Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Revisiting the vortex.

It's time to dig through the garbage.

I'm working on a few different writing projects at present, so I thought in the meantime I'd post a blog version of a summer television rerun, with a bit of an update.

I wrote about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex), two years ago. This vortex is essentially a huge trash dump floating around in the Pacific Ocean. 

Start with a filthy base of degrading plastics and other man-made trash, add a dash of cruise ship debris (each luxury liner generates over eight tons of solid waste every week), mix in a bit of oil we keep spilling here and there, stir it up with a compliant ocean current, and voila. Like attracts like. 

I was hoping to provide an encouraging update, but I read this morning that the vortex is still estimated to have created a mass twice the size of the continental United States.

So taking it from macro to micro, it may be a good time to think about what you throw away. 

This photo looks like surrealism meets impressionism, with a trashy twist.

I didn't see the man in the canoe right away, but he's there.

It's not a pretty picture. And imagine how it must smell from where the man in the boat is sitting.

The picture illustrates that we as a culture generate a whole lot of trash. And once the items we buy are consumed, we don't seem to have any problem dissociating from the remains of what once was important enough to actually buy. 

Then we end up with the Pacific Trash Vortex.

I hadn't heard about this crazy mess until yesterday, when my lovely friend Cara mentioned it. We were talking about the oil spill, and Cara casually mentioned the Trash Vortex.

Look it up! Google it! There's a crap-ton of information about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which sounds so benign, as if little Garbage Patch dolls float above the mess with endearing, plush, refreshing cartoon smiles.

It's not so bucolic in the Garbage Patch, though.

We knew it was coming, as early as 1988 when NOAA identified it as a threat. This slow, clockwise current in the North Pacific is an oceanic desert, which dissuades big fish from making that area their home. Instead, this North Pacific tropical gyre attracts trash.

The Eastern Garbage Patch is so not patchy. It's a big mass of plastic and gunk and crappy-crap trash between California and Hawaii, and it's reported to be two times bigger than the size of Texas.

And that's only the Eastern Garbage Patch. There are a few other pieces of this trashy trash patchwork that rival the massive width and depth of the Eastern patch.

So when we're getting all "speed it up, BP!" - which is of course a perfectly legitimate sentiment - maybe we should take a peek in the mirror and look at how we each cumulatively affect this big blue ball we inhabit.

Before I learned about this from Cara, I didn't even know this watery mass existed. 

I had no clue that my trash might be getting sucked into the vortex.

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