Some problems mankind has had to cope with since time immemorial, including famine, plague and sickness. Yuval Harari in Homo Deus argues coherently from this premise. However in his recent book, The Better Angels of our Nature, Steven Pinker eloquently describes the comparatively peaceful times in which we live in the 21st century. Per capita, there are fewer threats to personal well being than have ever existed in the past.
Indeed, I have personally been influenced positively by Pinker’s arguments, and have taken much comfort from his detailed comparative analysis of the eradication of famine as well as the reduction in conflict at the present time. Plague has been eliminated except for minor intermittent episodes.
However, there are two existential challenges around today which need to be on the conscience of all grandparents – the problems created by plastic pollution and the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere.
This morning I attended a lecture by Professor Peter Ryan who is involved with the Fitzpatrick Institue of Research at the University of Cape Town. He offered us a vivid picture of the research that he has done whilst supervising both masters and doctoral students.
He cut an elegant figure as he took the stage for his presentation. Whilst his feet were bare, his nicely-fitting t-shirt together with causal draw-string pants, created an apt image of minimalism for a man talking about plastic pollution!
I found his opening comments alerted my attention when he announced to the audience, “What you are about to hear may well be different to what you expected!”
Peter shared with us the fact he had been playing with plastic for a long time. He illustrated and endorsed this statement as he went into the history of the aggregation of plastic waste and his team’s efforts to control it. He has been actively researching the damage that plastic pollution has created since it’s introduction in the early 1960s
Yes, I was born into an era before plastics were developed. We managed with paper packets in my youth. I recall that when plastic bags first became part of our shopping experience, we would wash them out after the first use, and reuse them multiple times. Maybe that is something we should think about doing once again!
A time before Pollution!
I also recall the first time I ever heard the word ‘pollution.’ It must have been the late sixties when my children were in conversation with some American youngsters who had accompanied their parents on a sabbatical to this country from Philadelphia in the USA
“You know,” they said, “you should not throw things out of your car as that will cause pollution!” At that time pollution was not part of my everyday vocabulary. So this concept came as quite a shock to me. Can anyone remember when we actually did throw things out of the car window when disposing of waste matter?
Professor Ryan showed us some haunting pictures of dead sea birds photographed adjacent to a range of plastic objects. This matter had been found in the stomachs of dead birds which had been washed ashore. Often scores of bottle tops and assorted materials were part of the collection of man-made products retrieved from these deceased birds.
Other photos of sea creatures enmeshed in plastic string or netting forced me to contemplate the agonies experienced by sea animals due to mankind’s inability to dispose of his waste in a manner which was respectful of the natural habitat.
It would be difficult to live without plastic wrapping today. One of its main benefits is its ability to preserve certain foods. It is cheaper than glass to manufacture. Without plastic, the production of fruit and vegetables would need to be increased putting further strain on the earth’s resources.
The surprise came when after presenting such startling evidence of the damage plastic has created to our oceans and our sea animals, Professor Ryan went on to let us know that a different man-made problem was even more worrying. He reminded the audience that we may have already passed the time of no return due to the pumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Many authorities believe that the melting of icebergs, the consequent rising of the oceans, the floods and droughts affecting more and more parts of the world, are all the irreversible symptoms of a dire future for the inhabitants of planet earth.
Greta Thurnberg at age 16 has made a name for herself internationally for castigating political leaders for neglecting to pass legislation limiting the emission of noxious gasses. Due to her leadership, 1.66 million people in 133 countries participated in demonstrations in major cities around the world earlier this year. Their aim was to urge the world’s leaders to take the needs of future generations into account when making political decisions.
Have you thought about what you would like to do to ensure that your descendants enjoy the earth’s natural resources as much as you do? Will your grandchildren be able to enjoy nature walks, mountain climbs and beach strolls in an unpolluted environment?
Maybe you would like to make some suggestions about practical steps which could be undertaken by senior people. The Comment Box below is awaiting your contribution.