It cannot be denied that the plastic pollution of our seas and oceans is already emerging as one of the hot-button issues of 2018. As it stands, about 8 million tonnes of plastic winds up in our oceans each year. However, even in light of these statistics, the plastic industry currently shows no sign of slowing down. In 2013 alone, an estimated 299 million tonnes of plastic was produced for general consumption, a 4% leap from the previous year. If this continues and we allow the rate of ocean pollution to grow in proportion to global plastic production, our situation become could particularly bleak. To put this into perspective, the mass of the Earth’s oceans can be estimated to be approximately 13.7 x 10^17 tonnes. Taking the above figures into account, we see that, if these rates of pollution continue, every body of water in the known world will be 100% plastic by the year 2736.
But perhaps it’s not all doom and gloom? Our intrepid Evocco contributor, Paul Miller, examines the pros and cons of a planet where 71% of the surface is man-made synthetic compounds.
Pro – Reduced Shark-Related Fatalities
Sharks: the veritable scourge of the seas. Each year they are responsible for over 5 human casualties. Although mankind has managed to squeeze in a reciprocal 100,000,000 revenge killings, the numbers clearly point out that we’re fighting a losing battle against shark-kind. However there is some hope. The aforementioned level of pollution could land the final blow in the war against the tiger of the sea, hitting them right where they live. With literally zero reports of shark attacks happening on land, replacing the oceans with 13.7 x 10^17 tonnes of plastic could put the age-old conflict between human and shark finally to an end. Looks like we don’t need a bigger boat after all!
Con – Weakened Shipping Sector
International ocean trade has been a phenomenon throughout human history, from the voyages of Vasco De Gama to the titanic mega-ships of modern cargo shipping. However, if the world’s oceans were to be replaced by a solid mass of plastic, the age old industry of shipping could be damned to Davy Jones’ Locker, resulting in a huge economic impact worldwide. The shipping sector in the E.U. alone is reported to employ approximately 590,000 people and contribute 56 billion euro to the Union’s GDP. Even though the shipping industry plays a major role in ocean pollution, disrupting ecosystems through noise pollution, as well as straightforward ocean dumping, it seems that few people in the industry realise they are signing their own death warrant. The cost of replacing the already existing ocean-based shipping-channels with its land based (or rather, plastic-based) equivalent, a railroad, would also be pretty pricey. Building a train line from the United States to Korea over the site of the former Pacific Ocean would be roughly comparable, distance-wise, to the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway (Approx. 9295km). Even the most conservative estimates, adjusted for inflation, put the cost of such an enterprise at about €14,400,000,000. That’s roughly the GDP of Gabon. So unless the Office of the President of Gabon starts replying to my emails we may be at a bit of a loose end
Pro: Prime Real Estate
In the modern political climate, housing is without a doubt one of the most pressing issues throughout the European Union, with homelessness almost tripling in Ireland alone over the past 4 years. Unfortunately, trying to solve the global housing crisis is a bit of a catch-22 – everyone wants houses to be built but no one wants to devote any of our precious, untouched green lands to construction. Unfortunately we live in a world where 43,000,000 km2 of dry land is uninhabitable. However, if the undulating body of water that takes up 71% of the Earth’s surface were to be replaced with a heaving mass of plastic, space for housing developments would far outweigh demand, effectively creating a new plastic Atlantis!
Con: Decreased Potential for Shredding of Gnar
Let’s face it; a vast majority of us, when we look at the sea, do not see a massive swathe of saltwater, rather a dope chance to thrash and hang-ten on a gnarly wave. I mean really carve up a freaking barrel. Unfortunately, were the world’s oceans to become a solid lump of synthetic plastic, there would be little to no chance of smashing a sick air-to-fakie on a righteous swell ever again. Already we are seeing the effects of climate change and pollution on the surfing world, with ocean acidification and warming killing off coral reefs, which are known worldwide for dopest surf-breaks around. Naturally, without a constant stream of bros totally ripping, the world’s gnar reserves would be majorly depleted. There are approximately 1.7 million surfers active in the U.S. in 2018. When you compare this number with the amount of people engaged with the next gnarliest sport on the planet, the 6.4 million skateboarders, it is clear that those board jockeys would really have to up their ripping potential to make up for these losses. But can the skateboarders of the world rise up to the challenge of making up an additional 27% of gnar produced internationally? We can only pray.
Pro: A Revolutionary New Form of Welfare
Water, other than its necessity in maintaining life, has little inherent value. Yet consumption of water on a daily basis is actually a relatively large cost for domestic households. The average water consumption per person domestically within the European Union is about 51,130 litres per year. The infrastructure required to deliver that amount come to, when you take the average of E.U. domestic water charges, a cost of about €573 a year. Were the water that runs into our homes every day replaced by plastic, it could create a game-changing dynamic with regard social welfare. The value of a mass of a commonly used plastic (injectable low-density polyethylene), equivalent to the mass of water consumed domestically, is approximately €68,514. If we take the current cost of the infrastructure in place to be conversely applicable, that is a net gain of €67,941 worth of raw materials per person! If the naturally occurring process of replacing the entire world’s water continues we could be entering into a world where all social welfare payments need no longer exist, each person would have their wealth flow directly from their taps!
Con: Total Destruction of the Fountain of All Life on Earth
A major point detracting from the move to replace all the world’s oceans with a hulking collection of billions upon billions of tonnes of solid, man-made, plastic would be the fact that it would require the complete devastation of the source from which all life on this planet sprung forth. Despite the aforementioned gains in living space for humans, it would encompass the eradication of over 90% of the land on Earth habitable by animal and plant life, which is a tough call. Although the advantages are obvious, perhaps it may be worthwhile to give some pause before we irrevocably destroy the location where the first spark of life occurred, from which all known biological existence in the universe began. Whether or not we want to continue the trend that will eventually lead to the extinction of over half the world’s marine life in a mere 82 years in order to achieve these relative gains is a difficult decision that will no doubt require further consideration and debate.