What will it take to make people care about the Earth and all of its inhabitants? This is a question many environmentalists have asked time and time again, and it’s one Sir David Attenborough is presently puzzling over. The naturalist is tired of the plastic pollution trend and is urging people to modify their wasteful habits, as well as invest in initiatives which will clean up the environment.
After wrapping up the filming of his new series about Earth’s oceans, Blue Planet II, Attenborough shared some thoughts about society’s dependence on plastics. To grasp the extent of the problem, first consider this: by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. Additionally, Earth’s oceans presently contain over 269,000 tons of plastic. Debris such as this slowly breaks down over hundreds of years, releasing toxins into the environment and poisoning — and sometimes killing — wildlife.
At the launch of Blue Planet II, Attenborough stated that humanity literally holds the future of the planet “in the palm of its hands.” He went on to say that plastic pollution is one of the biggest concerns for the planet’s oceans — in addition to global warming. “What we’re going to do about 1.5 degrees rise in the temperature of the ocean over the next 10 years, I don’t know, but we could actually do something about plastic right now,” said the naturalist.
Considering science abounds on the topic of plastic pollution and the biggest Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean is twice the size of Texas, it is both numbing and frustrating that humans still don’t get it. We — as a species — must act now, before it is too late. Fortunately, a handful of individuals and companies are stepping up to “be the change” they desire to see.
A startup in India, for example, has developed edible spoons. And on a much larger scale, countries such as France, Kenya, and Indi have banned the use of plastic bags, cups, plates, and utensils. Scientists have even discovered plastic-eating caterpillars. Alone, these efforts aren’t enough, however. Every country needs to implement similar initiatives — including the United States, which withdrew from the Paris Climate accord earlier this year.
When recollecting about his experiences while filming Blue Planet II, Attenborough mentioned that the presence of plastic has already begun to affect wildlife. “We’ve seen albatrosses come back with their belly full of food for their young and nothing in it,” he said. “The albatross parent has been away for three weeks gathering stuff for her young and what comes out? What does she give her chick? You think it’s going to be squid, but it’s plastic. The chick is going to starve and die. There are more examples of that. But we could do things about plastic internationally tomorrow.”
Attenborough added, “There are so many sequences that every single one of us have been involved in – even in the most peripheral way – where we have seen tragedies happen because of the plastic in the ocean.”
The naturalist finished with the reminder that it is everyone’s responsibility to stop using plastic. In its absence, people can rely on reusable and recyclable containers and compost their leftovers to create a healthier, greener planet. Attenborough mentioned that these habits are important regardless of where one lives, as 80 percent of plastic trash in landfills makes its way to the oceans.
“We may think we live a long way from the oceans, but we don’t. What we actually do here, and in the middle of Asia and wherever, has a direct effect on the oceans – and what the oceans do then reflects back on us,” he said.