By Thomas Morton
Photos by Jake Burghart
(VICE) – I’m not one of those guys who corners folks at parties to rant at them about biodiesel or calls people “fucking idiots” for being skeptical about global warming. But I should also point out that I’m not one of those Andrew Dice Clay “Fuck the whales” types either.
The problem with all the bravado on both sides of the ecology debate is that nobody really knows what they’re talking about. Trying to form opinions on climate change, overpopulation, and peak oil hinges on ginormous leaps of faith based around tiny statistical deviances that even the scientists studying them have a hard time understanding. It gets so convoluted with all the yelling and the politics that sometimes you just want something huge and incontrovertibly awful to come along for everybody to agree on. Something you can show anyone a picture of and go, “See? We’re fucked.”
Well, I have just such a thing. There is a Texas-size section of the Pacific Ocean that is irretrievably clogged with garbage and it will never go away. And I have seen it with my own eyes. Case closed. Oh, you want to hear more? OK, fine. [...]
Once we were firmly inside the patch, Captain Moore rigged up a trawl and started taking water samples in little petri dishes. I figured these would be snoozers without a microscope, but when the first one came in it was more horrifying than anything we’d seen floating past.
There were a few water striders and tiny jellyfish here and there, but they were totally overwhelmed by a thick confetti of plastic particles. It looked like a snow globe made of garbage. Based on previous samples, Moore estimated the ratio of plastic to the regular components of seawater in what we were pulling up as 6 to 1. As we moved closer to the middle of the Gyre, the ratio got visibly higher, until we started pulling in samples that looked like they contained solely plastic.
This is the part of the trip that weighs heaviest on my mind. It’s terrible enough to litter sections of the planet with things that can conceivably be removed—I mean, even oil spills and radioactive dust can be cleaned up to a certain extent. But to fundamentally alter the composition of seawater at one of the farthest points from civilization on the globe is a whole different ballpark of fucking the planet. It’s fucking it right up the ass, for good and forever. Without lube. [more]