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Friday, August 22, 2008

Save Money, Save the Ocean, Save Ourselves

Save Money, Save the Ocean, Save Ourselves

Good Times Weekly
WRITTEN BY WALLACE J. NICHOLS
THURSDAY, 21 AUGUST 2008

As oil prices break records daily and the $75 fill-up becomes standard fare at the corner station, Dow Chemical, purveyor of everything plastic, has been forced to raise prices 20 percent for the second month in a row.

The connections between oil and plastic are numerous. In the past 50 years, these two products have come to dominate our lives. But, over-consumption of both is destroying the ocean. Burning of fossil fuels is changing the climate and warming the ocean. Excess carbon dioxide is making the sea more acidic, destabilizing coral reefs and upsetting the ocean food web. Big oil spills, seepage from ships and residue runoff from roads make a toxic mess of all things aquatic.

Plastic, by the way, is made from oil. It lasts a very long time. And it’s everywhere. It’s in the North Pacific Ocean, for instance, where a continent-sized patch best described as “plastic soup” fills up albatrosses, sea turtles and even plankton that feed unwittingly on the stuff.

The oil ties to the ocean run deeper still. So high are fuel prices, that diesel subsidies are necessary to prop up the fuel-dependent fishing sector, which in turn uses those subsidies to strip the seas of millions upon millions of pounds of fish and wildlife annually. Monofilament lines and ghost nets—made of rugged, non-biodegradable plastic (read: oil)—break free, wander the ocean untended, and reap countless fish, dolphins, turtles, birds and whales along the way.

Oil and plastic and the ocean just don’t mix.

The current Administration’s “solution” to the crisis is to drill for more oil along our coasts and in wildlife refuges. The profits, of course, will fall to the oil companies and plastic manufacturers who seek to expand their sales. Exxon-Mobil and Dow both set new records for profits and sales even as news reports and scientific journals lay out in shocking detail how the ocean is warming, sea level is rising and the Pacific plastic garbage patch is expanding.

What this means to the rest of us is that traveling anywhere, eating at a seafood restaurant and buying just about anything plastic are about to get ridiculously expensive. So, here are a few ways you can pinch some pennies and protect the ocean at the same time:

• First, buy your food local and seasonal. This summer, dig into your farmers’ market and ask for local produce and seafood. Buying local and seasonal require less energy for transport and refrigeration.

• Wash, reuse and refill plastic containers: not just water bottles and shopping bags, but Zip-Loc bags, disposable forks and plastic plates. Better yet, avoid plastic completely. Can you make it through a day without throwing any plastic in the trash? It’s harder than you think (aDayWithoutPlastic.org).

• Instead of a road trip, join the International Coastal Cleanup and spend a day under the blue sky with friends in a global effort to clean local waterways and shores. (coastalcleanup.org).

• Share a ride, walk, bike, or hop a train or bus. If you’re looking to replace your car, go for one that doubles, or even triples, your previous miles-per-gallon. A 2003 Ford Expedition gets 14 mpg. A roomy, next-generation Toyota Prius is said to get nearly 100 mpg.

• Be heard: Tell your elected officials that there are safer, cheaper, smarter solutions to the energy crisis than hasty drilling for more oil along our coasts. And let the politicians who are leading the way to a greener future know that you like their style.

Americans aren’t strangers to this way of thinking. My grandmother called it frugality. To her it was a virtue. Maybe it is old-fashioned or just trendy eco-consciousness, but one thing is certain: the incentives to conserve our ocean and to protect our pocketbooks have never been greater—and, who knows, may come at just the right time to do some good for the ocean.

It’s time for each of us to join the revolution in ocean and energy conservation. Let’s get petroleum and plastic out of the ocean and put the profits back in our own pockets.

Save money. Save the ocean. Maybe even save ourselves.



Dr. Wallace J. Nichols is a marine biologist and ocean activist, living in Davenport. Visit wallacejnichols.org

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