5 facts you need to know about Marine life and Microplastics

A little over four months on since the footage of pollution in Blue Planet II shocked the nation, the fight against plastic continues on Bournemouth and Poole beaches.

Bass and Mackerel, as well as other local marine life are now two of the 600 marine species whose lives are directly threatened as a result of plastic pollution[i]. In terms of casualties, One Green Planet recently estimated that over 100 million fish are killed annually by plastic[ii]. Even more shocking is research by the United Nations Environment Programme, which has indicated that humans may be vulnerable to unknown and potentially lethal toxins through the ingestion of fish whose stomachs contain plastic[iii]. In other words, we may be getting seriously ill from eating our own waste.

It seems the time to act could is now.

In recent years, there has been growing academic and professional alarm over the long term impact microplastics are having on marine life. Microplastics are defined as any piece of plastic between 2-6mm in length[iv] and are now widely considered to be more toxic than bulkier pieces[v]. However, there is little public knowledge of this. To counteract this, here are 5 key facts you need to know about microplastics …

  • Microplastics are called mermaid tears in the UK and there’s lots of them

Microplastics have been nicknamed mermaid tears in marine conservation circles around the UK. However, unlike the fantasy name, the consequences of mermaid tears have become all too real. A 2007 report produced by Surfers Against Sewage prewarned about the growing mermaid tear epidemic  and highlighted  that microplastics were the second most common pieces of litter found on UK beaches[vi]. Yet, it seems little has been done to solve this issue and a 2017 investigation by Greenpeace uncovered 250 million microplastics on UK beaches in just a single weekend[vii].

Professor Rick Stafford of Bournemouth University shared his local experience with microplastics; “If you tow a plankton net along for 5 or 10 minutes it’s amazing in terms of the number of microplastics that are actually in the water in what is actually a Site of Special Scientific Interest in Poole Harbour”.

Alas, it seems that even designated conservation sites may not be enough to protect marine life from microplastics.

  • Microplastics shrink certain marine species’ appetites

Research by Clean Water Action has found that a growing number of marine species are dying from chronic dietary limitations started by the ingestion of plastic[viii]. Let’s not forget, plastic is not designed to be eaten and thus has no nutritional benefits to offer. However, marine species do not know this and continue to ingest our waste in expense of their usual diet. The results have been truly shocking as an array of species of fish have begun to grow at a noticeably slower rate and an estimated 50-80% of dead sea turtles are found to have stomachs full of plastic[ix].

Worryingly, a study by the University of Exeter discovered that the ingestion and absorption of toxins in microplastics takes marine life up to six times longer to get rid of than bulkier plastics[x]. These findings, coupled with the fact that there is now a predicted 12 million tonnes of plastic going into the ocean each year, suggests that the stomachs of marine life may never be totally free from plastic[xi].

 

  • Microplastics act as a vector for other pollutants

Multiple academic studies have revealed that microplastics not only pose a direct threat to marine species, as they also act as vector for other pollutants in the environment[xii][xiii]. Currently, oil, carcinogenic toxins and other poisonous substances are enabled access to marine life through microplastics. For these reasons, Dr. José Derraik has warned that the diversity of global marine life is threatened to drop by as much as 58%[xiv].

However, the consequences of this stretch beyond marine life. After all, the accumulation of toxins within fish formed a key part of the United Nations Environment Programme’s decision to class microplastics as a threat to human life[xv]. This call came amid growing scientific evidence that these pollutants may still be dangerous even after the fish has been cooked or washed[xvi]. Seemingly, we now join marine life in being vulnerable to the repercussions of plastic pollution.

  • Microplastics limit fish mating and so much more

Arguably the most saddening consequence of plastic pollution have been the changes in the everyday behaviour of marine life. Initially, these changes were attributed to the species adapting to their new plastic neighbours. However, new evidence by Professor Maria Fossi has dispelled these suggestions  in the darkest possible way[xvii].

Professor Fossi’s study uncovered polystyrene particles in the brain tissue of fish[xviii]. Alongside this, the study also found that these particles changed the brain structure of fish, and deduced that the presence of these particles was the sole reason for any behavioural changes[xix]. Worryingly, among these changes has been a decline in marine species potency and desire to mate with one another.

“It’s truly upsetting and disgusting”, said lifelong Dorset resident Sophie Price, “To think our waste has prevented the existence of potentially millions of lives” of marine species.

Miss Price’s comments are echoed within the conservation community who now fear that our waste has permanently changed the day-to-day lives of marine species.

  • There’s so much we do not know about microplastics

Unfortunately, the worst is saved for last. “The long term effects we don’t necessarily know”, stated Professor Stafford, “There seems to be some evidence that it’s having a slow negative effect on marine life and even if they can expel it, it is still going to have a negative effect”.

Professor Stafford’s concerns are recurrently found within multiple academic studies[xx]. All of which acknowledge that it may take many years for the true impacts of microplastics to become clear. However, it is certain that any impacts will be harmful to marine life.

How can you help?

Marine life is defenceless and needs your help in the fight against plastic pollution. Please find the links to some local environmental groups below and let’s work together to protect our oceans.

Friends of the Earth: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/groups/eastdorset

Bournemouth 2026 Trust: http://www.bournemouth2026.org.uk/sustain

SUBU Green: https://www.subu.org.uk/green

Greenpeace advice on cutting plastic: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/9-ways-reduce-plastic-use/

BY JONATHAN EVANS

[i] Mattsson, K., Johnson, E., Malmenda, A., Linse, S., Hansson, L., and Cedervall, T., 2017. Brain damage and behavioural disorders in fish induced by plastic nanoparticles delivered through the food chain, Scientific Reports, 7 (1), 1-7.

[ii] Henn, C., 2017. These 5 marine animals are dying because of our plastic trash…Here’s how we can help. One Green Planet [online], 5th February 2017. Available from: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/marine-animals-are-dying-because-of-our-plastic-trash/ [Accessed 20th February 2018].

[iii] UN Environment, 2017. Frontiers 2017: Emerging Issues of Environmental Concern. United Nations Environment Programme [online], 5th December 2017. Available from: https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/22255/Frontiers_2017_EN.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y [Accessed 19th February 2018].

[iv] Derraik, J., 2002. The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: A review, Marine Pollution Bulletin, 44 (9), 842-852.

[v] Mattsson, K., Johnson, E., Malmenda, A., Linse, S., Hansson, L., and Cedervall, T., 2017. Brain damage and behavioural disorders in fish induced by plastic nanoparticles delivered through the food chain, Scientific Reports, 7 (1), 1-7.

 

[vi] Le Guern Lytle, C., 2017. When the mermaids cry: The great plastic tide. Coastal Care [online], 1st January 2017. Available from: http://plastic-pollution.org/ [Accessed 23rd February 2018].

[vii] McClenaghan, M., 2017. Hundreds of thousands of plastic pellets found on UK beaches. Unearthed [online], 17th February 2017. Available from: https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2017/02/17/hundreds-thousands-plastics-pellets-found-uk-beaches/ [Accessed 16th February 2018].

[viii] Clean Water Action, 2018. The Problem of Marine Plastic Pollution. Clean Water Action [online], 1st January 2018. Available from: https://www.cleanwater.org/problem-marine-plastic-pollution [Accessed 25th February 2018].

[ix] Mrosovsky, N., 2009. Leatherback turtles: The menace of plastic, Marine Pollution Bulletin, 58 (2), 287-289.

 

[x] Watts, A., Lewis, C., Goodhead, R., Beckett, S., Moger, J., Tyler, C., and Galloway, T., 2014. Uptake and retention of microplastics by the shore Crab Carcinus maenas, Environmental Science and Technology, 48 (15), 8823-8830.

[xi] Casson, L., 2017. How does plastic end up in the Ocean? Greenpeace [online[, 22nd August 2017. Available from: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/plastic-end-ocean/ [Accessed 25th February 2018].

[xii] Mattsson, K., Johnson, E., Malmenda, A., Linse, S., Hansson, L., and Cedervall, T., 2017. Brain damage and behavioural disorders in fish induced by plastic nanoparticles delivered through the food chain, Scientific Reports, 7 (1), 1-7.

[xiii] Karlsson, T., Arneborg, L., Brostrom, G., Carney Almroth, B., Gipperth, L., and Hassellov, M., 2018. The unaccountability case of plastic pellet pollution, Marine Pollution Bulletin, 129 (1), 52-60.

[xiv] Derraik, J., 2002. The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: A review, Marine Pollution Bulletin, 44 (9), 842-852.

 

[xv] UN Environment, 2017. Frontiers 2017: Emerging Issues of Environmental Concern. United Nations Environment Programme [online], 5th December 2017. Available from: https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/22255/Frontiers_2017_EN.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y [Accessed 19th February 2018].

 

[xvi] Foekema, E., Gruijter, C., Mergia, M., Andries Van Franeker, J., Tinka, A., Murk, J., and Koelmans, A., 2013. Plastic in North Sea Fish, Environmental Science and Technology, 47 (15), 8818-8824.

[xvii] Fossi, M., Coppola, D., Baini, M., Giannetti, M., Guerranti, C., Marsili, L., Panti, C., Sabata, E., and Clò, S., 2014. Large filter feeding marine organisms as indicators of microplastics in the pelagic environment: The case studies of the Mediterranean basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) and fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), Marine Environmental Research, 100, 17-24.

[xviii] Fossi, M., Coppola, D., Baini, M., Giannetti, M., Guerranti, C., Marsili, L., Panti, C., Sabata, E., and Clò, S., 2014. Large filter feeding marine organisms as indicators of microplastics in the pelagic environment: The case studies of the Mediterranean basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) and fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), Marine Environmental Research, 100, 17-24.

 

[xix] Fossi, M., Coppola, D., Baini, M., Giannetti, M., Guerranti, C., Marsili, L., Panti, C., Sabata, E., and Clò, S., 2014. Large filter feeding marine organisms as indicators of microplastics in the pelagic environment: The case studies of the Mediterranean basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) and fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), Marine Environmental Research, 100, 17-24.

[xx] Karlsson, T., Arneborg, L., Brostrom, G., Carney Almroth, B., Gipperth, L., and Hassellov, M., 2018. The unaccountability case of plastic pellet pollution, Marine Pollution Bulletin, 129 (1), 52-60.

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UK Beaches Face Plastic Crisis

In recent months Bournemouth has been the recipient of international praise and awards for the condition of its beach. A poll conducted by TripAdvisor in February 2018 declared Bournemouth to be the best beach in the UK, the 5th best in Europe and stunningly the 14th best in the world[i]. However, the chances of Bournemouth maintaining the top spot is under continual challenge by a stubborn and abundant enemy; plastic.

Like many other UK beaches, Bournemouth has experienced a surge of plastic finding its way onto its shores in recent years. In fact, according to the Marine Conservation Society, the volume of plastic washing up on UK beaches dramatically rose by 10% between 2016 and 2017[ii]. Additionally, the MSC also uncovered that 30.4% of beach waste in the UK comes from the British public and 47.2% comes from unknown sources[iii].

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Plastic Pollution is a Global Issue

The MSC’s findings are representative of a wider proliferation of plastic waste washing up or being dumped onto beaches around the world. In 2017, Greenpeace commissioned a report to discover the magnitude of global plastic pollution. The report found that approximately 12 million tonnes of plastic is being dumped into our oceans every year, and this statistic continues to grow annually[iv].

Director of Ocean Conservancy’s Marine Debris Programme Nicholas Mallos shared his views on Greenpeace’s findings; “At this rate, we would expect nearly one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish in the oceans by 2025 – an unthinkable number with drastic economic and environmental consequences”[v].

The economic consequences cited by Mr. Mallos are echoed within the United Nations Environment Programme’s report into the costs of plastic pollution. In which the UNEP outlined a range of financial penalties associated with plastic pollution such as loss in revenue from tourism and increased costs of beach cleaning[vi].

These warnings are certain to be of concern to the UK National Government as well as Bournemouth Borough Council. After all, the Environment and Tourism Services have been allocated the 5th and 9th largest expenditures within the Councils 2018/19 budget[vii]. With the Environmental services receiving the largest budgetary increase of over £1,000 between the financial years 2017/18 and 2018/19[viii].

National and Local Government Response

Councillor Mike Greene, Head of Transport, Cleansing and Waste at Bournemouth Borough Council offered his view about the biggest barriers to dealing with plastic pollution. “Without doubt, the main problem we have is education”, he argued, adding that, “Once people understand just how much damage plastics can do to marine life and the eco-system in general, they are only too willing to act responsibly and often assist in spreading the message”.

In fact, a 2017 survey by YouGov found that 51% of consumers would select a new drink in a recyclable container, instead of a recognisable brand in a non-recyclable container[ix]. These results support Councillor Greene’s views and suggest that the main barrier to resolving plastic pollution is the lack of environmentally friendly options available for the consumer.

“Across the world there needs to be greater governmental regulation, because we don’t necessarily as consumers have a choice”, argues Rick Stafford, Professor of Marine Biology at Bournemouth University. “The sooner things are legislated against, the sooner there is less plastic being made, the better”.

Recently the UK Government responded to increased public and media pressure by proposing a range of new environmental measures designed to tackle plastic pollution. Included within these proposals was a pledge to remove all unnecessary plastic waste within the next 25 years[x].

Yet, this plan has been widely criticised by environmental groups across the UK for being too pessimistic and focusing too much on long-term goals. Among the critics is Professor Stafford who exclaimed, “In 25 years seems like the weakest statement ever, if it’s unnecessary we should be able to do it in  couple of months, you know it should be that easy”.

However, the influence of big business may prove to make the removal of plastic from society a long and laborious process. After all, plastics appeal to brands stems from its durability, its low manufacturing costs and its close relationship to the oil industry. The combination of these factors mean that there is a lot of interest and money behind keeping plastic on our shelves.

In fact, a 2017 investigation by Unearthed discovered that household brands such as Coca-Cola, Lucozade, Ribena and Nestle resisted new environmental measures during a meeting with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs[xi]. Instead, these brands suggested that the recyclability of the product and its environmental impact was a low priority for their consumers[xii].

What Can Be Done?

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s annual report The New Plastics Economy has warned that the process of ending plastic pollution cannot commence without the full cooperation of big business[xiii]. To resolve this, the report recommended that policymakers at both a national and local level play a more active role in making environmentally friendly policies attractive to businesses[xiv].  

Councillor Mike Greene has suggested that Bournemouth Borough Council adopt similar measures; “With our declared aspiration to be recognised as a Green Economy Leader, I believe there is an opportunity for the Council to both do more and be seen to be doing more”, noting that, “I would like to see Bournemouth Council as taking a real leadership role, potentially within some sort of ‘anti-plastic-pollution coalition’ of businesses, community groups etc.”.

It is saddening that the intervention of national and local government is required to make the majority of businesses interested in being environmentally friendly. However, the involvement of government has become vital as only 43% of the 5 million tonnes of plastic being used every year in the UK is currently recycled[xv][xvi]. Hopefully with increased government action and incentives that percentage will have risen by the end of 2018.

 

[i] Traveller’s Choice Awards., 2018. Top 25 Beaches – World. TripAdvisor [online], 20th February 2018. Available from: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/TravelersChoice-Beaches-g1 [Accessed 1st March 2018].

[ii] Harrington, R., 2017. Great British Beach Clean 2017 results. Marine Conservation Society [online], 30th November 2017. Available from: https://www.mcsuk.org/clean-seas/great-british-beach-clean-2017-report [Accessed 28th February 2018].

[iii] Harrington, R., 2017. Great British Beach Clean 2017 results. Marine Conservation Society [online], 30th November 2017. Available from: https://www.mcsuk.org/clean-seas/great-british-beach-clean-2017-report [Accessed 28th February 2018].

[iv] Casson, L., 2017. How does plastic end up in the ocean? Greenpeace [online], 22nd August 2017. Available from: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/plastic-end-ocean/ [Accessed 26th February 2018].

[v] Winn, P., 2016. 5 countries dump more plastic into the oceans than the rest of the world combined. PRI [online], 13th January 2016. Available from: https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-01-13/5-countries-dump-more-plastic-oceans-rest-world-combined [Accessed 20th February 2018].

[vi] United Nations Environment Programme., 2014. Valuing Plastics: The Business Case for Measuring, Managing, and Disclosing Plastic Use in the Consumer Goods Industry, UNEP Document Repository [online], 22nd June 2014. Available from: http://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/9238/-Valuing%20plastic%3a%20the%20business%20case%20for%20measuring%2c%20managing%20and%20disclosing%20plastic%20use%20in%20the%20consumer%20goods%20industry-2014Valuing%20plasticsF.pdf?sequence=8&isAllowed=y [Accessed 20th February 2018].

[vii] Bournemouth Borough Council., 2018. Our Budget. Bournemouth Borough Council [online], 21st February 2018. Available from: https://www.bournemouth.gov.uk/CouncilTax/Aboutcounciltax/a-guide-to-your-council-tax/our-budget.aspx [Accessed 1st March 2018].

[viii] Bournemouth Borough Council., 2018. Our Budget. Bournemouth Borough Council [online], 21st February 2018. Available from: https://www.bournemouth.gov.uk/CouncilTax/Aboutcounciltax/a-guide-to-your-council-tax/our-budget.aspx [Accessed 1st March 2018].

 

[ix] Smith, G., 2017. YouGov Poll suggest recycled bottles are favoured by consumers. New Food [online], 26th September 2017. Available from: https://www.newfoodmagazine.com/news/44561/44561/ [Accessed 21st February 2018].

[x] Chadwick, P., 2018. Government sets its sight on plastic as part of 25 year plan. Packaging News [online], 11th January 2018. Available from: https://www.packagingnews.co.uk/top-story/government-targets-plastic-part-25-year-plan-11-01-2018 [Accessed 19th February 2018].

[xi] Ross, A., 2017. Plastic Pollution is ‘low priority’ for shoppers, soft drink execs tell government. Unearthed [online], 20th December 2017. Available from: https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2017/12/20/plastic-pollution-low-priority-shoppers-soft-drinks-execs-tell-government/ [Accessed 20th February 2018].

[xii] Ross, A., 2017. Plastic Pollution is ‘low priority’ for shoppers, soft drink execs tell government. Unearthed [online], 20th December 2017. Available from: https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2017/12/20/plastic-pollution-low-priority-shoppers-soft-drinks-execs-tell-government/ [Accessed 20th February 2018].

 

[xiii] Ellen MacArthur Foundation., 2017. The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics and catalysing action. Ellen MacArthur Foundation [online], 13th December 2017. Available from: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/NPEC-Hybrid_English_22-11-17_Digital.pdf [Accessed 19th February 2018].

[xiv] Ellen MacArthur Foundation., 2017. The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics and catalysing action. Ellen MacArthur Foundation [online], 13th December 2017. Available from: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/NPEC-Hybrid_English_22-11-17_Digital.pdf [Accessed 19th February 2018].

[xv] Eunomia., 2017. Recycling – Who really leads the world? Eunomia [online], 1st December 2017. Available from: http://www.eunomia.co.uk/reports-tools/recycling-who-really-leads-the-world-issue-2/ [Accessed 1st March 2018].

 

[xvi] Waste and Resources Action Programme., 2018. Plastics in Manufacturing. WRAP [online], 1st January 2018. Available from: http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/plastic-manufacturing [Accessed 1st March 2018].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The long-term impact of the migrant crisis in Germany

The International Organisation for Migration contend that the volume of individuals living outside their country of birth has risen from 80 million three decades ago to approximately 180 million people. These vast demographic changes to a state’s population frequently result in many differing threats to the nations societal, economic, political and security structures. A key example of the negative impact interstate migration can have on a state’s status quo is the ongoing societal and political fallout to the Syrian migration crisis in Germany. Traditionally migration into Germany had been steadily increasing in accordance with global migration trends, however the ongoing Syrian civil war resulted in the state’s net migration increasing by 49% through 1 million individuals forcibly migrating into the state in 2015. Stemming from this dramatic rise in population has been a wave of political and social disturbances linked to xenophobia, crime, and far-right nationalism, leading to questions surrounding the stability of the state.

After all, despite the involuntary nature of these individual’s migration, they are often equated as security threats to the presumptive receiving state and its citizens. Primarily, this perception is formed through the idea that vast numbers of refugees will increase both the speed and likelihood of multiculturalism and the breakdown of the German identity. Consequently, in response to this belief Germany has seen a drastic increase in the distribution of anti-migrant rhetoric and has even seen its number of hate crimes targeted specifically against refugee’s double between 2014 and 2015. The overall sentiment of mistrust and fear of refugees was clearly observable during the Leipizig riots in 2016, in which over 200 right-wing extremists where arrested for various crimes linked to weapons, explosives, narcotics and the German right to assemble, thus displaying a sense of lawlessness within Germany.

Unfortunately, the actions and ideas of far-right extremist takes the focus away from the vulnerabilities and human rights of the refugees seeking asylum and gives it to concerns regarding the security of the state, resulting in increased social anxieties and instability towards migration. In this sense, it is therefore not so much the refugees directly contributing to societal tension but rather the inability to consider them not to be security threats.

Significantly, the political structures within Germany have also experienced disturbances resulting from increasing flows of refugees. Correlating with trends throughout Europe, Germany has seen an exponential rise in support for far-right nationalist parties. The Alternative Für Deutschland (AFD) who support an intrinsically anti-migrant agenda have seen their share of the national vote grow from 4.7% in 2013 to 15% according to polls in 2016, which places them as the third biggest party in Germany. The rapid growth in support for the AFD can be considered to be a societal reaction against both potential racial assimilation within the state and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to give all Syrian refugee’s the ability to apply for asylum in Germany. Although the AFD does not currently have a realistic chance of becoming the dominant party in Germany, it’s success does force the more mainstream parties to engage in uneasy and unproductive coalitions in order to prevent the AFD gaining further support. These coalitions threaten to fragment the German political landscape through the slowing of the long-term productivity of the German political system.

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Reflecting upon the article, one can contend that Germany is being negatively impacted by the migrant crisis in two ways. Firstly, the increasing flows of migration into Germany has led to the formation of a xenophobic and combative society, creating instability through race riots and racial discrimination as seen in the rise in hate crimes being committed against refugees. Secondly, because of xenophobia within society the political establishment is made unstable through a rise in support for anti-immigration parties. The rise in support for far-right parties increases the pressure on the ruling party to enact more nationalistic policies, however the enactment of such policies would only serve to legitimise claims that migration should be perceived as a security issue and that refugees are a threat to national stability.

To conclude , it is worth noting that these impacts stem from negative reactions to refugees rather than the refugees themselves. In this sense, is it possible that these repercussions would not exist if there was an absence of xenophobia within society? And, additionally would there be such reactions if the hardship and human rights of the refugees were recognised and focused upon?

States or Companies? Whose responsible for the dumping of plastic into the ocean

A 2016 report produced by the Ellen MacArthur foundation studying the impact that the growing importance of plastic in global economies is having on the level of sea pollution in the region found that plastic production has increased twenty fold since 1964 and reached 311 million tonnes in 2014. Additionally, the report noted that currently the equivalent of one garbage truck of waste is being dumped into the ocean every minute and this figure is likely to double or triple by 2030 and 2050 if no action is taken. However, despite the damning evidence and blatant impact that rising levels of plastic in the world’s oceans is having on the environment there has been little to no interest in solving the crisis from the country’s most responsible:

  • China
  • Indonesia
  • Philippines
  • Vietnam
  • Thailand

These five South-East Asian countries contribute to 60% of plastic in the world’s oceans. A contribution which has been steadily rising at a time correlating with the increasing westernisation and industrialisation of the state’s economies. This correlation has slowed the process of solving the environmental crisis as there has been increasing debates as to where responsibility truly lies, as the responsible states have been keen to highlight the significant role that Western companies indirectly play in the dumping of plastic. Is it therefore possible that those directly dumping are not mainly responsible for the roughly 8 million tonnes of plastic being dumped into the ocean each year? And will the dumping continue and potentially grow if neither side is willing to acknowledge their accountability?

The core argument framing Western companies as the main culprits of plastic pollution in South-East Asian countries revolves around noting the impact the selling of cheap small products made in disposable non-recyclable plastic has on the environment. The size of the products sold by these companies is the most significant factor noted by the leaders of China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand as well as environmental actors such as Greenpeace. These states and NGOs contend that Western companies take advantage of people on low and limited incomes to sell cheap goods in small quantities without any thought for the environmental impact. The selling of goods in this manner has led to the coining of the phrase ‘Sachet economy’, and the Philippines is a great example of this, as products such as instant coffee, shampoo, cooking oil, food seasoning and tooth paste are sold in single use sachets to a country of 103 million people where the high levels of poverty minimise the financial ability of bulk buying. The problems resulting from ‘sachet economies’ are only likely to worsen as the increasing modernisation and westernisation of these states economies has led to a dramatic increase in demand for consumer products, and yet there is no interest from the western companies producing the small cheap goods polluting our oceans due to there being no acknowledgment of responsibility and financial benefit for them.

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However, Western companies such as Nestle cannot be held totally accountable for the increasing rates of plastic pollution. In fact, in a 2016 report Greenpeace criticised and declared both Western companies and the South-East Asian countries as culpable for sea pollution. Using the Philippines as an example once again, Greenpeace found that 1.88 million tonnes of plastic being dumped into the ocean was in fact recyclable. This statistic becomes less shocking when one considers that 74% of plastic being dumped by the Philippines happens after the waste has been collected. In this sense, even if Western companies did improve the recyclability and size of its goods, it remains unlikely that we would see a drop-in the levels of plastic in the ocean unless collection facilities and transport systems were modernised.

This is a trend that is present throughout the five countries most responsible for dumping as on average only 50% of their total trash is collected. Therefore, a key method of improving levels of plastic in the ocean would be a modernising and expanding of garbage services, as well as closing leakage points in collection facilities, improving education on the benefits of recycling and increasing the financial incentives linked to being environmentally friendly. Should some or all of these suggestions be adopted then these five countries could reduce their plastic leakage by 65%, which would cut global leakage by 45% by 2025 at a cost of just $5 billion a year according to the Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey Centre for Business and Environment. However, the determination from these South-East Asian countries to grow economically at the expense of any other concerns including environmental makes the implementation of such changes extremely unlikely.

What is therefore required is a recognition of responsibility from both the Western companies supplying one-use throw away goods and the South-East Asian countries allowing the dumping to occur. Once there has been this recognition then the childish squabbling can cease and there can finally be effective discussions about how to end this growing crisis. Yet, when one considers that financial concerns consistently trump environmental worries then the implementation of real and lasting change on the volume of plastic being dumped into the ocean unfortunately remains slim.

How has America avoided paying compensation for Vietnamese Agent Orange victims

During my time in Vietnam, I found myself to be deeply moved by both the warmness of the Vietnamese people and the long-lasting influence of the war over fifty years later. The most recognisable by-product of the American war in Vietnam is the social, cultural and economic impact of the US’ use of Agent orange. Over the course of the war, in order to decimate Vietcong supply lines and food, America is thought to have dropped roughly 12 million gallons of the defoliant covering 12% of Vietnam’s land area. Alongside its ability to remove the leaves from trees and plants, Agent orange also contains dioxin which is widely considered in the scientific community to be the deadliest toxin known to man. It is therefore of no surprise that roughly 400,00 people were killed as a direct result of the distribution of Agent orange.

However, it is arguably the long-term impacts of Agent orange that a far more harrowing and saddening. You see, the toxin dioxin in Agent orange has been found to cause rashes, skin irritations, various forms of cancer, psychological disturbances and extreme birth defects which can last from at least the first to the fourth generation of families exposed to the defoliant. Currently there is roughly 3 million people living with cancer or other diseases due to agent orange exposure and since the war half a million children have been born with serious birth defects. Yet whilst America veterans and their next of kin have been paid a total of $180 million of compensation from the US Government and seven companies which manufactured the weapon, the hardship and ongoing struggle of the Vietnamese have been consistently ignored. Is it therefore possible that there is a lack of interest from both America and the wider international community in acknowledging the extreme suffering of the Vietnamese as a direct result of agent orange exposure? And is it possible that America has once again been able to publicly disobey international law, this time relating to chemical weapons, and has been able to get away with it purely because they are America?

Indeed there is plenty of evidence that supports this claim. For instance, as previously noted in 1984 chemical company Monsanto and several other companies agreed to a compensation package of $180 million to be paid to American veterans who may have suffered personally or their families have subsequently suffered from medical complications linked to Agent orange exposure. The conclusion reached within this court case seems to signify both an acceptance of Agent orange as a chemical weapon and an acknowledgement of guilt and responsibility from the companies hired to compose the defoliant. Yet, when a virtually identical case was finally raised on behalf of the 3 million Vietnamese suffering from the consequences of Agent orange exposure, the judge dismissed the case and sided with the chemical companies, despite the previous ruling in 1984. To justify his decision, Judge Jack Weinstein from Brooklyn, the same judge who heard the 1984 case, argued that the dropping of Agent orange did not amount to a war crime and therefore the companies held no responsibility due to their being no treaty, express or implied in the United States that conceived herbicides to be a weapon of war.

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The conclusion reached within the 2004 case enabled the chemical companies such as Monsanto to deflect blame on the US government and continue to not acknowledge and pay victims of a chemical weapon they created. The narrowmindedness of the judge in this instance is staggering if he truly believes a defoliant which not only killed 400,000 people but has also detrimentally changed the lives of 3 million people can only be considered an herbicide. The discrepancies within the judicial process in America in cases related to Agent orange is clearly evident when you consider that the only two differences between the two cases in 1984 and 2004 is the nationalities of those seeking compensation and the conclusion.

Worryingly, the lack of interest in acknowledging and compensating Vietnamese victims of Agent orange is not limited to the judicial system in America. The United States Congress repeatedly heard and repeatedly struck down proposals on legislation which would give compensation to Vietnamese victims towards the end of the 20th century. In the 21st century, the flows of legislation relating to Agent orange has drastically slowed, with the most recent example being the proposed Victims of Agent orange relief act 2013 which died in Congress. The act would have directed the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Secretary of Veterans affairs to provide assistance for Vietnamese individuals affected by exposure to Agent orange. However, the passing of such a bill would be an admission of guilt by the US government that they knowingly released a chemical loaded with poison on civilian populations. Of course, this is the case as even at the beginning of the Vietnam war dioxin was known to be the most toxic chemical known to man, yet justice will never be given to Vietnamese victims as an admission of knowledge by America would violate the rule of law that requires a distinction between military and civilian objects which is enshrined through The Hague Convention, Nuremberg principles, Geneva Conventions 1949, Optional Protocol of 1977 and the International Criminal Court statue. Therefore, making America completely guilty of war crimes against the Vietnamese public and yet America will never admit guilt, nor will any other country hold the US too its crimes due to its influence over the global economy, leaving victims of Agent orange uncompensated and unheard.

Reflecting upon the article, you can truly feel the hopelessness for Vietnamese victims of Agent orange seeking some form of compensation or even an apology for their suffering from America and the chemical companies. Unfortunately, however the 3 million Vietnamese living with deformities or cancer due to Agent orange exposure have joined the long list of war crimes committed by America stretching back to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima that will never be recognised, apologised or compensated for. The true irony of this unfortunate situation is that had a different country dropped Agent orange on civilians then America would likely lead the prosecution. Yet, as has become evident over time America abides by a different set of international rules and laws making it exempt from prosecution for war crimes.

 

 

Can abortion restrictions be justified?

Abortion within the first trimester of pregnancy has been legal in America since 1973 due to the 7-2 decision reached within the Supreme Court case, Roe v Wade. However, with the infamously anti-abortion Republican party holding the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House, there has been renewed pressures and regulations placed on abortions at a national and state legislative level. Coupled with this has been a dramatic increase in the enactment of limitations on a woman’s right to an abortion. However, when one considers the decisions reached within Roe v Wade the legitimacy of the implementation of such limitations becomes questionable. Can abortion limitations be justified by pro-life supporters? And more importantly, can they be considered constitutional?

The primary debate between the pro-choice and pro-life supporters is whether the procedure of abortion should be considered a public or private matter. Pro-choice supporters argue that abortion is intrinsically a private matter due both to its relationship with bodily integrity and the individual’s right to freedom from governmental intervention in their private lives. The second argument is significant as it relates abortion with the right to privacy inferred within the fourteenth amendment and thus condemns any regulations and limitations as being unconstitutional.

Alternatively, pro-life supporters offer the arguably weak argument that abortion is a public matter due to the operation being conducted in the presence of a state certified medical practitioner in a regulated health facility. Therefore, they argue that increased access to abortion invariably requires more governmental regulation in order to maintain health and safety standards. Additionally, the maintenance of high health and safety standards will alleviate the risk attached to abortion, thus making it safer and lowering the chance of death.

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However, it is worth noting that the continued implementation of abortion restrictions on both a state and national legislative level will likely force women into using less reputable practitioners without governmental regulation, which inevitably increases the risk of injury and death. Therefore, the argument that abortion limitations are justifiable due to both the procedure being a public matter and requirement to uphold safety standards is incorrect as the implementation of restrictions increases the threats to the woman’s health.

Equally, the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade nationalised the issue of abortion, as well as drastically increased the judicial oversight given to legislation relating to privacy and abortion restrictions.  In this sense, the enactment of limitations not only becomes unjust, but also unconstitutional. Primarily, as the supremacy of the Supreme Court’s decisions means that congress cannot interpret the constitution in a way contradicting the decision in Roe v Wade. Therefore, the argument that national and state level legislation limiting abortion is justified due to them both having a right and a responsibility to regulate can be considered unconvincing.

Therefore it becomes clear that there is minimal justification for the enactment of abortion limitations. Mostly this is due to both abortion being a private matter meaning it should be free of governmental intervention, and also the fact that the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade legislatively outranks any decision reached on a national and state legislative level.

Are we misinterpreting lone wolf terrorism?

The well organised and intricate terrorist attacks such as 9/11 and the Madrid bombings have seemingly been replaced by much more random and frightening acts of lone wolf terrorism. Lone wolf terrorism sheds the perception of terrorism as being a group endeavour and instead highlights the potential for an individual to become inspired to commit acts of violence without the direction or knowledge of the organisation. In this sense, lone wolf terrorism is essentially all about the individual rather than the group, thus increasing the difficulty of preventing an attack. The key long lasting consequence of lone wolf terrorism is the sentiment that there are a multitude of terrorists hiding within society which results in a rise of xenophobia and religion-centred hate crimes. However, if lone wolf terrorism is the act of an individual then shouldn’t it be considered detached from both the terrorist organisation and the demographic they belong to? And if this is the case, should the investigation into these lone wolf terror attacks be centred around the individual’s mental health and whether terrorism was simply used to give the perpetrator a sense of identity and purpose?

Debates surrounding the impact that a lack of personal identity and purpose have on lone wolf attackers is split into two differing theories; psychoanalytic and non-psychoanalytic. This article will focus on the psychoanalytic theory which suggests that unconscious factors drive a person’s mental and social life and categorises lone wolf attackers as individuals which lack a personal and social identity as well as having low self-worth. The likelihood of an absence of personal identity is proliferated through the continual growing interconnectedness of states diminishing the sense of a national identity. Therefore, resulting in a vacuum surrounding personal identity which drastically increases the possibility of psychological disturbances within the individual.

In particular, a study conducted on 88 lone wolf attackers from 15 countries found the following characteristics to be present in some or all of the perpetrators; mental illness, vocational problems, high-stress levels, problems with intimate partner relationships, social awkwardness, violent communications, and high intelligence. I find that many of the characteristics noted within the study are associated with problems interacting within society, therefore contributing to the idea that these individuals lack an identity, a sense of purpose and a grounding. The absence of these feelings, coupled with psychological problems, leaves these individuals susceptible to becoming involved with terrorist organisations for the sole purpose of having a place of which to belong.

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Equally, the impact of social media on the mindset of lone wolves is frequently overlooked. Outlets such as Facebook or Instagram encourage the younger generation to view their lives as an ongoing drama and conform to a certain look, culture and way of thinking. Now, should the individual not adhere to these principles, then their personal identity would be out of touch with the status quo and out of place in society.

Furthermore, the increasing use of ‘live’ features on social media as well as mass news outlets provides the perpetrator with a colossal audience for an attack which is guaranteed to provide them with worldwide attention, name recognition and global fame. These factors can be considered key motivations behind an attack when one considers the lone wolves psychological desires to have an identity, to be remembered and to matter. Therefore, violent outlets become a means for these individuals to be immortalised through social and mass media, as well as find a purpose and prove their ability to alter the normal workings of a society that they feel no personal or emotional attachment to.

In my opinion, when a lone wolf attack happens there is general sense that the reasons and motivations for the attack are limited to the terrorist organisation the individual associates themselves with. What is required is an understanding of the impact that psychological disturbances and an absence of personal identity can have on an individual. After all, despite their idiosyncratic nature, lone wolves are essentially narcissistic in nature who rather than operating for the will of the group, instead use violence as a means of punishing the society that they feel no connection to. The change I would recommend is viewing lone wolf terrorism as an incident where an individual suffering from a mental illness or a disassociation from reality and society is taken advantage of by the ideas of a terrorist organisation to find a sense of identity and purpose.