Stories from the old times recount legends of great disasters overwhelming civilizations and obliterating the abundant life which had supported them, as in the myths of Ziusudra, Deucalion and Manu, amongst others, in which the causes for the tragedy are either attributed to chance or are ascribed to a wrathful deity or force beyond human control or influence.
The extermination events now current - as many of us are aware - are a much more recent experience in that they are induced by a very different, very short-sighted deity, we may for convenience call by it's euphemistic title "economic growth" : an unprecedented condition made possible by our attempting to break with the cyclical and reciprocal relationships with all the other shapes of life which our species evolved with, and instead following the line on a graph marked GDP, like a road map to unsustainability and extinction.
The complex of synthetic materials, mostly products of the petro-chemical industry and generically referred to as "plastic", are prominent vectors of this on-going anthropogenic biocide. Wild creatures already stressed to breaking point by human over-exploitation, destruction of natural habitat, and by the accidental or deliberate introduction into the living world of the industrial toxins supposedly inseparable from economic progress, are being pushed to the final brink by our plastic, in their environment and in their bodies, poisoning, choking and starving them.
While plastic is convenient and cheap, and the corporations which exist to sell us our sustenance have taught us through their advertising that this is how we like it, the growing awareness through all media of the plastic problem, particularly its acute threat to ocean life, has also made a lot of us determined to slow down or stop this waste-based aspect of our own way of life and being.
But this is really hard to do, as more than one person has told me:
"We have become so used to plastic everything, it almost seems impossible to get rid of it - we don't know how to live without it anymore. And all the marketing 'you're too tired to do that' or 'you don't have time to do that', here buy my throw away plastic."
"I recycle, but now they say most of the plastic going into the blue bins isn't being recycled, it's going to landfill like any other garbage."
"Complaining about the inadequate recycling program gets me two answers, one, it's not cost-effective to do any more (so in other words, screw the environment); and two, use less plastic, and re-use the bags you've already got - which I already do."
Many simply say, "We have to do something more about this!"
On a hot July 1st, Greenpeace Ottawa Local Group stood downtown in the Canada Day crowd to spread a little more awareness of the problem with plastic, and interestingly enough, while plastic single-use bottles of water were being offered to the dehydrated spectators by whoever was running the party, most people walking by our position near "The Three Watchmen" (by Haida artist James Hart), were carrying refillable bottles of their own; so at least that idea, or fashion, may to some small degree reduce plastic consumption.
What's next? The incredible contrast between, for example, the photograph we displayed of a juvenile Laysan Albatross dead from ingesting too much plastic which its parents accidently fed it, and the profound lack of litter in the streets around Parliament Hill in Ottawa, provokes an obvious question. If it's out of sight, is our plastic waste out of mind? Is sending it to the dump, or to the ocean, good enough for most people?
The economic system the majority of us in Canada benefit from in many ways, is not only a market, an exchange of work, time and goods, it's a system addicted to, and dependent on, the amazing amounts of waste it creates. As Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore write in A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things (2017), "Humans under capitalism abuse the ecosystems of which we are part - and on which we depend. Capitalists are, for instance, happy to view the ocean as both storage facility for the seafood we have yet to catch and sinkhole for the detritus we produce on land. the balance of food and trash will soon tip. By 2050, two years after the last commercial fish catch is projected to land, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish."
Getting restaurants to stop automatically handing out plastic straws is a step in the right direction; changing individual consumer's habits and expectations is another, bigger step. The Coca-Cola company world-wide sells more than 110 billion single-use plastic bottles a year, which means not only is this type of packaging very profitable for them in the short-term (and short-term is just about the only way any really big corporation is ever capable of seeing anything), it also infers that changing Coke's shareholder's habits and expectations is, and will continue to be into the foreseeable future, an almost revolutionary effort.
Which everyone can be part of, if we stop for just a moment and think about it, then act; because, as Alice Walker has said, "activism is the rent I pay for living on the planet."