Plastics are our generation’s greatest challenge.
The exponential rate in which plastics are taking over our oceans is something that will bubble unseen until the tipping point on which it radically changes our world’s ecosystems.
We’ve seen the model play out with Global Warming — CO2 levels are now rising at a faster rate than at any point in the last 800,000 years, increasing in the last year at a rate 50 per cent higher than average. Coral Reefs are dying out and we seem unlikely to meet the goal of limiting temperature increase at two degrees. Short term consumer convenience and ignorance has been proven to trump long term care and consideration every time and with that, our next major environmental disaster looms on the horizon.
It’s hard to imagine a world without plastics but, for most of us, it’s all we’ve known. The first man made plastic was created in 1862 but mainstream usage didn’t begin until the first plastic carrier bags were popularized in the late 70s. In fewer than fifty years we have travelled from nothing to oceans that contain over 50 trillion microplastic particles, 500 times more than the stars in our Galaxy. In fewer than fifty years we have travelled from nothing to 10 million tonnes of plastic deposited in the world’s oceans every, single year. Our convenience comes at a cost and, if we continue at our current rate, by 2050 our oceans will contain more plastic than fish by mass.
Stats, unfortunately, do little to confront the reality of the problem, so hard they are to fathom, so easy they are to share and to dismiss.
Litter is out of sight and out of mind; often causing devastation that is geographically distant from us and impacting ecosystems with which we perceive we have no direct relationship. Even when it finds its way into the food chain, we don’t react. 99% of the fish we eat contain strains of microplastic yet until we’re biting down into a fish and pulling plastic from our teeth, we won’t raise an eyebrow. And even then, it is so, so easy to overlook the significance of our actions as individuals on this global-scale problem.
The modern diet of an Albatross
Just as we switched to plastics half a century ago, collectively we can switch off. But without harnessing the power of our collective efforts, we’re going to continue on this journey. Plastic equals convenience and convenience equals profit and growth; plastics are fused and tightly interwoven into our society and into our most recent era of economic prosperity. However, we have reached the point at which business must evolve. It’s not going to come for free but, as consumers, we need to start demanding leadership from the companies that have the opportunity and the profits to start this shift.
As business owners ourselves, we’ve often heard the received wisdom that businesses cannot co-exist amicably with a social mission and we believe it is time that this dangerous narrative is rebuffed. Whilst the impact might not be immediately clear, we’re collectively waking up to the destruction that this short-term thinking is causing. We hope it won’t take us all biting into plastic to create societal change but we’re not too far from this point. If there’s a silver lining, maybe it’s that this isn’t far from being our reality.
Blue Planet II, currently airing on The BBC
Blue Planet II, and its exposure of the issue, may mark the start of a new way of thinking. 16 years after the original series, the narrative has moved on from the majesty of the oceans to one of concern for their future and this rate of change should strike fear into us all. It is encouraging that it is one of the most popular programmes on TV but a conversation for wider systemic change must follow. We must do more than be a third party looking into a window on another world. The spark, we hope, will be a sense of connection and a shared affinity provided by media that transports us into this unfamiliar environment.
Oceans are the key to life on Earth and are a reflection of our worst behaviour. This damage is entirely our doing and we have the power to put an end to it. We can only hope that the movement begins here.
Ed Barton and Ben Kidd are founders of Curiscope, a UK-based startup dedicated to revealing the magic and wonder in the world around you through Virtual and Augmented Reality. Their first VR experience became one of the most viewed VR experiences of all time, and offers an introduction to Marine Biology through Great White Sharks (link). The team’s follow up, Operation Apex, a VR underwater exploration of the marine world, launches on November 30th on the high-end VR headset, HTC Vive.