anymore as find myself picking up bits of bags, pegs, corks, nylon, and ‘sad wrap’. There is a bit of an addiction to problem-solution thinking as well. Yes we need to clean up the environment but it’s become a trend to find novel ways to use waste creatively or find ways to recruit nature to help do the cleaning up. One of the current ideas is that mealworms are the answer – they can eat polystyrene apparently and not get a hangover. Sounds very ethical, keep making a mess and let someone else clean it up – and you don’t even have to pay them. But plastic that gets into the ocean is another story. Sea life needs better protection and every loose bit that falls into the sea is a hazard. If it isn’t strangling something, it’s ingested even when dissolved into microscopic levels. Yes – plastic has been found in plankton, the only way is up the food chain from there.
Summer is coming, the beach is calling. If you see a bag blowing along the beach, jump on it – just watch the sudden reduction in friction resulting in the inadvertent splits and potential hamstring strain. Nature has just one request leave nothing but footprints and buttock creases.
It has taken nearly 10 years for the New Horizons to reach Pluto. Radio signals take four and a half hours to get back, nothing new if you’re used to trying to get a response from a call centre. Pluto represents a threshold of sorts. Probes are the new ships of discovery at the mercy of Newtons laws and the winds of political and scientific change. Billions of kilometres travelled and yet not even a stones throw from our door step. On the same day another group of physicist discovered a new quantum particle, a pentaquark. Pluto or particle these are moments of wonder to expand our still limited and sheltered understanding of reality. But as we look outward and beyond or inward I can’t discern the difference. I feel simultaneously a drop of water in the ocean and the ocean. However above all else seeing other planets that have no life as we know it living on them reminds me of how absolutely insane the human race is. Our relationship with the world we inhabit is nothing short of psychopathic. We are not custodians but criminals at best. There is only one thing driving the ecosystem to the brink and it is us. If there was a lonely planet guide for the earth it might read something like:
“The jewel of this system with liquid water and amazing biodiversity. However it is currently experiencing a human plague so best to give a wide berth as they are hostile and paranoid with egos and childlike needs for power. Their selfishness and fear is matched only by their untapped creativity and love. The level of contamination and destruction of life this one species has created in the name of what they call progress suggests they will either destroy themselves along with this wonderful one of a kind world or die trying. Explore the rich ocean life while you can. Remember they believe they are the only intelligent life to have ever existed so best to go incognito. If you intend to stay for a while masquerading as a scientist is easy just do not tell them they are wrong about anything and best not to leave anything behind they could blow themselves up with, they discovered nuclear power and still haven’t learnt their lesson. The best example of a human disguise is going by the name Steven Hawking, however the physiology did not merge so well in the end. Finally you will need to get used to the concept of money. Again, do not try and convince them do not need it to survive”.
Thanks science for the amazing pictures but what really needs a good probe is us.