|Saving the Earth one plastic bag at a time|
|Written by Kathleen Wood|
|Thursday, 14 April 2011 09:22|
How quickly we forget. On July 12, 2008 in a radio address, President George W. Bush, in a radio address said, “technological advances have allowed us to explore oil offshore in ways that protect the environment.”
In hindsight, Bush’s speech seems tragically myopic, but the constant pressure to pursue offshore drilling continues in the United States and across the world, as nations clamor for the coveted crude elixir.
Today, the hundreds of millions of gallons of crude oil suffocating the Gulf of Mexico are an abstracted postscript for everyone except the dead dolphins that continue to wash up along Florida’s shorelines. The explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig was not the first disaster of its kind, nor will it be the last, but how quickly we forget.
In 1969, a Unocal oil rig off the coast of Santa Barbara blew, spewing millions of gallons of crude oil into the beautiful California surf. At the time, it was a disaster of unprecedented proportions (although the event is now dwarfed by the recent BP disaster). Seabirds, otters, seals and dolphins suffocated in thick, black tar washed up by the thousands, dead along the Santa Barbara coast. Although disastrous, the event precipitated a national environmental wake up call.
Inspired by the California disaster, Sen. Gaylord Nelson established on April 22nd, 1970, the first Earth Day. Events across the country on that day cemented public support for environmental conservation. In what would today be unheard of, Republicans and Democrats joined together to establish the Environmental Protection Agency and to pass the landmark Clean Water, Clean Air and Endangered Species Acts.
On April 22, we will again pause for a few minutes from our distracted, frenetic lives to pay homage to our home and habitat, the Earth. While the events of Santa Barbara and the Gulf of Mexico seem far away from the turquoise waters of the Turks and Caicos Islands, we cannot escape our connection to them. The gasoline that propels our vehicles, the power that electrifies our day to day lives and the plastic bags that we use once and then carelessly toss away are all products of the necessary evil that is crude oil.
Just as crude oil slips into the niches of an ecosystem, it creeps insidiously into our every day lives without observation. Almost every consumer good sold in the Turks and Caicos Islands makes its way here onboard a fossil fuel-propelled freighter.
The food on our tables, cement in our houses, and chemicals in all our household products can trace their origins to fossil fuel. While one could argue that in the case of subsistence items, the cost of oil extraction is outweighed by necessity, in many instances our consumption of products produced from fossil fuels is simply careless and lazy.
In the United States the production of plastic bags alone accounts for the consumption of 12 million barrels of oil every year.
Because the TCI is an island nation, the scourge of plastic bags is particularly relevant. The same lightweight and sturdy physiology that makes the single use plastic bag convenient also makes it a perfect vehicle to catch the wind and soar.
As the refuse of our convenience blows away from the open landfills in the trade winds, it makes its way to the ocean where it is misinterpreted as food by marine animals and seabirds. The Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation estimates that a million birds and more than 100,000 turtles and marine mammals are sacrificed each year on the alter of human laziness by ingesting single use plastics.
The single use plastic bag is the ultimate icon of our throw away culture. By some estimates, it is the most ubiquitous consumer good on Earth with up to one trillion produced and used every year. Once a bag is consumed, it is here to stay, taking up to 1,000 years to decompose.
Every bag used and carelessly tossed has the potential to take a life, the life of a sea turtle, bird or whale, not to mention the catastrophic environmental impacts associated with the extraction of oil and the toxic byproducts of production. Conversely, every time a reusable bag is employed, lives and the ecosystem are saved.
Most people feel rightfully overwhelmed when confronted with the multiplicity of environmental problems that plague the planet. We feel like we are helpless to effect change, but we can all be environmental heroes by simply rejecting plastic bags and carrying our own reusable bags instead.
Reducing our consumption of plastic will not ruin our lives or the economy. It is not an inconvenience to keep reusable bags and a refillable water bottle in the car at all times. The reusable bags, hold more, don’t split and are easier to carry, and who really uses those ridiculous plastic utensils anyway?
On April 22, the TCI will commemorate Earth Day by putting its money where its proverbial mouth is. The TCI Environmental Club, the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources and the Campaign to Ban Single Use Plastic Bags in the TCI have collaborated with IGA to kick start a campaign to rid the country of the scourge of plastic bags once and for all.
This is something we all can do. If we can’t, then we have no business calling ourselves “beautiful by nature.”
This Earth Day, April 22, remember: Our lust for oil has consequences. Plastic bags, bottles and other convenience items are crude oil derivatives.
We can carelessly gather them by the hundreds at the grocery store, allow them to blow off the backs of our pick up trucks, and throw them away. Or we can be sentient, conscientious, citizens of Earth and for the price of convenience save a bird, a turtle and our world.
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TCI Protected Areas Series
The fp is publishing a series of articles on the Turks and Caicos Islands Protected Area System to increase public awareness and respect for the beauty and value of this "beautiful by nature" country.
The authors, marine ecologist Marsha Pardee and terrestrial ecologist Kathleen Wood, are long-time TCI residents and respected scientists in their fields.
Below are links to their articles, plus related news articles, documents and laws.
- 29/7/10: Chalk Sound National Park: Beauty and ecology
- 22/7/10: Protected Areas designations and differences
- 15/7/10: Long-term prosperity vs. short-term gain
- 8/7/10: Protected Areas save environment, generate revenue
- 5/8/10: Frenchman’s Creek: Prime real estate of TCI wetlands
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Links to environmental documents and laws