Tuesday, August 18, 2020

#231 / Every Little Bit Helps (Destroy The Planet)

Janice Brahney is an assistant professor at Utah State University, and is trained in biogeochemistry. She decided that she'd like to study dust. Specifically, Brahney wanted to study how wind-blown dust delivers nutrients to ecosystems. According to an article in Science, Brahney set up a pilot study with the National Atmospheric Deposition Program to collect dust at a network of weather stations usually used to sample rainwater across the United States, mostly in remote locations.

What did Brahney find?

Well, looking at samples from eleven remote areas in the western United States, including the Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree National Park, Brahney noticed brightly colored fragments under the microscope. “I realized that I was looking at deposition of plastics," she said, "which was really shocking.”

Even more shocking, at least to me, was her estimate that about 132 pieces of microplastic land on every square meter of wilderness each day. That adds up to more than 1,000 tons of plastic per year across national parks and other protected areas of the western United States—the equivalent of 300 million plastic water bottles.

"Plastic" is the ubiquitous and preeminent example of an important fact. Human beings have (maybe without even thinking about it very much) demonstrated that they are unwilling to live within the constraints imposed by the World of Nature. We are creatures, born into a world we did not create, and we have consistently attempted to escape from the limitations inherent in that Natural World. We have declined to build our world solely from the elements that Nature provides. Instead, we have wanted to construct our own, human-designed materials, and to build our world with them. Thus, many of the materials upon which we base our civilization are synthetic. "Plastics" are certainly one such category, but there are very many more, including the pesticides and additives that are now inside every human body, even those human bodies that are still waiting to be born. 

Those who demand to "eat organic," have figured out that there may be a lot of problems with these human efforts to substitute synthetic materials for the materials that constitute the World of Nature. Brahney's study doesn't go to the impact that all these tons of plastic have on the wilderness. It illustrates another point. 

Little things add up. 

Fundraisers know the phrase, "every little bit helps." Well, in the case of the little bits of plastic that are ever more pervasive in the environment, every little bit helps to destroy the planet. 

I think we have a problem, here! Thanks to Janet Brahney, and her research, for helping to point it out.

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