More Plastic Than Fish

In sixth grade my Social Studies teacher told us to look around the classroom. He then said 50% of your classmates are predicted to contract AIDS. I was mortified. I thought to myself “I am never going to have sex”. My teacher was not totally fear mongering as these were close to the actual projections at the time. If you followed the AIDS epidemic, you can see where they came to this conclusion. In 1920 it was first recorded only in the African nation of Congo, but by 1970 every single continent had cases of AIDS and kept growing by large numbers. Luckily the worst predictions regarding the AIDS epidemic in the United States never manifested.  In 1995 40,000 deaths were AIDS/HIV related, but that dropped sharply to 10,000 AIDS/HIV by 2013. The same study found that even the African continent was starting to see a decline. The new prediction is that AIDS/HIV will see an even larger decline.  

When we speak of the future there too many variables so, we simply are speaking in probability rather than hard truths. Let’s not forget it was a sure thing by 99% of pollsters that Hillary Clinton was going to be the next President. What does this all have to do with plastic pollution? Well it’s well-published that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. This study was repeated in well-respected publications like National Geographic and Washington Post. However the researcher who originally studied this, Prof. Jenna Jambeck, now says that she only feels she can predict until  2025. Some issues that arise in her study is that fish are actually hard to count, as they swim away, and don’t have name tags. The tonnage of plastic entering the ocean is easier to know. Professor Jambeck used the San Francisco area to measure the plastic entering the ocean, which may not represent all of the ocean, and she points this out as another flaw in her study.  

Plastic doesn’t have to outnumber fish before it’s a crisis. That’s like saying you will wait to call the fire department after there’s more fire than house.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on

I wish marketing was as honest as Jenna Jameck. How many times has Purell claimed that it kills 99.9% of germs? Do people who use Purell actually get sick less than those of us who think Purell is BS, and aren’t we spreading harsh chemicals when using all this Purell? Even if the research on Purell was accurate, that in every situation that people use Purell it kills 99.9 % of the germs, is that really important? Why did nature put all those germs or microbes there in the first place? Aren’t most germs harmless, only a handful are disease carrying. Purell did not hit the market until 1996 was society lost without it. Was washing your hands a few times a day not good enough? Now killing every single germ 20 times a day with the travel size Purell is common practice.  Are now people less sick, because humanity just needed Johnson and Johnson invent and Purell? Shouldn’t good research on Purell, not focus on whether it kills 99.9% of germs, but if that is really important to human health? A true research flaw.There are healthy germs that are critical to your health, like germs that help your immune system and keep you from getting certain allergies. The research should determine if we are killing those too. I’m glad that Professor Jambeck has more integrity than most marketing. 

Her estimates are still the best ones we have and demonstrate the catastrophic consequences of too much plastic in our oceans. Plastic doesn’t have to outnumber fish before it’s a crisis. That’s like saying you will wait to call the fire department after there’s more fire than house. No! Plastic does not belong in the ocean, period. How many coral reefs do we have left? When you do not have hard numbers on the environment, most people default to believing that all environmental problems are a 1,000 years away! We have time! Our kids will figure it out. 

When I tell people I have an environmental nonprofit called GreenThinker DC they always suggest that I should work with the schools since children will one day be leaders. What about the adults? What about the adults making decisions on behalf of their children? Sometimes it feels like us parents, teachers and other adults have generational privilege over our children. The word privilege means that you are not aware of the good things that come to you easily and you feel entitled to it. People who have privilege often unaware of the privilege that they have. We can see this in white privilege. I can speak to white privilege being as a brown Indian girl. When I was a kid, I wanted to go into acting. I loved theater, still do, but I looked around and realized that if I pursued acting their were not enough roles for brown girls. Something my white counterparts did not every have to think about. Today too many adults think that it’s the kids who have to figure it out, regarding the environment. They cannot be inconvenienced by reducing their plastic, and make other eco-decisions. A generational privilege. A total unawareness that we have the cleanest air, water and soil that our kids will experience, right now. If we keep using disposable plastic, the clean air, water and soil will be gone, and no there is not enough time for you kids to figure it out. Extinction is forever, there is no taking it back. We cannot revive an extinct animal. 

In the talk I give to people on plastic pollution I tell people the prediction that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish. Now that I have become aware that Jenna Jambeck who first made this prediction is unsure of her prediction due to some research flaws, I will take this out of my talk. Without this number however it is hard to illustrate what a real crisis that we are in. When AIDS had dire outlook, the hard number projections attracted a lot of donations to AIDS research and education prevention. All that money that came into AIDS research probably averted a crisis. Jenna Jambeck, along with the rest of us environmentalists, clearly are not the profit driven capitalist corporations. Corporations often choose to sell products on flawed research, because integrity  is not the name of the game in capitalism, its profit. I hope all the nerdy scientist win what they want, a cleaner earth, because we know all the corporations have won what they want – obscene profits.  

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