Sunday, August 04, 2019

It Doesn't Matter

Firefox Pocket puts "interesting" articles before my eyes when I open a new tab. As they are geared toward what a general Firefox audience will find interesting, they often aren't that interesting to me. Yet I am not entirely divorced from my culture.  They catch me from time to time, and I am sure we are looking at a world in which their algorithms become so good that they catch me every time, and I will have to throw them off the scent by going to random sites, or trading places with friends who are unlike me - one day every week.  Even that will not be enough, I fear.  Someone will program in Oh, he's one of those Traders who is trying to throw us off the scent, but we actually have data on the type of  people those who adopt that strategy seek out, and that tells us even more. He is a B5 who hangs out with A7's and E1's, and thinks a B13 is a really unusual friend, so he tries to trick us by trading with those every 0.9, 2.1, and 4.7 months.  Let's put an article about how tartar sauce affects the endocrinological  responses of libertarians in front of him.  We've got four advertisers that have paid money for that microniche.

Where was I?  (They'll have that in their very granular data also.) Pocket put forward an article from the very liberal Guardian, that I did find sorta interesting, mostly in opposition. Plastic.  A plastic-free July. 

Please stop.  It. Doesn't. Matter.  People who are worried about plastics have this vision of Styrofoam or milk containers sitting in landfills for thousands of years and not breaking down. Do you hear me?  They are not breaking down and they can just see them, lying there in accusation against the 20th and 21st Centuries.  Our descendants will hate us.  Not their descendants, because they didn't have children, but, but, you know (insert hand-waving here). Seven generations and all that.  Ugh.  Shiver. They  haven't hit the greater importance of cultural over physical legacy yet, our picture of plastics lying there polluting just everything disturbs us, despite the fact that the land mass of the world is virtually empty and we have plenty of room to hide this stuff where it won't ever be found. They are horrified by plastics. (Older readers may enter the movie reference in the comments, but try to put it cleverly. Feel free to compete.)

Now, if you want to be horrified by plastics because of PCB's or whatever, I'm with you.  Let us please focus on clean water, or eliminating chemical by-products that have actually been shown to be dangerous. I am in favor of being taxed heavily to fix that, and kicking companies in the balls that have ignored that and screwed us over. Just stop about the climate change, will you? Warmth is good.  Water we can't drink anymore is bad. Tricky chemicals in the ground are hard to get rid of, yes. Pretending we have more hurricanes now is insane.


james said...

The descendants of those of us who aren't trying to save the planet from people will be seriously annoyed with us for using up all the oil, but bless us for the plastic mines we leave behind.

Unknown said...

It's not so much the plastics in landfill that I see as the concern amongst the concerned, but the plastics reaching waterways in either whole forms (that harm larger marine life by e.g.: clogging un-digestable in their stomachs) or "microplastics" that are detectable in tissue of even the smaller life forms (and us), and perhaps aren't a good thing there.

The observation that limitations in use and disposal of such plastics in the developed western world is hardly a significant contributor to the ocean plastics problems seems to be overlooked. Something must be done, plastics bans are something, therefore they must be done, no matter how ineffective or damaging or counterproductive they might be.

Aggie said...

I think there is a missing piece of science here. Modern plastics that are designed for one-time or short-term consumer use are designed to break down over time. Usually it's a combination of chemical instability, UV light reaction, and mechanical action within the environment that drives it. Shopping bags left outside as litter will break down fairly quickly into tatters for example, much quicker then they would have 10 years ago. Same for fast-food styrofoam containers.

The micro-particles being seen in the food chain are (I am thinking) an intermediate stage to the complete degradation of the material. There is quite a bit of alarm that these are being seen and perhaps concentrated in the digestive systems of higher vertebrates, perhaps causing death in some of them by mechanical blockages, but I haven't seen the science yet that addresses how this phenomena fits into the puzzle of how plastics degrade over time (I would be interested if anyone has). But in these accounts the assumption is that the micro-particles are in a form that is stable over the long term, and I'm not sure this is so. There is clearly always room for improvement in plastics chemistry, but anything that would shorten the life of the products must also logically reduce its utility - that's the trade off.