Saturday, April 19, 2008

Global Midden

So, you reckon those supermarket plastic bags are harmless to the environment. That banning them, or imposing a levy on their use, is just another fine example of politicians knuckling under to greenie-Gaian stand-over tactics. It's just another scare campaign from self-loathing, self-flagellating tree-hugging planet savers who find happiness in inflicting misery and inconvenience on the rest of us. The sort of people who write letters to the editor with inflated claims like this:

There is a knotted stew of plastic bags in the Pacific Ocean the size of a continent, yet we cannot put a miniscule tax on plastic bags in supermarkets to discourage their use.

Maybe you should think again - assuming that is, that your thinking on plastic bags isn't conditioned by reflexive hatred of all things Gaian. Because that little claim I've just quoted (from the letters page of today's Age) isn't that far off the mark. On Googling "Pacific Ocean Plastic Bags", I found quite a few web pages on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (2GP) aka the Pacific Trash Vortex. For those who consider Wikipedia infradig and unreliable, the Independent has a good article describing the discovery of the patch - not so much a tangled stew of plastic bags as a soup of plastic waste:

The vast expanse of debris – in effect the world's largest rubbish dump – is held in place by swirling underwater currents. This drifting "soup" stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan... The "soup" is actually two linked areas, either side of the islands of Hawaii, known as the Western and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches. About one-fifth of the junk – which includes everything from footballs and kayaks to Lego blocks and carrier bags – is thrown off ships or oil platforms. The rest comes from land.

The 2GP is in the Northern hemisphere so it's most likely, given the way ocean currents behave, that most of its contents came from industrialised countries around the North Pacific rim - Canada, the USA, Japan and possibly China.

The currents that hold the 2GP in place have their counterpart in the South Pacific - the South Pacific Gyre. That's where plastic bags and other trash from the East Coast of Australia and New Zealand would end up if they actually made it into the open ocean without snagging on a coral reef, the west coast of New Zealand or some other obstacle. Perhaps there's a Lesser Pacific Garbage Patch out there, waiting to be discovered.

And when it is discovered, we'll show those Canucks, Yanks, Japs and Chinks a thing or two, when the unrestrained growth of our Pacific Garbage Patch outstrips the growth of theirs and they have to cede the title of Great Pacific Garbage Patch to our oceanic soup of plastic. Because that's what being Australian is all about - boring it up anyone who isn't Australian, any bloody way we can.

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