I recently received a letter from my future son-in-law, Marcus Eriksen, who is now more than 1,000 miles at sea heading from Long Beach to Hawaii on an unusual conveyance. Some readers may have run across articles or heard mention of his adventure. In order to draw attention to the under-publicized calamity that is befalling our oceans, Marcus and a colleague, Joel Paschal, are sailing 2400 miles on a junk-catamaran, comprised mainly of 15,000 plastic bottles and a used airplane cockpit. Their raft is entirely made up of junk, and their sole means of transport is wind and currents. They hope to draw attention to the alarming degree to which the oceans are filling up with plastics! To quote Marcus:
“Plastic trash in the ocean is the primary reason I am here. Can this journey help to capture the attention of a wasteful nation, a throwaway society addicted to consumption? Can we also enter a meaningful dialogue, not only about plastic, about foreign policy and the exploitation of fossil fuels, or ending the Synthetic Century in favor of sustainability? I’ve justified this trip to our foundation and funders as gaining public awareness about the singular issue of plastic marine debris. But I cannot deny, and feel morally obligated to address other issues that feed the plastic problem. Almost all plastic comes from petroleum, and U.S. political leaders admit that war is an instrument of foreign policy to get access to petroleum. It is deeply immoral that we kill other people, and allow our youth to kill and be killed, so that we can drive our SUVs, and heat and power our homes – especially when sustainable alternatives exist. I think about how to express these thoughts without distracting attention from the plastics issues and not tuning out conservatives from the conversation.
“When we fly over a clear-cut forest we can easily see the devastation. But when we fly over the oceans, they still look sparkling blue. What we do not see is that the ratio of plastics to plankton is increasing exponentially. The good news is that we could call a halt to this industrial assault upon one of our most precious resources. The bad news is that, as I write, the plastics industries are producing millions of tons more of products – none of which will ever disappear. Plastics truly are forever.”
When Marcus was planning this rather dangerous adventure, many family members tried to talk him out of it. He, of course, didn’t want to be away from everyone, virtually alone at sea for more than six weeks (and with many delays and setbacks, it looks more like eight or nine weeks). He finally responded by saying he felt he must do whatever he could do. In his own words:
“I justify my choice to be here a form of self-defense. I’ve been to war in that desert [Desert Storm], climbing over dead Iraqis in the shadow of burning oil fields. I know the price we pay for war, and the arrogant and immoral collusion of business and politics that have given neo-conservatives the post-911 opportunity to kill again for petroleum. It is wrong, and I cannot walk away. I just can’t do it. I cannot be a sedentary revolutionary complaining from the comfort of a soft recliner. I participated in the anti-war movement for a few years, marching, yelling, and banging my head against a wall. It didn’t work. But now I float across a synthetic sea, polluted with the refuse from petroleum-based plastic. This is another way to attack the petroleum industry. Can it work?”
The urgency of tone that Marcus and others express these days reflects their firm conviction that we are, in fact, not only running out of resources, not only polluting existing resources at increasing rates, but that we are also running out of time. At some point, problems simply overwhelm those trying to solve them like a picket fence trying to hold back an avalanche. The oceans cannot be cleansed of the plastic particles that in some places now outweigh plankton by 6:1. What we can do is to stop making it worse. So bravo to Marcus and Joel and the younger and many older warriors who battle on our behalf to save the earth for now and for the future’s sakes.