Posted by Thersites on  UTC 2017-12-14 10:43

Over the last few years we in the West have been presented with more and more bad news about the impact of plastics on ocean life. Each dose of bad news is concluded with a call for action: supermarkets shouldn't provide plastic bags free for the use of their customers. Better, they shouldn't provide them at all. Let's not even mention trillions of plastic bottles and those pesky bath ducks.

Well, yes. But how does all this plastic stuff get into the sea? I've never heard of anyone in Europe going to the sea coast and chucking old plastic carrier bags and bath ducks into the ocean. I've never met a resident of central Europe who heaves their rubbish into the Rhine, the Rhône or the Danube. On the contrary, we spend immense amounts of money collecting this junk and dealing with it in one way or another. The many ways of 'dealing with it' do not include, to my understanding, casting it into the sea.

Can we Europeans blame the USA? They are traditionally the ones to blame when anything anywhere goes wrong. The EPA in the USA claims it stopped the picturesque practice of dumping garbage into the ocean from barges in 1972. Better late than never, I suppose. And, of course, in 1972 we had still not been educated about the horrors of dehydration and the need to carry a plastic bottle of water with us wherever we went. I carry mine in a brown paper bag: I don't want people falsely to assume that my wrinkles are due to dehydration.

The solution to the puzzle came from the estimable Matt Ridley's review of the BBC's recent series 'Blue Planet II'.

Mostly, these sermons were spot on. It is a scandal that eight million tonnes of plastic enters the ocean every year, though 95 percent of it comes from just ten rivers, all in Asia and Africa, so that’s where the main effort is needed. Plastic kills albatross chicks and even whales.

So the Swiss and the Germans don't really go down to the banks of the Rhine at two o'clock in the morning to dispose of their rubbish. It is the developing world's consumption of modernity that has outstripped its ability to dispose of its byproducts. Here is an illustrated example from PRI: '5 countries dump more plastic into the oceans than the rest of the world combined'.

Then again, as is always the case with environmental activism, everyone has their own favourite formulation of the horror. Here, for example, is CBS News: '20 countries are responsible for more than 80 percent of the plastic going into the ocean annually'. Of course, since this is CBS News, the guilty party named in the headline is still the USA: 'U.S. polluting ocean with trash at alarming rate'. Fortunately for President Trump, he wasn't around at that time to take the blame personally.

Activists should show Blue Planet II in the Philippines and China. We in the West will still be deprived of plastic supermarket bags, though. Why? Just because, or perhaps it's our guilt that pays for all the misdirected activism. It's enough to drive you to drink.

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