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GREENINGS: No solutions for nobody’s problem (Dec. 2017)

December 15th, 2017 · No Comments

Governments must move sooner to address issues big and small

By Terri Chu

If it’s nobody’s problem, does it really need to be solved?

Scientists are once again sounding the alarm about the untenable amount of plastic in the world’s oceans. It is estimated that there will soon be more plastic in the ocean than fish. This is a problem. But whose problem is it anyway?

If there’s one thing I’m comforted by, it is knowing that invertebrate politicians aren’t limited to the first world.

Part of the reason nothing has been done about it is because, like climate change, the problem doesn’t belong to any one country. Small things have been done when problems are recognized. India banned plastic bags in Delhi after realizing its sewers were being clogged and costing money to deal with it. Certainly it wasn’t done out of the goodness of its heart.

Governments tend to take action only when the quality of life for the majority of their citizens is affected. In Ontario, we did nothing despite knowing about toxic mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows First Nation since it merely affected a small population of Indigenous people, a minority group that’s been treated shamefully throughout our history. Even when our citizens are killed, we are loath to care, especially when it’s nobody’s problem.

Unless money is on the line, governments tend not to act. Delhi did a great thing by banning all single-use plastics but its air pollution is choking its own citizens to death. Rather than tackle the source of the problem, something that could have an impact on its economy, the government decided to drop water from airplanes and hope for the best. If there’s one thing I’m comforted by, it is knowing that invertebrate politicians aren’t limited to the first world.

Back to plastic that’s killing Nemo, whose problem is it anyway? In truth, nobody’s.

A lobster was recently caught with a Pepsi logo essentially tattooed on its claw. It raises some concern over trash in our own waters, but don’t expect governments on any level to actually act on it. Not until lobster fisheries are severely affected will any government make a move to deal with the problem.

During the post-war era, we were a little better as a species to deal with collective problems. We created organizations like the International Whaling Commission (IWC) as we watched whale numbers decline drastically. In 1982, the IWC successfully put a moratorium on commercial whaling that has mostly been respected save for a few countries. Notably Japan’s delicious whales caught for “scientific” purposes where the meat then can’t go to waste. Arguably, the IWC has had at least some positive impact on whale recovery despite continued whaling operations from a small number of nations.

In the Brexit and Trump era, creating such a body to deal with the ocean’s trash would be too hard to imagine. What were once two of the most powerful nations on earth have to pander to constituents that barely believe the earth is round. Getting them to believe that our plastic trash is pooling in international waters would be too far a stretch of the imagination when it’s supposed to fall off over the edge into the ether…. And of course, it becomes nobody’s problem.

The truth is, we have an economy that’s addicted to plastic. With seven billion of us on the planet, we are slowly writing our own death sentence. At some point, we have to realize that our current modus operandi is not working. Alanis Obomsawin from the Odanak reserve in Quebec is credited with saying “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.” It’ll be a little late then.

Action has to be taken, and we can no longer rely on the superpowers of old. The United States and Britain are stuck in a bygone era and we must move on without them. Canada has an opportunity to take a leadership position on this issue. We are bordered by three coasts. We have a heavy interest in keeping the oceans clean.

There will certainly be a cost to taking action. Goodness knows the 1 per cent can’t afford not to control 50 per cent of the world’s wealth. The cost of inaction is rapid population decline and the lords will find they have nobody to rule over.

Terri Chu is an engineer committed to practical environmentalism. This column is dedicated to helping the community reduce energy, and help distinguish environmental truths from myths.

 

READ MORE GREENINGS BY TERRI CHU:

Celebrate science not milestones (Nov. 2017)

Down to the data (Oct. 2017)

Reducing paper waste (Fall 2017)

Taking tolls to the Gardiner and Don Valley Parkway (July 2017)

Lessons from Madrid (June 2017)

Thoughts on hitting the 400 benchmark (May 2017)

Solving the food waste problem (April 2017)

Kellie Leitch was right (March 2017)

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