Opinion by Kip Hansen – January 1st 2022
Just in time to ring in the New Year – a New Crisis!
CRISIS / ˈkraɪ sɪs / :
”a situation that has reached a critical phase”
or, alternately,”specific, unexpected, and non-routine events or series of events that [create] high levels of uncertainty and threat or perceived threat to [a society’s] high priority goals.”
And, of course, this crisis is man-made. Man-made in two senses:
1) Caused by something that mankind is doing
2) is a situation that ordinarily would be considered an interesting problem that has been declared a CRISIS! by a couple of dozen well-positioned single-issue advocates.
These crisis-creating advocates are endowed with societal clout by the fact that they are Scientists™. Not only scientists but scientists who have been (self-) appointed to an important committee of an important scientific organization. Which of the all-so-important scientific bodies? The august, venerated, always absolutely correct and perfectly reliable U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, more regularly referred to simply as The National Academies.
They, not the National Academies itself, but the members of the “Committee on the United States Contributions to Global Ocean Plastic Waste”, have stated plainly and upfront:
“In the United States, ocean plastic waste has become a top public concern, but the developing plastic waste crisis has been building for decades.”
And of what is this crisis of ocean plastic waste made up of?
“Sampling on the ocean’s surface has allowed scientists to assess the large-scale accumulation of floating debris across ocean basins, which occurs in ocean gyres in both the northern and southern hemispheres. These accumulation zones, commonly referred to as “garbage patches,” are mainly composed of microplastics that have broken apart from larger items, although large floating debris (especially derelict fishing gear, including nets, floats, and buoys) is also found.” [ source ]
You may be confused by the language used, even if you are a native English speaker. The “large scale accumulation” is not “of floating debris across ocean basins” at all, though the report expressly makes that claim, while simultaneously clarifying that the non-existent (but ever so popular in advocacy propaganda) garbage patches “are mainly composed of microplastics that have broken apart from larger items”.
Just what are these dangerous microplastics? They are bits of plastic that are 4 to 120 micrometers in size.How big is that in inches (it is, after all, the U.S. National Academies)
From one and a half ten-thousandths of an inch all the way up to five one -thousandths of an inch.
To see microplastics, you generally need a microscope. Your eye can discern a grain of fine sand, if you place it on a sheet of paper with a contrasting color and you would be able to see a bit of microplastic at 120um if similarly displayed (well, you younger people could, I could not). But even the young cannot see something only 4um in diameter without the aid of a microscope.
Almost all of the created-crisis-creating plastic pollution in the oceans is so small that you cannot see it. This admission aligns well with my personal experience. Like Nils-Axel Mörner, I am a dedicated fan of the “Oh yeah? Let me see for myself”-school of evidence. Until I retired five years ago, I had spent one half of my adult life living on the sea on boats and ships, both as a professional mariner and as Captain of my own vessels. I have a lot of sea miles under my belt. To actually see something floating on the surface of the sea is so very rare that it invariably calls for closer inspection at least by binoculars or at other times by a brief divergence from one’s intended course to “go have a look”. Failing to investigate an object large enough to be seen at any distance was considered negligent by the Captains I have served under and I have followed suit when I was the Captain. The “garbage patch” is a fraudulent invention – a fantasy.
Here is a view of the worst area of the pacific Garbage Patch:
You can read the entire 211-page National Academies’ report “Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste (2021)” in .pdf format by downloading it here.
The truest thing in the report is represented in this image (originally from Law 2017):
It at least shows that oceanic plastic, where found, fragments into smaller and smaller pieces and then undergoes (albeit with a “?”) biodegradation. Bio-what? Plastic are not forever as they wish you to believe, but are broken down into smaller and smaller pieces and then into simpler and simpler chemical compounds, they are literally eaten by microbes and itty-bitty living things in the sea.
The image below explains the repeated findings of trolling sieve nets through the sea to search for pelagic (ocean going) plastic – under a certain size, the number of plastic bits, which should be increasing exponentially as larger bits break into many smaller bits, sharply drops to zero as size decreases. Like ice chips in a glass of water, as size decreases, the ratio between surface area and volume increases. The biota eating the plastic bit from the outside in eventually end up consuming the entire little bit.
In every ocean basin, as particle size decreases through natural fragmentation, especially when the size drops below 0.5 mm, the number of findable plastic particles rapidly approaches zero. Plastic Waste Crisis advocates simply don’t mention this glaring scientific fact – it doesn’t contribute to their agenda.
The trumpeted crisis of Microplastics! involves bits of plastic that are 4 to 120 micrometers in size – 4um is 0.004 mm and 120um is 0.12mm – both below the vanishing point on the graph above.
If you read the Academies report, you will discover that the whole crisis is based on the new and developing ability to detect such small bits of plastic – the amount of plastic entering the oceans used in the report are, even by the most lenient scientific standards, mere wild-ass guesses. These SWAGs are then used in over-confident computer models to create further alarming estimates of total number of microplastic bits and potential harms, despite very few documented cases of any real harm at all (Creatures can become entangled floating masses of discarded fishing nets and the like, but not with microplastics). As with other invented crises, the presence of a thing alone is defined as harm.
1. There is no crisis of any kind whatever involving plastics. Any claims to the contrary are fantasies.
2. Plastics are just another type of hydrocarbon compound, many created and used because of their ability to survive intact under many conditions and survive for long periods of time. Both are features not bugs.
3. It is not true that “Plastics are Forever”. Plastics degrade, breakdown, and are literally consumed by Earth’s lifeforms, which are all carbon based.
4. Plastics are made from petroleum and its byproducts. The petroleum converted to plastics instead of being burnt for energy sequesters that carbon for long periods of time just like trees ….and eventually is broken down by Nature into other chemical compounds, such as methane.
5. However, Kindergarten Rules apply at all stages and areas of life: Pick up after yourself — clean up your own messes. Thus, we need to do all we can to keep every sort of trash, including plastics, contained and disposed of in a responsible manner – this keeps it out of the oceans and the rest of the natural environment.
6. Plastics are valuable and should be recycled whenever possible into useful and valuable commodities, such as replacements for lumber in decking, shipping pallets, etc. Plastics that cannot be recycled are valuable sources of energy when burnt in properly designed clean Waste-to-energy plants.
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I have written a lot about plastics over the last decade. You can find many of these essays using this link.
None of our society’s waste belongs in the ocean – or on the roadside or in the woods. But creating a crisis from almost nothing is not helpful.
Lady Bird Johnson taught my generation to “put your trash in the trash bin” and I have had a life-long habit of placing candy wrappers and other bits of trash in my back pockets – often to the annoyance of my wife.
The oceanic plastic waste hobby-horse is an outgrowth of all the other anti-petroleum madness.
By the way, while floating masses of discarded fishing nets and plastic ropes are a hazard to maritime shipping because they can become entangled in ship’s propellers – which I know from sad personal experience – they are also floating reefs and make wonderful habitat for innumerable sea creatures on the high seas.
Hoping you all have a prosperous, productive and healthy New Year.
Thanks for reading.
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