★ ★ ★ ★
By Mike Hembury
“You can have it all,
My empire of dirt….”
I guess we all try to do our bit for the planet, you know? Well, maybe not all of us, but most of us. We all try to do that lifestyle stuff that minimizes our carbon footprint, cuts down our greenhouse gasses, all that shit.
I mean, I cycle to work whenever I can, or take public transport. I try to avoid flying—(not to work, just anywhere). I eat mostly vegan, except for the odd ice-cream, and our electricity at home comes from a renewable energy provider.
Yeah, all those environmental Brownie points.
But this weekend, I had a little eureka moment. One of those best-intentions-paving-the-way-to-hell moments.
Me and my partner had some downtime together this weekend, and we headed out to our old boat. It’s an old plastic sailboat from the Sixties. Needs a lot of work, but what the hell. In the morning I changed the oil, in the afternoon we went out onto the lake and had a picnic.
Good picnic. Lettuce, tomatoes, avocados. Fresh bread. Soy yoghurt and strawberries for dessert.
Later on, a swim.
Just a shame that the aftermath was a minor ecological catastrophe.
Changing oil on a boat is a messy business. You try to pump the stuff out of the engine into handy containers—plastic bottles maybe—but it inevitably goes everywhere and needs mopping up. Old engine oil is basically toxic waste, and the oil-soaked rags and kitchen roll are equally toxic once they’re full of oil. My main concern was making sure none of it got into the water—a litre of waste oil can contaminate a million litres of water. But once I managed to get it onto dry land, I realized I couldn’t just take it down to the dump. I needed to take it to one of the specialized dumps that take waste oil, so that they could do whatever it is they do with it.
What they do with it is basically try to purify it, then burn the result as fuel for power generation, often in heavy industry.
So I got two Brownie points for not dumping it in the lake, or just throwing it in the trash. But my Brownie points got taken back because at the end of the day I just burnt it and dumped the waste in the air.
Yeah, well oil is dirty, messy stuff. What did you expect? Just to squirt a bit of detergent at it and it would go away?
But a salad, and strawberries.
Good healthy stuff, right?
What could possibly go wrong with that?
Well, all the food we bought came wrapped in plastic. I kid you not, all the food. After lunch, we put all our trash in a bag (plastic of course). A typical 10-litre shopping bag. It was full of plastic packaging. None of it—except the yoghurt pot, but not the top—was biodegradable. None of it was recyclable. It was all oil-based, permanent, essentially toxic material. And all of it is going to end up in the biosphere in one way or another.
So the legacy of our afternoon out was a couple of litres of toxic sludge and a bunch of oil-based solids that are going to stick around for thousands of years.
I’m sure any descendants I have are going to be thrilled about that.
Here in Germany we have one of the world’s best systems for recycling household plastic waste. But over half of that waste still ends up getting burnt in waste incineration plants.
Sure, some it gets recycled. But a lot ends up as landfill. And a lot ends up in the environment in some form. Each year, the world produces 300 million tons of plastic, yet 78% is never recycled.
Thankfully, and in spite of the efforts of the Trump administration, who are busy tearing apart the Environmental Protection Agency, or their allies in the UK Tory government, who simply abolished the Department for Energy and Climate Change, there has been a lot of international attention focused recently on oil toxicity and the long-term environmental implications of oil and plastic waste.
Not only are there huge islands of plastic trash in our oceans, not only are beaches throughout the world literally covered with plastic waste, but we now know that plastic particles and micro-particles are to be found throughout the marine food chain. And for all you fish-eaters out there, that also means in your food chain.
We’re basically poisoning ourselves with this shit.
In some parts of the ocean, plastic particles already outnumber plankton. It’s estimated that at the current rate—i.e. 8 million tons of plastic dumped in the ocean per year—by 2050 the sea could contain more plastic by weight than fish.
And of course, the problem is by no means limited to the oceans. Kenya, for example, is so afflicted by ubiquitous plastic waste that the government has announced that plastic bags will be banned, starting in August.
We just keep on unnecessarily pouring all this filth into the environment, as if there were no alternative.
As if, when this world is used up, we’ll just get the spare out of the trunk.
It isn’t that there is no alternative.
There is just no political will to develop the alternative among the majority of parties in power across the globe.
The world is run by a criminal-industrial complex who would rather kill all life on the planet than give up on an ounce of their profits.
And if you’re asking me how I got from salad and strawberries to the criminal-industrial complex, the answer is this.
This is no longer a merely a matter of individual choice.
Individual choice is a good thing, sure. But it’s not going to swing it in time.
We need drastic action, and we need it now.
We need it on a governmental, inter-governmental, industry-wide, international, global level. We need it on every level of society.
We need a societal mobilisation that makes a priority out of saving the planet, keeping it inhabitable for ourselves, and for all future generations.
Anything that puts short-term profits above that is not just bullshit, it’s criminal bullshit.
The companies who peddle oil as the only way, the executives who want to destroy the Amazon, the Arctic, the deep oceans and great continental aquifers in the pursuit of the planet’s final oil reserves, are today’s moral equivalents of the slave and plantation owners of the 19th century.
We need to combat them with all that we have, and as quickly as we can.
Because the longer they persevere, the greater the damage done.
And although the recent elections in the USA and the UK were won by deeply reactionary, denialist parties in thrall to the carbon lobby, both were accompanied by a great upsurge of hope, and powerful mobilisations of the oppressed.
And it’s upsurges like these that show that far from being impossible, these things are within our grasp.
That there are other things that we can bequeath to the generations to come than a world covered in toxic filth.
Mike Hembury is an Anglo-Berliner originally from Portland, England. He’s a writer, translator, musician, coder, sailor, environmentalist and guitar nerd in no particular order. You can follow Mike on Twitter here: twitter.com/schnappz