14 Million Tonnes of Microplastics On the Sea Floor

Microplastics in the ocean has gained awareness, but a new study shows the problem is far worse than previously understood.

An Australian study estimates that 14 million tonnes of microplastics pile up on the deep ocean floor every year


A study released by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, warns that the accumulation of plastic debris, particularly microplastics, is as much as 25 times worse than previously thought.

“Our research found that the deep ocean is a sink for microplastics,” said lead research scientist Denise Hardesty in a Phsy.org article. “We were surprised to observe high microplastic loads in such a remote location.”

While awareness of the problem of ocean plastics has grown in recent years, this disturbing new discovery of the magnitude of plastics debris floating in huge gyres and settling to the seabed emphasizes the urgency of finding effective solutions.

“Government, industry and the community need to work together to significantly reduce the amount of litter we see along our beaches and in our oceans,” Hadley told Phys.org.

Image coourtesy of Phys.org

The Climate of Our Moral Character

Our moral character should not be run by fossil fuel. How we chose to model the energy economy of the future says much of who we are now.

Energy, capital, and human well-being

The growing climate activism among the world’s youth opens a fresh debate on the moral character of a civilization that would foreclose the future in a last gasp effort to preserve, as Donald Trump sees it, the “wealth underneath our feet.” American wealth, Trump says, is “based on energy” and that he won’t “jeopardize that for dreams and windmills.”

To have a substantive discussion about wealth, dreams, windmills, and morality, we have to go beyond anything Trump says or does, of course. Especially when the discussion revolves around morality. And so we shall.

I will give Mr. Trump this, however: energy is wealth. Certainly in the capitalistic, transactional sense, there is wealth in energy, but limiting our worldview, as Trump does, to the simple equation of wealth accumulation in terms of capital transfer is, as Greta Thunberg so eloquently said at the UN last week, a fantasy of unlimited growth. It is, many argue, an immoral fantasy. One in which most of us live.

We all want energy, in this simple sense, to power the machinery of modern life. Without question, humanity has flourished from the “wealth beneath our feet.” As such, there is an argument for the moral good of pulling up the trapped sunlight in ever more sophisticated methods of extraction. This makes some of us uncomfortable. How can we consider a fossil fuel economy a “good” thing, when we see the environmental destruction, social injustice, unrestrained greed, and existential climate crises that come with it?

I suggest that the “good” we derive from access to fossil energy is not a moral grounding for humanity. Moral good derives from it, just as a moral wrong. Fossil fuel extraction is a method, a tactic, technology. It is not a basis upon which to hang any moral argument. It is amoral. Just like our president.

Moral energy

In order to consider issues of energy and morality, we must think past our current age, even past the totality of human history. Throughout the world, most of us underpin our moral sense in some form of religious ideation. We apply an abstract notion of “God” as an external moral force guiding our behavior.

Indeed, we are a storytelling species, framing our perception of consciousness and reality on personal and social narratives. In one form or another, this is arguably inevitable. Not having a story is not having a life.

The problem with pinning the ultimate nature of morality on any particular myth is that we pin our allegiance, and thus our humanity, on the story, not the underlying principle the story intends to illustrate. We learn to hate those who don’t know or don’t believe in our story. Or at least dismiss them as deluded.

What if morality is rooted in biology?

Evolution, biology, and moral character

Writing in New Scientist, neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland argues against the common notion that our self-interested survival precludes altruism. In Deliver us from evil: How biology, not religion, made humans moral,” Churchland says that it is through the evolution of our mammalian brains and our unrivaled ability of learning and abstraction that we find our moral ground. The plasticity of our brain and flexibility in our social interactions necessitates innate selflessness. Without it, we would never survive. We would have never come to be.

This is generally true of all mammals and even birds to some degree. Care for the other — kin, kith, and beyond. But no other species has climbed so high or developed such complex social interaction as Homo sapiens.

All this is enormously oversimplified, of course. It seems like war, cruelty, dishonesty, gluttony, egocentrism, violence, and greed are all part of the human package. Ages of philosophers have posited the reasons why. It will be on the minds of philosophers when the last breath of humanity flickers out, sooner or later.

If it is essentially the ability of selfless adaptation and learning from which our morality arises, we can then take agency and responsibility, not just for ourselves (though certainly that’s where it must start), not just for the greedy accumulation of wealth, not just to fearfully cling to dogma, but for a better world of our making.

Fossil fuels entrench us in a Faustian bargain. It has corrupted the human spirit even as we have thrived in its heat. It is the cognitive dissonance that isolates us from our moral grounding.

We act morally when learn and adapt to the world around us and in a manner that the moral climate of our character transcends the generations. It is here that we risk losing ourselves entirely. 

This article first appeared on the PlanetWatch channel at Earthmaven.io

Earth Day Without Us: Human conceit, resilience, and finding our place in the Anthropocene

Leaves of a tree

“We are all but recent leaves on the same old tree of life and if this life has adapted itself to new functions and conditions, it uses the same old basic principles over and over again. There is no real difference between the grass and the man who mows it.”
Albert Szent-György

In his 2007 bestseller “The World Without Us,” Alan Weisman expands on a thought experiment published in a 2005 issue of Discover magazine: What if we considered the human impact on the planet by removing the humans?

Everything we’ve built, dumped, dammed, spilt, or pulled up out of the ground remains; but there are no longer any people keeping all those balls in the air. The human endeavor comes crashing down. Earth and its surviving inhabitants are left to digest what remains of civilization, as all the great structures of Man come crumbling back into dust, leaving a scarred but resilient Earth. Continue reading “Earth Day Without Us: Human conceit, resilience, and finding our place in the Anthropocene”

COP23 Wraps : The Long Journey Continues, Nobody Said It Was Easy

Fight another day

The first COP climate conference of the Trump presidency wrapped up last week. True to form, the final gavel fell in the “wee hours” of Saturday morning.

Lacking the excitement of COP21 two years ago, COP23 is nonetheless one more step in the long road of transforming into reality the global aspiration expressed in Paris.

That reality is by no means assured. Despite the political upheaval of the past year, we survive to fight another day.

Life in the Anthropocene

A race to where?

Continue reading “COP23 Wraps : The Long Journey Continues, Nobody Said It Was Easy”

Going to Common Ground

 Bridging the gap

I tried this last week on a post I promoted on Facebook expressing my concern with changing federal environmental policy in Alaska.

That I was paying Facebook a modest sum of cash in exchange for increased exposure, I anticipated raucous participation from the comments section.     Just preaching to the choir gets boring.  My keyword-laden commentary, including “liberal bubble,” should be an easy target.

Continue reading “Going to Common Ground”

Community Capital: Economic Development With a Sense of Place

It’s the economy, stupid.

In 1992, political strategist James Carville coined his catchy admonition ostensibly to keep his staff on message, arguably helping pave the way to Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Carville’s “snowclone” phrase has since been bent and contorted into service across a wide swath of issues.

It’s time to bring the expression home.

Continue reading “Community Capital: Economic Development With a Sense of Place”

Climate Migration, the Paris Agreement, and the Delusion of Isolation

One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic

Forced MigrationBe it from social unrest, economic upheaval, or environmental collapse, forced human migration is at unprecedented levels. According to the UNHCR, there are more than 65 million displaced people in the world today. Of those, more than 22 million are forced refugees. Over half are under 18 years old. Nearly 20 people are displaced from their homes every minute.

Continue reading “Climate Migration, the Paris Agreement, and the Delusion of Isolation”

The Sea is Confused

A Harbormaster’s Reflection on a Life Watching the Sea

From Doc Ricketts to Mack to Dora Flood, Monterey is the stuff of legend, the iconic fishing town hugging the Pacific Coast of central California.

Brought to life by the characters of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, the abundance of Monterey Bay fueled Steinbeck’s imagination. More than just characters in a novel, Monterey is quintessentially a community of people and their relationship with the sea.

Continue reading “The Sea is Confused”

Looking for Tomorrow: Reasons for Hope in a Troubled World

A corrupted creation myth

Corrupted information tells the wrong story

The scientific debate whether we call our geologic epoch the Anthropocene is yet to be settled.

What is less debatable is the planetary-scale impact of human activity. As we posit throughout PlanetWatch, we live in the Age of Man. Our presence is felt in every corner of the Earth. Dominion over the Earth, what was once we imagined, an ageless myth, is our reality. We reap the benefits for a time.

Continue reading “Looking for Tomorrow: Reasons for Hope in a Troubled World”

The Failure of U.S. Climate and Environmental Policy and Why There is Still Hope

Writing to a  class of international students “Climate Change Mitigation in the Developing World” about “climate policy where I live”

It is, of course, hard news from the United States with Donald Trump signing his “energy independence” executive order.   Among other things, the order calls for a “rewrite” of former president Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP is (was) the cornerstone of the U.S. INDC commitment to the Paris Agreement.

Continue reading “The Failure of U.S. Climate and Environmental Policy and Why There is Still Hope”