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Point Source Solutions For Solving Ocean Problems

Source: World Ocean Radio/Peter Neill - December 5, 2017 in Radio

Point Source Solutions For Solving Ocean Problems
Photo: Quino Al/Unsplash

In this episode of World Ocean Radio we ask who benefits from current solutions to ocean acidification, co2 emissions, and plastic pollution, and if there might be simpler ideas that involve investments in green technologies, demand for alternatives, and a shift in attitudes and behaviors away from a bankrupt system of fossil fuels toward one of sustainability and solution.

Transcript:

Welcome to World Ocean Radio…

I’m Peter Neill, Director of the World Ocean Observatory.

I have a good friend who sends me links to technical ideas directed at fixing major ocean problems such as acidification, plastic trash, and pollutants in our air and sea that represent clear and present danger to global health and security. These ideas are mostly big geo-engineering proposals: iron filings to adjust ocean pH, harvest of the enormous “islands” of plastic bottles and other debris found in the Pacific and most recently in the Caribbean, or huge air handlers to suck in and filter large volumes of air to cleanse them of detrimental emissions, the output of the burning of coal and oil to meet the increasing demand for global energy no matter what the source. Indeed, recent news reports indicate that the use of such fossil fuels continues to reach record levels, indifferent to the rapid shift to less polluting alternatives.

These friendly exchanges ask that I think again about my own ideas about such things, and to articulate the arguments that counter their practicality, mostly the extraordinary demands of scale and capital costs invested in strategies that have no certain outcome and may exacerbate the problems as much as solve them. It is a good exercise, but it brings me back again and again to our propensity to fix things by actions that do not address the root cause of the problem at hand and may indeed have even worse consequences than the original situation presents.

It is also qood to ask, “who benefits from these ideas?” Simply the enthusiastic engineers and inventors and investors who will bet on the next big thing? Or perhaps those with vested interest in the existing system as a means to prolong the effect—and profits—of the status quo?

What bothers me most about this is the resolve not to address the problem itself at its source.

Over the past two decades we have been well aware of the destructive public health consequences of our dependence on fossil fuels. The debate has been serious and intense, to the point that we have engaged in military adventures to protect or possess oil and gas reserves abroad, advanced technologies such as fracking to poisonous effect, bend our geopolitical agenda and behavior in support of policies and actions directly against our long-term benefit, and attempt to undermine alternative technologies even when they are proved economical and transformative.

So let’s look at what might be a simpler, more direct, point source solution to some of these issues. With regard to acidification and toxins in air and water, the best possible action would be to regulate or stop such emissions altogether and pursue new, proven technologies such as solar or geothermal energy production. As have been suggested, what if we built large-scale solar farms on public lands, using public funds for construction and connection to a new smart grid distribution system? Some estimates suggest that such a strategy would provide every erg of energy required for an expanding US economy with a return on investment that would far exceed the profits of energy companies fearful of change. What if we just accept that our existing system is strategically bankrupt and financially counter-productive, and make a revolutionary shift to the future using knowledge and capital readily available if we decide to invest it?

And what about plastics? Well, there may be a short-term benefit is “harvesting” and re-cycling plastic waste where it is available in large concentration (at sea or at the local dump) and recycle? What holds us back from that action now? Presumably price. But who benefits from the need to make more and more plastics? Right: the fossil fuel industry. Some estimates suggest that if we recycled all the plastic on earth today, we would never have to make another piece of plastic again. Or, what if we simply stopped buying plastic containers for our products and water, and used recycled paper containers instead? What’s the difference other than a re-allocation of investment to support a better alternative?

Finally, there is the role of the individual as the most common denominator in the market. If we boycott plastic, shift our investments in regressive products and productions, legislate against it use as is being done in many locales, and demand alternatives in all instances against the continuing ill-effect of associated toxic waste and pollutants, we can take back our air and water and health and governance from those who do not have our best interest at heart. We are the ultimate geo-engineers; we are the point men and women; we are the ultimate solution.

We will discuss these things, and more, in future editions of World Ocean Radio.

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World Ocean Radio is brought to you in collaboration with the World Ocean Observatory. The World Ocean Observatory advocates for the ocean through independent, responsible, apolitical science, and is dedicated to advancing public understanding of ocean issues through institutional collaboration and partnerships, pro-active programs, and connection with individual subscribers around the world.

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