For those who don’t understand or believe in evolution, you might want to cover your eyes and ears. Wouldn’t want to traumatize you.
For the rest, this will be short.
Heard this m0rning on Oregon Public Broadcasting news:
Microplastics have turned up in samples taken from every ocean on the planet and species from the bottom to the top of the marine food chain have been found to ingest these tiny particles – from sharks, seabirds and turtles to filter-feeders and krill.
Mark Browne: “So this represents a significant problem because if we’re consuming these organisms as part of our diet or other organisms that also consume them…what are the ramifications of transferring plastics, that are likely to have chemicals absorbed onto them… therefore transferring from the environment into the animal and then being stored there?”
Ask the parent of any two year old and they’ll tell you eating plastic probably isn’t a great idea. Research on lab animals has shown many plastic products contain chemicals that can be carcinogenic, neurotoxic or disruptive to the body’s hormonal messaging system….
Uh, yeah. This kind of story has been ubiquitous ever since the news of the Pacific trash gyre hit a couple years ago. (Including OPB stories that it’s all a myth.)
But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.
I am tired of hearing supposedly smart people wringing their hands over ephemera. Fine: eating plastic is bad for you. Big whoop. Fine: having lots of trash that can’t biodegrade in the environment is bad. Big whoop.
What nobody’s seemed to “get” since 1971’s Mutant 59: The Plastic Eaters*, by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis (based on their script for a 1970 TV series, Doomwatch — Pedler wrote several Dr. Who scripts) is that just because no bacterium currently eats plastic doesn’t mean that a bacterium won’t arise that WILL.
In fact, it’s a lead pipe cinch that bacteria WILL.
Consider how evolution works: you jump to the unoccupied niche. When the ocean filled up, evolution jumped to land. When land filled up, evolution jumped to the air (birds and bats and pterodactyls, oh, my!).
With such huge amounts of plastic waiting for any weary microbe looking for a non-competitive and plentiful food source, there is virtually no doubt that plastic eaters will evolve, and fairly soon. And then, predators who can eat the microbes and so on and so forth. Because that’s how it’s always worked, from the lava tube worms to the current anti-biotic resistant bacteria. And, soon enough, the bugs who will laugh in the face of genetically modified “Roundup” corn and grain.
A lead pipe cinch. There’s too much FOOD out there unclaimed for the evolutionary mechanism NOT to take advantage.
And when that happens, you won’t have to worry about little Precious eating plastic. What you’ll have to worry about is bacteria eating our unprotected plastic, and wreaking havoc with technological civilization.
How about when they start eating the wiring off Grandpa’s pacemaker or artificial hip? Or the insulation on our ICBMs and our commercial airlines? Or, if they slip onto a spaceship, all the seals on the space station?
I could go on and on and on. We have taken it for granted that we can preserve, protect and defend our lives with inedible plastics. Now, with plastic eaters only a matter of time, how will it affect us?
Oh, we’ll survive. We’ll learn to cope. But all hell is going to break loose when it happens.
And it WILL happen.
So, quit with the endless masturbatory tales about plastic trash. Like climate change and population explosions and pandemics, we’ve looked the other way, haven’t taken any prudent steps, and have relied on superstition and willful ignorance as our defense against the inevitable.
Those who’ve had their fingers in their eyes can remove them now. Nothing “sciencey” to scare you anymore.