Sunday, April 11, 2021

Our Grim Plastic Future

                                                                                                           written 4 April 2021

                                                                                                     published 11 April 2021


            Of all living beings, only humans produce products that can't be deconstructed and reused by other life forms. Micro-organisms have difficulty digesting plastic, making it biologically unavailable as a nutrient, so it lasts for decades, perhaps centuries.  

            The first synthetic plastic, Bakelite, was produced in 1907.  More plastic formulations were discovered over the next few decades, and production really took off after the Second World War.  Since 1950, over 9 billion tons of plastic have been manufactured.  We produce 380 million tons of plastic annually, and the vast majority becomes trash within a year.  Only 10 percent is recycled, 20 percent is incinerated, and most goes to landfills.  Plastic trash has been found on every continent, from the peak of Mount Everest to the depths of the Mariana Trench.  

            A large portion winds up in the ocean, first noticed in the late 1960's.  Over 150 million tons of plastic are now estimated to be in the ocean, with 8 million tons added annually.  There are five massive oceanic gyres of floating plastic trash, the largest, in the north Pacific, is bigger than Texas.  At the surface of these gyres, plastic is 180 times more numerous than nutrients, which is devastating the marine life.  By 2050 the ocean will have more plastic by weight, than fish.   

            While undigestible, the molecular structure of plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces due to temperature, motion, and sunlight, creating microplastic, which is now in the air, rain and snow.  Plastic bio accumulates and is therefore in everything we eat.  Plastic is found in our blood, and mother's milk.  Each week we eat a credit card worth of plastic, over 40 pounds in a lifetime. 

            Microplastics entering the human body through ingestion or inhalation can lead to an array of health impacts, including inflammation, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases, and exposes us to chemicals found in plastics that are known to be harmful.  These chemicals, called endocrine disruptors, mimic hormones and have been linked to a variety of health problems, including obesity, organ problems, developmental delays in children, and reproductive issues.

            Sperm viability is declining in the developed world.  An article in GQ Magazine, Sep. 4, 2018, "Sperm Count Zero", by Daniel Halpern, reported on research showing sperm counts had declined more than 50 percent from 1973 to 2011 within men from North America, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia.  When asked why, scientists said it was the unprecedented amount of chemicals now routinely entering the human body. 

            “There has been a chemical revolution going on starting from the beginning of the 19th century, and exploding after the Second World War, when hundreds of new chemicals came onto the market within a very short time frame.”  Many chemical compounds that are used to make plastic hard (like Bisphenol A, or BPA) or soft (like phthalates) can mimic estrogen in the bloodstream, so men with lots of phthalates in their system are likely to produce less testosterone and fewer sperm.

            The data worldwide are so clear and so consistent the trend is unmistakable: by 2045 median sperm counts in men are headed toward zero.  "This means that half the men would have zero viable sperm and the rest would have very close to zero."

            Like the ruling class of Rome, which was debilitated by drinking wine out of lead goblets, the toxic testosterone of the dominating patriarchy is being eliminated by pervasive plastic poisoning.  Humanity is being feminized, like it or not.  One of the iconic images of the last week was the six white men signing voter restriction laws in Georgia, while a black woman legislator was being arrested for knocking on the door to be let in.  Life is inclusive, and we ignore that fundamental relationship at our peril.

            Some people feel humans are too stupid to survive, but I don't agree.  I am an optimistic catastrophist.  While the news every day affirms the catastrophe, my optimistic side is rooted in the belief that we are still growing, in the middle of an evolution in consciousness, as affirmed by the beauty of Spring.  As Christ said, while being killed for being a revolutionary socialist, "forgive them, for they know not what they do".  I choose optimism, as it improves my experience of life, but we do have a lot of work to do.