Were you taught to pick up your toys?

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

Each year, 9 million tons of plastic waste end up in the oceans of Earth. Mammals, fish, birds die by ingesting it or the prey that winds up with it in their stomachs. We humans have it in our systems too because we eat the fish of the seas.

A year ago in May, National Geographic initiated a series called “Hostile Planet” to inform us of the damage we’ve done. It was the first of Nat Geo’s “Planet or Plastic?” informational attack of a search-teach-and-learn initiative for the saving of Earth.

Hundreds of ideas within this program will spread over years in how to avoid single-use plastic and how to clean up the oceans where it floats in islands miles wide. Nat Geo has teamed up with Disney, Instagram, Reddit AMA (ask me anything), Sky media, North Face and Omaze, an online fundraising company, to get the word out and the answers in. By asking for help from corporations, governments, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and other non-profits, as well as famous and ordinary citizens, they will join the monumental task of cleaning up a mess made by corporations and willing consumers.

National Geographic is the most solid of entities to take on this monumental and heartwarming piece of business in a world of carelessness. I’m not sure why it took even them so long, but I am sure they’ve been hatching their plans for some time, and their willingness to do anything is definitely worth praising. We seem suddenly aware – and shocked, to boot – that we have committed multiple sins against our planet, and they are finally taking a toll.

Though we have been told how in many ways over half a dozen decades, we have brought near to death our air and water and land. And the piles of debris in our oceans is just one mess among many. We humans and our governments, our corporations, our busy selves have fouled our nest in so many ways, recovery is going to be hard work that will have to last forever.

Even with Nat Geo having joined the fray, we cannot be sure we can save ourselves from just our plastic trash. Mr. Trump said recently that the U.S. is full and can’t take any more immigrants. What is actually true is that there are too many of us everyplace. It’s too late to bewail that fact and the resulting climate change that has begun to displace large groups of people. Understanding that we’re all in this together is what will be helpful.

After an entire human history of hurting one another, now we are here, at this juncture, at this late date, and we have work to do. Every last one of us has acted like spoiled children refusing to pick up our toys, breaking all the toys, wanting more toys. Every nation on earth has contributed to the spoiling of the planet; it will take every nation on earth the rest of humankind’s existence to fix the fouling and then to keep it at bay. This will be neither a one-time nor a quick fix.

It is nearly impossible to accept the results of the casualness of our actions of the last 200 years, just one of them being the 600,000 square miles (twice the size of Texas) of plastic trash floating in just one of our oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is figured to be 80,000 tons of 1.3 trillion pieces of plastic; it floats between Hawaii and California. There is another one in the western Pacific.

I can recall the horror I felt the first time I read about the massive globs, but I am somewhat hopeful because of the number of groups working on the problem besides Nat Geo: the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, the European Space Agency, Environmental Cleanup Foundation, Project Kaisei, Seaplex, Algaltia Marine Research foundation.

That Nat Geo has been explaining our planet to us for 130 years and is taking the matter in hand reassures me. It has a well-earned reputation for solid science, extraordinary exploration and clear writing about all of nature, homo sapiens included, that I feel we couldn’t be informed and guided by better hands. Nat Geo writers and staff have been studying this problem among many for years; they know so well how to inform us with their exceptional photography and clear writing about what is going on everywhere. They are the ideal entity to extract pledges of money, time, ingenuity and honest work in the cause, for they will continue to tell us true what we have done and be straightforward in finding the people of good will and expertise to help solve our immense problem.

They are fearless, and they are honest. This means we can send them money and words and photos and ideas and they will use all they can for the benefit of all of us and our planet. My fervent hope is that they will alter us in their cleansing schemes. Maybe we will learn to think twice before we do things to the planet; it may be Nat Geo that finally gets us off our planet-killing diet of carbon fuel and truly into sustainable energy.

I hope.

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