Of the many great and varied mysteries in human biology, perhaps the most profound is how seven grown men can gather for a Sunday afternoon quaff of chili and ginger ale where nobody farted. Or at least such was the claim, when the telltale waft grew too pungent for polite dismissal.
“Oh my gawd,” said Kaukaughe. “What the…”
Around the table, denials flew faster than an Elections Canada robo-call inquiry. “Not me,” said one.
“He who smelt it, dealt it,” said another.
“I’m sorry, Senator, but I have no recollection of that,” quipped the Chinese kid in the corner. And then, because we are a bunch of uncivilized mouth-breathers who are comfortable in our own filth, we did what convicts do. We shovelled another snow scoop full of beans into our maws and just carried on.
It may be more than a coincidence that last weekend’s noxious nosh popped into my head today, as I read about something called “the great Pacific garbage patch.” First discovered in 1997 by sailor Charles Moore, the “patch” is a fetid ten-million ton soup of particulated plastic waste twice the size of Texas, swirling in a ten-million square mile toilet bowl known as the North Pacific Gyre. With concentrations of DDT and PCB’s a million times higher than the surrounding sea water, it has become the main snackbar for seabirds, fish, turtles, larger mammals, and even zooplankton — all of which store the toxic chemicals in their fatty tissue. That would be the same fatty tissue you will be slurping back at the Sushi bar this week–the same breaded fish flesh your kids will be feasting on for supper this Tuesday. Bon appetit.
If there’s a consolation in any of this, it may be found in that ubiquitous North American absolution, it’s not our fault. The North Pacific contains only one of five such global gyres (an ocean feature created by trade winds and circular currents). According to Captain Moore, every single one of them is full of plastic — which means that you can’t blame Canadians for the smell. After all, plastic has been around for more than a century now, and these days it’s everywhere — wrapping our bodies, our homes and our food. As the human family becomes ever more addicted to its smart phones, iPads, plasma T.V.’s and bottled water, that will only increase. Last year alone, the world produced 300 million tons of the stuff, and about half of it was classified as minimal use. That means it will be discarded anywhere from immediately to a year from now. Care to guess where the rubber ducky’s share of it goes?
“Except for a small amount that’s been incinerated, every bit of plastic that we have ever put into the oceans still remains,” research scientist Anthony Andrady told Rolling Stone magazine back in 2009.” Plastic is still plastic. The materials still remains a polymer. Polyethylene — the most pervasive type of disposable plastic — is not biodegraded in any practical time scale. There is no mechanism in the marine environment to biodegrade that long of a molecule. “Nothing, that is, except the animals that live there — all of who now (thanks to scorched sea fishing practices) make it into our food supply. It’s our crap. And now we are eating it — literally. Talk about a buy signal for Pepto Bismal.
This spring, Dr. David Suzuki — the closest thing Canada has to Jacques Cousteau — stepped down as head of the venerable foundation bearing his name. During his Canadian tour to explain why, he paid a visit to the Globe & Mail, where he talked with self-professed doom and gloom denier Margaret Wente.
“We didn’t sell the right message,” Suzuki says — in an admission that the environmental movement has probably reached a dead end. He thinks that instead of arguing that environmental responsibility could co-exist with economic growth, the movement should have argued the need to abandon the quest for economic growth altogether. “We thought if we stop this dam, if we stop that clear cutting, that’s a great success. But we didn’t deal with the underlying destructiveness, which was the mindset that attacked the forest, or wanted to build the dam.” Really? Or is it just as likely that what Suzuki really missed was the billions of minds that gave no damn at all.
“There’s no way you can clean all this up — it’s impossible,” Captain Moore says as he inspects a jug full of murky, yellowed water filled with plastic confetti. The sample was pulled out of the drink about a thousand miles southwest of Los Angeles — near Hawaii. “Right now we’re catching all this stuff with a small net. What are you going to do, drag the entire ocean with these nets? No matter where you go, there’s no getting over it. It’s a plastic ocean now.”
Sounds a lot like shut up and eat your beans to me.