Threading the Eye of the Needle: A Few Greenies Ain’t Gonna Cut Climate Change

Needle in a haystack. Little Dutch Boy putting fingers in leaking dike.

The beach clean-up along the Central Oregon Coast, near Devils Punch Bowl, down south to Beverly Beach, is an exercise in patience, Sisyphus, maybe, as many beach and marine life lovers are volunteering with tweezers in hand harvesting the global micro-plastic harvest.

Might as well have a fork to bring in all the world’s wheat crops.

Piece by piece. Or, scoops of sand, with organic matter like shells pieces and driftwood and these microplastic and plastic nurdles plopped on a gurney-sized fine mesh, is akin to — what? Using one household colander to strain the daily pasta and noodle intake in Oregon?

Scott Rosin is tall, grizzled, and head of Surfriders Central Oregon Coast. He’s chair of the Newport Chapter. Another chapter is called Siuslaw Surfriders, taken from the Newport-Yachats area where we live in, specifically the Siuslaw National Forest, also named after the river that runs through it to the Pacific.

Ahh, Rosin – former arborist, former surfer (his shoulder was blasted out in forestry work – he uses a paddle board to ride five-foot waves or less), poet and local activist – has been heading up this plastic clean-up on six consecutive Sundays, noon to 4 pm, on an incredible beach made to order for picnickers and surfers, even in March.

Helping hands included a few women, Mike Harrington, a 72-year-old member of the Siuslaw Chapter of Surfrider, and a black lab whose owner was down on her knees pulling out plastics of every color and shape.

This is what Scott told the Newport News recently about his efforts:

It would be great if we could get more locals involved. The beaches here are, or were, as beautiful as anywhere in the world. I’ve surfed and played on these beaches since 1973. I can tell you that the problem of visible plastic pollution here has grown exponentially.

Nobody knows what the full effects of plastic pollution may be. This isn’t a disaster that you can see coming, like a forest fire or a hurricane. I anticipate a long road to educating ourselves about the dangers involved.

It’s the local newspaper, and a message of doom and gloom and setting the doomsday clock to 11th hour (actually, 11:58) before the apocalyptic midnight hour hits doesn’t sit well for a local rag that sells ads for real estate, B&B’s, summer cottages, whale watching tours, crab fests, and buy-buy-eat-eat-consume-consume visitors.

Scott and I talked the real stuff tied to not just the amount of plastics in the ocean, and not just the bad-bad-bad hypotheticals of animals eating plastic and then humans eating them up, through the food chain. Anyone with a brain knows that whales and albatrosses and Homo Sapiens should be engorged with fossil fuel polymers.

We talked about these ideas of Americans thinking infinite population growth rates, infinite GDP rates, infinite investment profits, or infinite timber harvesting and infinite consumption and pollution are natural born rights.

The local rag will not allow such real and systems thinking discourse in the newspaper’s news or features sections.

One irony is that Scott and Surfriders and members of SOLV (Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism) and the few volunteers from the American Cetacean Society might not realize that the Siuslaw people (nation) lived in villages along the river until 1860.

Siuslaw Nation living understanding the land, the estuaries, the ecosystems, the whales and avian world, the fish and fauna. The Siuslaw like all First Nations knew the limits of growth, the carrying capacities of their tribes, the allowable safe limit or killing animals or harvesting food.

So, these natural and long-studied indigenous people who could be here teaching in Oregon’s schools and advising all sectors of government and business, well, they no longer have a practiced language. We may romanticize that Oregon Trail story (even Woodie Guthrie has his song, Oregon Trail), but in 1860 the Siuslaw Nation was forcibly removed to an Indian reservation in Yachats. And, then, quickly those homes, farms, gardens and villages were destroyed and occupied by U.S. settler-colonists.

Now California transplants are on the beach trying in herculean effort to stop the infinite plastics tide from fouling everything they came to the Oregon Coast for in the first place.

From the evidence of locals who are blind to the plastic issue and looking out at these Surfriders and others, young and grizzled, the volunteers seem like a blast from the past. Environmentalists, who stick out like anachronous wandering souls, are the minority, as more and more business-as-usual and business-as-usual-to-the-tenth-power proponents have colonized the beach resorts, the city councils, school boards, county commissioner courts.

This Central Oregon Coast is magnificent, but even along the largest ocean covering 42 percent of the earth’s surface (62 million square miles), the Pacific (and the deepest of all oceans at that), microplastics from fish totes originating in Alaska come to the beach in small and colorful forms for a few volunteers to pick at.

Tumbling ghost fishing gear, equipment, supplies – all polymers – tumbling along the ocean currents and ocean floor, ending up floating at the surface, or just below. Colorful bits sea life take for sea nutrients.

Birds eat the plastics. Mammalian marine life eats the plastic. Fish eat it. The extra big yearly tides – the King Tides – push the plastic way up on the tide line. Now Homo Sapiens Plastica are out in small numbers trying to battle the plastic snow storm with a leaf blower.

Scott has never seen this amount of plastic in his 46 years fishing, playing and making a living in this part of the Oregon Coast.

We talked about plastic in every human being’s feces (recent scientific paper on that tidbit). We talked about how by 2050 plastic floating around the ocean and on the bottom will outweigh the total mass of all the organic-living matter in the ocean (another series of scientific papers). I talked about the Mariana Trench, in the Pacific, the deepest canyon in the world — 1,580 miles long and 43 miles wide and maxing out at 36,070 feet deep from the surface.

In yet another scientific series of papers, researchers have ROV’s – remotely operated vehicles – filming plastic bags floating in the trench. Worse yet, the foundation of the food chain – amphipods – in each collection over many months resulted in every single crustacean-like animal containing plastic remnants in their guts.

We can read white paper after detailed scientific paper, but the bottom line is if humanity were to use even one-thousandth of our collective common sense, we’d all be ranting and raving about stopping plastic production and use of straws, wraps, single use bags, containers, noodles.

Forget the fact that plastics are oil based, and the process of polymerizing them involves a lot of electricity, toxins, off gassing and communities around the world exposed to the industrial toxins and waste products part and parcel tied to the entire harvesting, transportation (by a factor of 3 or 4) and production process.

Lucky for me, I can be a member of various touchy feely groups and do some volunteer work with them, but I am not longer hobbled by my scientific credentials or teaching certificates or so-called neutral journalistic standards. I can see through the hubris, magical thinking, delusional belief systems, the false hope and the elephants in the room as people in this society – good folks like Scott Rosin and others I met at a naturalist certification program I went through with the American Cetacean Society have their hearts in the right place, and many times their minds, but their guts are missing the fact that revolutionary change has to happen.

Not a future of greenie Jetsons, but rather a future like the Flintstones is only going to answer the call now.

I also ran into another old timer, like Mike Harrington, a member of Surfrider who ended up in Oregon in 1976, originally from Central California. He packed up the VW van and got his 20 acres near Eddyville.

He said he came here with two children and a wife, because he wanted his kids to be raised where nature and wildlife both counted and were part of their daily lives.

He made his livelihood as a farrier, and we joked about just who his customers are – well-off, bourgeoise, and those with big bucks and the largest ecological footprints.

It’s super tedious, this sieving the wet sand and separating the plastic from the organic matter. Harrington knows it’s a drop in the proverbial bucket (now it’s the drops in the ocean tub). “You have to start somewhere. I want to make this world a better world for my kids and grandkids. I guess it makes me feel better doing this.”

Amanda Zimmerman and Joanna Davis are sisters doing the bit by bit plastic treasure hunt. The sun is out, more than two dozen surfers are seeking curls, families are making sand castles, and the warmer winter Pacific shore waters are enticing some to go in up to their knees.

Joanna says she has to do something. She too is from California, and now is a 28-year-old living in Portland, wanting that Portlandia lifestyle. She has no children, wants none to bring in the world, and she tells me she’s shocked at how few shells and sand dollars she has seen seeing at Pismo Beach, the closest beach to her when she lived in Bakersfield.

The March 4 City Council meeting in Newport will discuss whether to go forward on proposing a single use plastic shopping bag ordinance. There will be many citizens there speaking on behalf of the proposed ban. Scott will be there, after having sent in written testimony.

I’ve looked at the no-to-the-ban citizens, and from the plastics lobby and grocery store lobby. Imagine, 2019, and a small city with 11,000 residents, and swelling to three times that in the summer months, can’t even wrestle with a plastic bag ban.

Even Forbes Magazine, rag of the uber rich, the uber capitalists, lists the coming age of plastic bag bans. But, again, if we can’t get Puerto Rico’s lights back on, and if we can’t even fund our PP12 schools, and if we throw money at Military Industrial Complex thieves and let them laugh to the bank, are we going to deal with climate change?

Ahh, more coming soon, on Peter Ward’s talk, Under a Green Sky (great book I reviewed).

You have Wallace Smith Broecker, the ‘grandfather’ of climate science, leaving a final warning for Earth at an ASU climate change conference via web right before he succumbed to Chronic Heart Failure. I’ll talk about him in a future blog-article.

We’ll talk about the humanity in all of this new fangled (not really) New Green Deal, which is again just another way to let Musk, Bezos, Silicon Valley, Gates, Dell and other techies play libertarian green game of thrones.

Plastics, man. And get this: Oregon’s State Parks will not let Scott and his cronies bring a solar-power pump to get ocean water to their sieving station. Imagine that, they have to haul all this water in 5 gallon buckets hundreds of feet to wash out the sand. Solar powered.

The state’s reasoning: “Well, goddamned goldminers might see this four hour operation and think, hell, I can bring in my gold mining dredges and pumps and arsenic and such. Damn fine idea.”

Are we going to really mitigate the worse and even least of the worse outfalls from climate change when we can’t even issue a special issue permit for greenies to clean plastics from the beach?

We love to believe that high-tech innovations will fix everything. To produce all of our fanciful technology, many of the raw materials are derived from exploiting other people’s land (Africa, South America, Asia), and the manufacturing comes at the expense of other people’s health and livelihood. Let’s hope eliminating this sort of environmental racism figures into the GND platform. Beyond that, thus far in the course of humanity, our technology has only further amplified all of our detrimental ecological issues. It involves over-consuming natural resources and over-producing more of what we don’t need, while leaving us with less of what we do – organisms and ecological systems.

People are saying the Green New Deal is impossible. What is impossible is saving our planetary ecosystem while preserving our current way of life. For any GND legislation to be successful, it must work to conserve more rather than produce more. Moreover, it must facilitate collective radical personal changes to our way of life that fundamentally change the underlying paradigms of our existence. Otherwise, it will be as fleeting as the original New Deal, and ultimately much more deadly.

When it comes to a Green Deal, the only sustainable policies are radical ones. And when it comes to a sustainable global environmental paradigm, unless you are talking about the natural world, less is always more.

Kristine Mattis received her PhD in Environmental Studies. As an interdisciplinary environmental scholar with a background in biology, earth system science, and policy, her research focuses on environmental risk information and science communication. Before returning to graduate school, Kristine worked as a medical researcher, as a science reporter for the U.S. Congressional Record, and as a science and health teacher.

Forbes Magazine list for Oregon and Washington. See all the places for which a ban is in effect — HERE.

KENMORE WA City-wide ban on plastic bags, 5-cent fee on paper bags

LA CONNER WA Town-wide ban on plastic bags

PORT ANGELES WA City-wide ban on plastic bags less than 225 mm, 5-cent tax on all bags

TACOMA WA City-wide ban on plastic bags less than 225 mils thick

FRIDAY HARBOR WA Town-wide ban on plastic bags

SAN JUAN COUNTY WA County-wide ban on plastic bags

TUMWATER WA City-wide ban on plastic bags and 5-cent fee on paper bags

THURSTON COUNTY WA County-wide ban on plastic bags and 5-cent fee on paper bags

OLYMPIA WA City-wide ban on plastic bags and 5-cent fee on paper bags

LACEY WA City-wide ban on plastic bags and 5-cent fee on paper bags

MERCER ISLAND WA City-wide ban on plastic bags

SHORELINE WA City-wide ban on plastic bags and 5-cent fee on paper bags

ISSAQUAH WA City-wide ban on plastic bags and 5-cent fee on paper bags

MUKILTEO WA City-wide ban on plastic bags

PORT TOWNSEND WA City-wide ban on plastic bags and 5-cent fee on paper bags

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND WA City-wide ban on plastic bags and 5-cent fee on paper bags

BELLINGHAM WA City-wide ban on plastic bags and 5-cent fee on paper bags

SEATTLE WA City-wide ban on plastic bags and 5-cent fee on paper bags

EDMONDS WA City-wide ban on plastic bags

MILWAUKIE OR City-wide ban on plastic bags

MANZANITA OR City-wide ban on plastic bags

MCMINNVILLE OR City-wide ban on plastic bags

HOOD RIVER OR City-wide ban on plastic bags

FOREST GROVE OR City-wide ban on plastic bags

ASHLAND OR City-wide ban on plastic bags and 10-cent fee on paper bags

EUGENE OR City-wide ban on plastic bags and 5-cent fee on paper bags

CORVALLIS OR City-wide ban on plastic bags and 5-cent fee on paper bags

PORTLAND OR City-wide ban on plastic bags

Paul Kirk Haeder has been a journalist since 1977. He's covered police, environment, planning and zoning, county and city politics, as well as working in true small town/community journalism situations in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico and beyond. He's been a part-time faculty since 1983, and as such has worked in prisons, gang-influenced programs, universities, colleges, alternative high schools, language schools, as a private contractor-writing instructor for US military in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Washington. He organized Part-time faulty in Washington State. His book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his autobiography, weekly or bi-weekly musings and hard hitting work in chapter installments, at LA Progressive. He blogs from Waldport, Oregon. Read his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam, coming out Jan. 2020 from Cirque Journal. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.