Sustainability Isn’t a Four-Letter Word — It’s a Fourteen Letter Word
I don’t remember a time in my 35 years aboard Earth when there was as much going on as there seems to be going on today. (‘Today’ as in the past couple of months or so.) Between quakes and tsunamis, unrest in the Middle East, schizoid politics in America, Twitter as a tool for revolution, Bee Colony Collapse, Justin Bieber, nuclear meltdowns and the like, it seems as though an old issue like non-biodegradables in our world’s oceans is hardly relevant and or worthy of coverage in this moment-to-moment, ‘Info-tainment’ era that we live in.
As a surfer, I am interested in the ocean. And I am concerned and interested in all of these natural and cultural rumblings underfoot as well. But the thing that occupies my mind most vividly is this issue of Sustainability. Sustainability in every sense of the word. I actually believe ‘Sustainability’, as a concept, is one of the arteries leading to the heart of so many of our cultural transitions at play today. And it’s this concept which leads me to bottled water, and its multibillion dollar industry.
The Water Industrialists are apparently playing by all of the same rules that you and I operate under. All of the same tricks of the trade, so to speak, are employed. I organize sounds and rhythms out of air and press them to tape, package them and attempt to sell them to willing listeners. Or at the very least make the sounds appealing enough to want to steal. Beverage companies noticed a market that was thirsty for nicely packaged water from apparently exotic locales and rose to the occasion by providing them with a healthy alternative to soft drinks and such. There is a massive argument at play and an overwhelming amount of evidence that suggests that much of the water bottled and sold to us at premium is actually bottled from municipal sources (tap water), but that is not what I am here to talk about. I’ll let you guys continue that conversation at another time.
No, today I’d like to talk about the idea of using something once, then throwing it away. Most notably, plastic bottles and bags. Two things so ubiquitous by now that we hardly even notice how many we use, how many we throw away, and how many are still around. Floating like little, toxic feathers into and about our planet’s ocean.
These ingenious little devices were designed to last a long time. According to the US National Park Service, Mote Marine Lab, the average plastic beverage container has a lifespan of around 450 years. So let’s put that into context briefly, shall we? I buy what is possible tap water packaged nicely in a shiny plastic bottle, drink 3/4 of it (let’s be honest) then throw it away. Only to watch it survive the threat of being recycled,(about 10% of plastic bottles get recycled, according to the New York State Dept of Environmental Conservation), and end up either in a landfill, or worse, yet wind it’s way down a city gutter and end up in the ocean. Floating, floating, floating like the proverbial turd in the punchbowl. Except this turd is going to stink for 450 fucking years. Sound sustainable? I digress…
There are five known gyres spinning around in our world’s oceans. A gyre is a slowly moving spiral of currents created by a high pressure system of air currents. A spinning soup, so to speak, is made of what exists in the water. And in this case, the gyres are spinning with millions of tons of our discarded and forgotten about plastic waste! Dammit.
Phytoplankton are apparently what lives most abundantly in and around the gyres. And as we learned in Biology class, phytoplankton are the root nutrition source for much of the oceanic animals that invariably end up sustaining the oceans and in turn, us! Plastics, according to the LA Times, constitute 90% of all trash floating in our oceans. The United Nations Environment Program estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.
I could go on for weeks about how this is affecting the food chain, and inevitably, us. But I guess my idea in writing this is to serve as a Post-It note to all that have read this far. A reminder, of sorts. We know how dangerous and unsustainable these habits of ours are. We have known for some time how badly the conditions have been and continue to be. We have just been all too wrapped up in the conveniences that have been afforded to us to step decidedly aside from our vast capacity for denial.
When I first started getting involved in this issue, it was my hope that we would petition and demand changes herein from our local government officials and as far up that chain as was possible. But all it really takes to find a deep sense of disillusionment at the state of our government’s level of efficiency is to witness how difficult it is for most (I stress most) of them to agree on even rudimentary ideas. While they squabble over the legitimacy of climate science and global warming our situation plunges exponentially further into that frothing abyss of no return.
Sorry for the dark imagery. No, what I have truly realized quite recently is that if any meaningful changes are to take hold in this and almost every other critical issue regarding our culture and it’s behaviors, WE have to take matters into our own hands. A kind of Enviro-vigilante-ism, if you will. Not saying we should take up recycled sporks and scratch litter bugs into agreeing with us or anything, though that would be quite funny, but more succinctly we need to put our money where our mouths are. And in this case that means STOP BUYING BOTTLED WATER. BRING YOUR OWN CLOTH TOTE TO THE STORE.
Find a bunch of reusable containers you feel sexy or smart carrying and fill em up at the tap. Save yourself a tidal surge of money. And send a pointed stick into the spokes of this massively unsustainable industry. Idealist? By all means. Possible? Abso-fuckin-lutley. All over the world and for time immemorial we have proof of the majority rising up and usurping the old and the outdated. It’s how the under 30 generation is changing the middle east. It’s how Grunge trumped Hair Metal. It’s how we will save our ocean; the heart center of this, Planet Earth. The most unique snowflake. The rarest bird of all. The only home we have ever known.
The word ‘Sustainability’ is quite evocative isn’t it? Not so much so as words like, ‘Murder’, ‘Socialist’, ‘Sex’ or ‘Religion’. But what it shares with these other rabble rousing terms is that it evokes something different in each person the word is fired at. To the far Right, this word equals job loss, economic instability, hippies, Al Gore, Hemp bracelets, Priuses and the unwashed masses. To the far Left it equals arrows to be fired at the Right, a vicious blame game, green jobs, hemp bracelets, Priuses, and the triumphant thorn in the GOP’s side.
I am mostly confounded by the the far corners of both sides of the ring. So much so that both ends of the spectrum are beginning to sound a lot alike. This word evokes feelings and thoughts in me as well. But unlike our friends on both ends of the ever sloshing teeter-totter, I sit squarely in the center filled with a sense of hope when I hear this term. Being an artist for my well being and as a living, I live in a place of observance and interest in what I consider to be the most relevant questions. “Stand in the question”, a wise person once told me. And if the most relevant question today is, “How do we carry forth with humanity in the most thoughtful, coexisting and responsible manner?” Then I would answer with merely this, “Sustainably”.
- Plastic Water Bottles – the stats and facts (sosoceanracing.wordpress.com)