She had a worried frown on her forehead. ‘What are we doing to this planet!?’ she muttered.
“What are we doing to it?” I asked. “We are smothering it!” Her eyes grew big. “In plastics! Last year, we have dumped eight million tons of plastic in the sea!”
“Eight million tons is a lot indeed!” I nodded.
“And the worst part of the story is that most of it is not even visible. It sinks to the sea, then it degrades into microscopic particles and then it becomes part of circle of life. Fish gobble it up with the plankton they feed on and in the end, we eat the fish and our own plastics with it.
“You reap what you sow.” I sighed. Now I’m frowning too. “What can we do about it?” I ask her. “Can we do anything?”
She shrugged helplessly: “I guess not. We can start to use less plastics. But I thought we were already doing that, recycling and all. We could ask others to use less plastics too. But how to go about that? Most of these plastics are produced and used in Asia. We can’t even influence our neighbour’s behaviour, what influence can we have on Chinese consumers? We produce over 200 million ton of plastic every year!”
“Two hundred million thousand kilo’s of plastic, every year again…” I tried to imagine the number in my head, but my head was too small for such a big number. When things become bigger than our heads, we tend to either not believe them, or to ignore them because we can’t grasp them anyway.
I remember the days that we both went scubadiving in Indonesia and in Thailand. The saphire blue sea in Malaysia, pristine beaches with hardly a snippet of plastic in sight. My nephew told me a rather different story when he last visited Mindanao in North Sulawesi. I don’t believe I could stomach to see the massive pollution he reportedly observed there. “There is no way we can stop this,” I must concede, “but just think how incredible it would be if we could just create that little bit of awareness, if we could help just a little bit, a little push in the right direction…wouldn’t that be a great achievement already?”
“You’re dreaming,” she said. “But it is not as if I wouldn’t want to do something. I would love to do something. But what?” She wheeled her arms in front of her face. “How to make a difference?”
I could imagine hundreds of people read the same article on plastics, or a few thousands of people watch a documentary about it. And they would all feel just like we do right now. Outraged and helpless. And I realise that it wouldn’t change a thing. Even if you would reach a hundred thousand people, or a million, it wouldn’t make a difference. Because they would all be just as hopelessly dependent on these plastics for their everyday life as we are ourselves. We type these messages on plastic keyboards, that sit on a plastic table, connected to plastic cables into a plastic electric socket, while seated in plastic chairs on plastic floors in plastic houses. Of course we will be killed by plastics. Our planet is smothered in it. This is utterly hopeless!
I became very gloomy now. So this is how we will end? Plastinated corpses, like those in Von Hagen’s Körperwelten beautiful but macabre displays? So, now we better become vegetarians, and then we better stop drinking water, and finally we can’t eat anything anymore that is microfiltered and sterilized? A gloom picture indeed.
But…is there nothing that can be done? We are able to destroy the world, but are we also able to save it from ourselves? We are capable of the most unimaginable atrocities, but we have also built cathedrals, we have landed people on the moon and little space crafts on speeding comets, we have written music for angels and we have saved people from terrible diseases.
We have invented plastics and we can not dis-invent it. So the only way forward is in finding an innovative solution.
Can we now really not invent something to save us from plastics? Whilst I have no idea about the answer, I simply refuse to think that there is no positive answer to this question.
And this is probably also how we should think about all these other gloomy things that have grown bigger than our heads. We have brains, let’s use them in a positive way.
“What if,” I started again, “we would not try to raise awareness about the problems surrounding us, but on the contrary, raise awareness about where possible solutions are to these problems?”
She smiled, leaned over and gave me a kiss. “And what if you and I would give that idea a deeper thought, with a nice cup of champagne, under our warm eiderdown blanket?” she whispered.
And we didn’t solve any questions that night and we didn’t save the planet.
But it made us think, and that is a start.