Clean up, Clean up, Everybody Everywhere: How Global Environmental Governance Approaches the Issue of the World’s Largest Trash Dump
I do not usually like to publish classwork but this term paper I wrote for my Globalization course focused on a topic I am very passionate about and believe that the world needs to become more aware of. Feel free to use my paper as a recourse and learning tool to better inform yourself on the impact our daily actions have on our environment.
If you do not want to take the time to read my paper then PLEASE at least take a few quick minutes to watch the video below which sheds light on the harmful effects plastic has on our oceans and the steps we can take to be apart of the solution. Mother Earth & I both Thank you!
Abstract: The National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis estimates that right now there is around 200 million tons of trash floating throughout our oceans. Out of all that marine debris the largest conglomeration of polluted water rests in the North Pacific Gyre where every square mile consists of approximately 1.9 million microplastics bits. I am going to survey the contributing factors in the formation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and aquatic pollution as a whole along with the consequences this pollution has on marine life, food supply and our future. I will further examine the impact of actions taken by authoritative governances like the UN, while also recognizing the major role NGOs and independent actors play within the regime complex of international environmental governance when it comes to aiding in the eradicating of the world’s largest trash collection. While examining those actions I will expand upon how the regime complex of global environmental governance operates and how its attempts to get cooperation from governments who each have their own agendas. Though the destruction of one of the world’s largest ecosystems was never the intent of any individual, countless irresponsible actions over time have had an unprecedented impact on what our environmental future may look like. There is no immediate solution for the overwhelming amounts of pollution that circulates through the five colossal ocean gyres but within governance, environmental and scientific communities there are plenty strides being made in the right direction. The Earth follows no laws expect for those of nature, as Earth’s citizens we must all work in unison through cooperating on global environmental preservation efforts to protect our planet from ourselves. The ability to worry about the wellbeing of our environment is a luxury that is a result of mankind’s progress but sadly that same progress is what requires us to worry. With that comes the responsibility my generation has to eliminate catastrophes such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and maintain the globe for generations to come.
“Today’s problems cannot be solved if we still think the way we thought when we created them.” – Albert Einstein
As a race we were given one planet for the time being to live on and from. We have made use of Mother Earth’s abundant resources to the best of our ability through the course of time. Yet at the dawn of the 20th century our culture of constant innovation, materialism and wastefulness has put unprecedented strains on our planet’s ecosystems. An increased societal need to consume and waste at a rate that our planet cannot sustain has become the norm of lifestyles in industrialized countries. What will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back when it comes to societal acceptance of the need for having a clean viable environment? According to research from The American Environmental Values Survey conducted by EcoAmerica an NGO focused on bringing Americans together to find solutions to combat climate change:
“Americans’ active support for environmental protection has been steadily eroding. Participation in Earth Day events in America is down from 20,000,000 people in 1970 to less than 1,000,000 today. And while 77% of Americans say they worry about the environment a great deal or fair amount, for most of them it is neither a personal nor a public policy priority.” (Baird 2006)
Even with record high temperatures appearing all over the globe as a result of mankind’s negligent actions there are still those who choose to pay little attention to the impact we have on our environment. Organizations like Greenpeace International, UNESCO, the National Resources Defense Group as well as many private actors battle daily to raise awareness on the importance of environmental preservation. Some environmental issues have started to see benefits from governments’ and independent actors’ actions for example we can now see the O-Zone slowly staring to repair itself. Yet other issues such as the pollution of our oceans are just now being put in the spotlight.
The issue of cleaning up and preserving our oceans through the cooperation of international governance and non-governmental organizations is one that can no longer be ignored or tolerated. The U.N. Environmental Program estimates that each square mile of ocean carries 46,000 pieces of plastic waste bobbing on its surface (UNESCO 2014). In a documentary by VICE News titled Garbage Island: An Ocean Full of Plastic Captain Charles Moore, an oceanographer that is known as one of the first to discover the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), said, “Everyone says why don’t you just clean it up? It’s not a parking lot. I did a calculation, it would require every man, women and child (6.6 billion people) during their lifetime to clean up the ocean they would have to be in charge of 100,000 pick up loads of ocean.” This subject is not one that looks to have an immediate happy ending but through the cooperation of international governances and extreme action by individuals we do have a chance of not making this manmade disaster any worse and maybe if we are lucky even find a way to fix it. The issue is clear and the cause of the problem is 100% the responsibility of man and the lifestyle that is now the norm in the industrialized world. In the pages to follow I am going to analyze and support the actions being taken by global bodies of governance in regards to the formation, containment and ultimately how we plan to manage an environmental disaster to the scale of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as well as the growing role of independent actors in regards to combating these catastrophe.
What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex is the world’s largest collection of marine debris located in the North Pacific Ocean. Its effects span from the most western coast of North America and trail all the way to the shores of Japan through what is known as the North Pacific Gyre. A gyre is the center of an aquatic vortex that encompasses several thousand miles of current which process and transport marine debris throughout the ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not a mountain of trash or floating junkyard island in the sense that many might imagine. The images that the average citizen might first conjure up of the middle of the North Pacific as a beautiful blue abyss without any traces of the industrialized world compared to what this once flourishing biome appears to be now is on the verge of being comedic. The pollution that is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not confined to one area like traditional dumps we see on land, it is everywhere inside of the North Pacific Gyre. It is on the surface of the waves, in the depths of the sea and in the stomachs of marine life. To help put the amount of plastic marine debris in perspective a traditionally bad ratio of plastic to sea life is 6:1. This means that for every one aquatic creature collected in a 32oz sampling of ocean water that six pieces of microplastic are floating right along side that organism. Captain Charles Moore first discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997 while he was at the helm of his craft, the Algalita, during an international yachting competition. In an experiment documented by VICE News that followed Captain Moore and his crew of scientists, they routinely pull samples from the middle of the North Pacific at 60 pieces of plastic for every one plankton found. On this particular expedition in 2012 the worst ratio of plastic to sea life ever found was recorded at 1,000:1 (VICE news 2012). This is just the surface of how severe this issue is, literally. The samples that Captain Moore and his crew tested are solely from the surface of the ocean. The crew uses a trawl attached to the back of the boat that skims the water to collect their samples. Their particular trawl is only capable of reaching depths of 25cm (Moore 2014). When we go deeper into the ocean we can see the build of these microplastics creating what is now known as “ocean soup”. This is not the kind of soup you would enjoy as part of your daily diet but the consumption of these toxic microplastics is customariness for marine life in the gyre. We have gone past the point of pollution. Now we are talking about our actions actually changing the composition of ocean water and the consequences we will have to live with as a result of our negligence. Society as a whole throughout history has seemed to struggle with the challenges of managing multifaceted socio-environmental problems due to either a lack of concrete scientific knowledge or simply because living in denial may be easier then coping the truth. These distinct attributes are what make the potential clean up of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch one of the most complex environmental dilemmas of our time.
Who should be held responsible?
“The real cure for our environmental problems is to understand that our job is to salvage Mother Nature.”
-Jacques Yves Cousteau.
America uses 2 million plastic drinking bottles every 5 minutes and in 2013 it is estimated that as a nation the United States discarded nearly 50 billion plastic bottles with only 23% of the population constantly recycling those bottles (Gewin 2010) that means that in 2013 alone the United States may have polluted our oceans with another 38 billion individual plastic bottles. Realistically all 38 billion bottles will not end up in the ocean but even a fraction of that is still a massive amount of pollution and that is just with in the United States. That number on a global scale over the sequence of history is practically unfathomable. Captain Moore put in perspective how much damage a single plastic bottle causes can cause the environment, “a one liter bottle will break down to produce one molecule of plastic for every beach in the world” (VICE News 2012). The amount of plastic debris being added to our oceans is doubling every decade according to a three-year study conducted by the Australian national science agency, CSRIO (Parker 2014). The causes behind the widespread pollution of our oceans are sadly simple yet finding a solution seems to be as difficult walking around your home and trying to find just one room where not a single object is made with plastic. The industrialized world’s mindlessly wasteful lifestyle is the main cause behind the millions tons of plastic pollution in the world’s waters. Combinations of overconsumption and under recycling have increased the effect of the perpetrators drastically.
One of the core attributing factors of aquatic contamination are the basic properties of plastic itself. Plastic is used to make just about everything in today’s world, very much as it was intended to but there is nothing organic about plastic’s composition. It is a completely manmade substance that does not biodegrade. That being said every molecule of plastic that has ever been created (expect for the small amounts that have been incinerated) still exists in some form today. One of the particular difficulties with the governing of this environmental issue is that holding the individuals or a group of countries responsible for this manmade natural disaster is entirely illogical and impractical since the origins of the trash are from land-based individual citizens. Numerous solutions have been proposed from the idea of developing a satellite system to trace where the majority of marine debris originated to aquatic androids that swift the water to filter and collect microplastics but as of right now both strike even the most optimistic scholars as unrealistic solutions. The only proper answer for the question of who is responsible for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the consequences extreme marine pollution carries with it is every single human. With that there must be a global undertaking to raise awareness and offer steps for individuals to take in their daily lives to decrease the impact they have on their oceans.
Repercussions of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
From the formation of “plastic beaches” where the sand is mixed with billions of microplastic particles to the destruction of coral reefs and potential extinction of endangered marine species the repercussions of decades of oceanic pollution are now more evident than ever. According to the Environmental Protection Agency the lives of some 200,000 species of aquatic life are impacted daily by society negligently polluting the ocean with plastic waste, “every size organism, every creature in the food web in the ocean, from the smallest filter feeders to the largest whales, is consuming plastic”(Moore 2014). As plastic marine debris is churned through the waves and seared in the sun it gets reduced down to microplastic nurdles that can be the size of the smallest of zooplankton. These nurdles are then mistaken as food by sea life and are then a permanent fixture in the perpetual cycle of the food chain.
Just as severe as the physical pollution of the oceans is, equally as detrimental are the ambient repercussions of the toxic chemicals that persist from the breakdown of plastics. This persistent organic pollution results in dangerously high levels of toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) which is an endocrine disruptor that is an additive in plastic and affects the reproductive system in mammals. Once ingested by a sea creature the mitigating effects of the microplastic particles will only increase as they are transferred up the food chain. This process is called biomagnification and has immediate consequence that unbeknownst to the common consumer could be affecting the food they purchase at their local grocer. Oh the irony when an unsuspecting consumer unwraps the plastic from a sushi box and begins to eat fish that now has a horrendous taste due to the large amount of toxins that were bioaccumulated from microplastic particles consumed by a tiny sea creature far down the food web. The backlash from man’s careless pollution is something that is not only taking and endangering the lives of marine species but if neglected for too long subsequently our actions will permanently contaminate one of our main food sources which could have untold global consequences of its own.
How environmental issues are governed
Most every country in the world recognizes the Great Pacific Garbage Patch along with an assortment of other environmental issues as genuine threats to future generations’ way of life but the lack of legitimate global governance in these areas has resulted in very little actually being done. The existing state of global environmental governance, according to Robert Keohane and David Victor, is more of “a varied array of narrowly-focused regulatory regimes—what we call the “regime complex for climate change.” The elements of this regime complex are linked more or less closely to one another, sometimes conflicting, usually mutually reinforcing.” (Keohane & Victor 2011) For about 20 years now governments all over the world have worked both independently and together to form an international treaty that would lead gradually the way for a global solution to the majority of our environmental issues but the negotiations have only been partially successful. These talks have constructed what is now known as The Kyoto Protocol, which was signed in 1997 and became effective internationally on December 16, 2005. The main focus of this legislation was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with UNFCCC’s objectives to combat climate change.
Although this was a step in the right direction in regards to actually producing some sort of environmental agreement amongst nations Dr. Robert Falkner, a professor of international relations at London School of Economics and Political Science, says that the obligations were not nearly ambitious enough and were not placed on enough of the highest co2 emitting countries for the Kyoto Protocol to achieve its original purpose and or be deemed successful. “Power is a function of both the impact of one’s own decisions on others (which depends mainly on size and economic output) and on favor-able asymmetries in interdependence leading to better default (no-agreement) positions for the state” (Keohane & Victor 2011). This notion of power and the distribution of it on an international decision making scale is in large part why we have not seen the formation of a cohesive international body of environmental governance. Historically, disputes tend to stem from the conflicting economic self-interests of industrialized nations (generally nations in the northern hemisphere) and the basic needs developing countries (generally in the southern hemisphere) have when it comes to the formation of international environmental regulatory policies. Documentation of the contestation of environmental issues within the forum of international politics dates itself all the way back to pre-1972 where at an environmental conference in Stockholm the tone of developing countries slowly began to change. The reasons for the opposition from many developing countries on international and internal environmental regulations branches from the idea that they do not find the urgency or want to dedicate time, money and or recourse to issues that do not immediately pertain to the direct benefit of their country or its citizens. For in many of these areas they have much more pressing everyday concerns like healthcare, containing unrest and sustaining economic growth. The best way I have found to understand the lack of political motivation in respects to environmental issues from these developing countries is through the lens of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Industrialized nations have their basic and psychological needs met in regards to their national security, political stability, established economies as well as the basic rights of their citizens being established and protected. Once all of these needs are constantly met with in an established nation just as within the individual in Maslow’s hierarchy that nation then must look outside itself to achieve its full potential. The self-actualization stage for industrialized nations is where they begin to take actions on issues outside their borders (ex: environmental and humanitarian issues). In developing countries the majority of which may not have the most essential physiological needs (the foundation of the pyramid) met for their citizens the necessity of cleaning up our oceans or reducing their carbon footprint seem like problems that they simply do not have the ability to delegate resources to at the time. Developing countries must first allocate all their efforts towards providing for the most basic needs of their citizens before they could ever contemplate serious involvement on international environmental work. The ability to look beyond one’s self is crucial when dealing with environmental issues on both a global and individual basis for if one can take inventory of the greater impact their actions have on the world around them then the likelihood for permanent behavioral change increases drastically.
The ideas behind the formation of what we now see as a regime complex for climate change and its dealings with other international environmental governances are fundamental to the understanding of how real change can take place. The process by which this regime complex came together is fundamentally important to how it is able to operate on a multitude of issues at once. All because it “has not been comprehensively designed but rather has emerged as a result of many choices—made mainly by states and their diplomatic agents—at different times and on different specific issues.” (Keohane & Victor 2011) This is a textbook description for how a regime complex comes to fruition and how the many states and non-state actors involved in the process are able to have their voices heard. Regime complexes like this give room for many independent actors, NGOs and governments to work on their personal agendas as well as the overarching issues at hand. That being said this might also be the only option for an international approach to the governance of environmental issues because “efforts to build a comprehensive regime are unlikely to succeed, but experiments abound with narrower institutions focused on particular aspects of the climate change problem. Building on this analysis, we argue that a climate change regime complex, if it meets specified criteria, has advantages over any politically feasible comprehensive regime.” (Keohane & Victor 2011) The advantages they speak of are the regime complex’s ability to be both naturally adaptable and flexible due to the fact that “the most demanding international commitments are interdependent yet governments vary widely in their interest and ability to implement them.” (Keohane & Victor 2011)
The primary disadvantage to this regime complex structure of governance is the lack of substantive legitimacy. This could prove to be a fatal blow to the reality of international acceptance and implementation of particular policies or procedures conjured up by the regime complex. For even though the regime complex can virtually corner the market on procedural legitimacy due to its abundance of independent actors who are specialists on their niche of environmental science and preservation techniques without the proper authoritative bodies’ cooperation their efforts could prove to be futile. Although the regime complex itself cannot be substantively legitimate it can achieve its desired end goals through proper collaborations with organizations such as the United Nations, which possess substantive legitimacy on an international scale. In these types of partnerships the regime complex can play the role of the seamless intermediary for those taking independent action and those implementing global policies.
Are solutions for the GPGP and hopes of a clean ocean viable?
Now that the way the regime complex of international environmental governance operates has been laid out we can dive deeper into the actual actions being taken by different players to contain, irradiate and find solutions to mass mounts of aquatic pollution like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Through the combined efforts of a multitude of NGOs, preservationist and scientists the proper steps are being taken to confront what presents itself to be one of the most challenging environmental dilemmas in history. The clean up of our oceans is no small task in fact the possibility of finding a solution that would be successful has not even been a realistic thought in the scientific community until recent years. The majority of specialists are still doubtful that any of the innovative ideas that promise a solution to this crisis can actually deliver on their word. The naysayers are rightfully skeptic of solutions that involve a global ocean clean up. For although it would be an enormous and noble undertaking it would only be a solution to half of the problem simply because “if we are doubling what we are putting into the ocean on a ten-year basis, there’s no way to keep up,” says Chris Wilcox, an ecologist at CSIRO. “It would be as if you were vacuuming your living room, and I’m standing at the doorway with a bag of dust and a fan. You can constantly keep vacuuming, but you could never catch up.” (Parker 2014) Even though support from the scientific community appears to be lacking behind even the most promising solutions to cleaning our waterways there are still many organizations and individuals who dedicated their lives to the pursuit of a cure for the ocean. One of those dedicated individuals, whose potential solution for getting all the plastic waste out of the oceans has recently placed him in the spotlight of the international community. His name is Boyan Slat, a young environmentalist and aerospace engineering student from Holland who founded the NGO The Ocean Cleanup from his out of the box idea on how to clean up our oceans.
Slat’s story is one of pure passion and ingenuity. The native Dutchman began to study the effects of marine debris at the age of 16 after scuba diving off the coast of Greece where he was disappointed to see more plastic bags in the water then sea life. His plan now known as The Ocean Cleanup involves three basic principles each of which are concepts that have not been thought of before. The first principle involves the idea of passive collection where the ocean’s currents and winds are utilized to propel floating solid barriers and platforms that are attached to the ocean floor to concentrate marine debris. This feature also allows for continuous movement while never having to burn a single fossil fuel. In an effort to not disrupt or harm aquatic life the second principle allows for the ocean’s currents and sea creatures to flow underneath the barriers while object that are neutrally buoyant (plastic) float to the top to be collected. The third and maybe the key to what potentially makes this the holy grail of environmental solution is the scalability of the project. Slat and his team engineered it to be able to cover millions of square kilometers with the ability to cover an entire gyre in potentially less than a decade.
Boyan Slat was awarded of the Champions of the Earth award in 2014 by the United Nations Environmental Program and has drawn interest from major investors from all around the world while also raising over $2 million dollars from individuals donating to the cause online. The most notable of those interested investors, is serial entrepreneur, music producer, singer, environmentalist, designer, the man of many hats himself, Pharrell Williams, who is currently looking into ways of harvesting the plastic from the ocean (using Slat’s concept) and turning the recycled plastic into a reusable fiber. His vision is to use the recycled plastic fibers that he already branded as Bionic Yarn to be used in his clothing lines. The Ocean Cleanup may never come to fruition but at the very least it placed a spotlight on the importance of pursing a solution to clean up our oceans. That being said though Boyan and his team are nowhere close to calling it quits “After performing a year of research with a team of 100 volunteers and professionals, in June 2014 The Ocean Cleanup announced the successful outcome of its feasibility study.” (Slat 2014)
With skeptics like Dr. Wilcox raising a crucially valid question about the practicality of an ocean clean up due to the two-part nature of the issue other NGO’s have begun to do research in hopes of aiding in the possible realization of a solution. The most highly touted prospect to go hand in hand with an idea like Slat’s so far is the mass adoption of bioplastics. “Bioplastics are, in simple terms, plastics made from renewable feedstocks, which can include corn, sugar cane, potatoes, coconuts, mushrooms, wheat, wood, or soy beans to name a few.” (McDougall 2013) These bioplastics are supposedly designed with the sole purpose of being biodegradable. If these claims were valid the bioplastics would be the perfect remedy for the world’s depraved habit of throwing plastic in our waterways. Unfortunately since the production of these bioplastics are still in the rather infant stages of its product lifecycle they haven’t had all their kinks worked out yet. According to a study conducted by Green America on the actual biodegradability of bioplastics there were quite a few discrepancies between company claims and reality. “Bioplastic producers like to hoot and holler about their bioplastics being 100% biodegradable and/or compostable. Not every bioplastic is biodegradable (e.g., bio-polyethylene (#4) is only recyclable), and even those that do biodegrade only do so in specific environments.”(McDougall 2011) So a world where the water bottle we toss into the sea and is naturally reduced back to its original organic compounds over time is not here yet but it is encouraging to learn that we might be close. These bioplastics are still in need of much more development and testing before it can be a viable solution to our pollution problem but the concept has legs. Nevertheless the fact that there are potentially enormous environmental upside to concepts like bioplastics and other reusable goods means that as an industry there is a large economic incentive for those willing to take the initial burden of risk.
In the world we live in today that means it will not be long before we see corporations starting to explore and expand upon similar ideas because where there is an opportunity to make money there is always someone willing to take a swing. The growth of this industry would also bring with it more stringent regulations at which point potential international production policies could emerge with inherent environmental benefits. Maybe even a piece of legislation that would implement a required ratio of all plastic goods produced in a nation during each fiscal year to be bioplastics. If a regulation such as this did come into affect subsequently it would put in motion the slow process of lessening the amount of plastic waste in our oceans. This is all entirely speculative based off of my personal presumptions of what the future political, economic and environmental landscapes could look like.
Global governance’s approach to managing marine debris
On the international political front there has been an extraordinarily insignificant amount of effort put towards finding solutions or even the prevention of worsening effects from oceanic pollution. Of the efforts being made to improve the current state of the ocean nearly all of them are operations conducted by private actors, universities or NGOs. Even with the majority of Americans saying that government should prioritize the protection and preservation of the environment even at the risk of curbing economic growth according to a polling data collected on March 10, 2014 by Gallup (Swift 2014). The steps that United Nations or any government for that regard have taken to contain, prevent or clean up the trash in our oceans are actually nonexistent. Interestingly although environmental issues such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have all the necessary qualities for a sensationalized panic party that networks news channels enjoying hosting 24 hours a day, there still seems to be a disparity in the amount of coverage these issues receive. Yet overall citizen awareness and support for the creation of environmental protection legislation is the highest it’s been in four years in the United States. (Swift 2014) With the recent signing of a bi-lateral agreement to cut carbon emission from the world’s two leading emitters, the United States and China, comes hopes that this is a positive step potentially leading to more action oriented environmental policies in future talks. If there is cooperation on both sides of this bi-lateral agreement this could be a monumental deal that could potentially set a new precedent for cooperation on international environmental regulations. This specific deal outlines that the United States will cut its carbon emissions by 26-28% by 2025 and China will cap its emissions by 2030 while also increasing its use of alternative energy sources.
This deal came at a pivotal moment in the timetable of global environmental governance with the United Nations Conference on Climate Change being held in December of 2015 in Paris. In the time till UNCCC the international community will wait with their fingers crossed in hopes that momentum from the US-China deal carries over to an on slot of new international environmental legislations that encompass voluntary but honed in participation from all the nations in attendance. The prospect of attaining a universal agreement on climate that it legally binding to all nations of the world is a daunting one but one that has the greatest likelihood of succeeding since the 20 years of negotiations started on the idea. The increased probability of an actual agreement being made is due to the added pressure of time in regards to the melting of the polar ice caps. Which is why one of the main focuses of the conference is getting all the countries to make the push towards controlling and cutting their emission of greenhouse gases.
The issue of controlling aquatic pollution through the formulation of collaborative international clean up efforts or even the establishment of a more formalized version of UNEP’s task force on marine liter could both potentially come up for debate at the 2015 UNCCC. Realistically though it might be an issue that gets swept under the rug. Primarily because of the vast amounts of resources, cooperation and planning an actual clean up operation would entail but also do to the fleeting opportunity the world has to preserve the polar ice caps which are beyond essential to maintaining the balance of life on Earth. Currently the only binding piece of international legislation that directly deals with the matter of marine debris that originates from land is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). More than 160 countries adopted it in 1982 in an attempt to monitor the usage of aquatic resources to ensure their sustainability. The treaty called for the establishment of exclusive economic zones to aid in the preservation and repopulation of fish stock in a many areas around the world. These EEZs restricted the number of commercial fisherman allowed to fish in non-native waters after many areas in the North Sea had lost most of their fish stock to foreign fisherman. These zones doubled as boundaries of political sovereignty as the stretch 200 nautical miles from the shores of any costal state. Like many treaties that deal with environmental issues on a global scale UNCLOS is criticized for its lack of enforcement in particular regions but it still serves as a significant central function for the preservation of marine life to secure food supplies globally. The reason this treaty cannot require nations who are the chief contributors of marine debris to cleanup after themselves is because the gyres where the majority of trash ends up are far beyond the pre-established sovereign boarders of 200 nautical miles off any nation’s shores. The gap in this legislation is one of the reasons why we see massive amounts of oceanic pollution with no one to place the legal burden of responsibility on. Due to the rules of UNCLOS and the way it established sovereign aquatic borders for nations that have coastline. Areas outside of the 200 nautical miles boarders of any country defaults under no countries direct jurisdiction.
What to do while we wait on global governance
“When you think about climate change, it’s hard to reduce our carbon footprint, because we have to go through a fundamental shift in our economies,” Dr. Chris Wilcox says. “With plastic, when you’re throwing a bottle cap on the ground, that should be an easy impact to get rid of.” (Parker 2014) I read this quote in one of the first few articles I found when I began complying research on the topic of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch around two and a half months ago. There was something about it that compelled me to want to wrap up my paper with it. Since then it has been sitting at the very bottom of the last page of this word document. I placed it right there for a single purpose. I wanted to allow you (the reader) and I (the author) a moment of reflection. I wanted to provide place where the mind could decompress. A quick voyage to a corner of your mind your haven’t been in sometime; far away from the complicated jargon of global politics and environmental sciences all with the intention of letting the significance, scale and reality of all the topics discussed prior to this section sink in. The bottom line is the way we treat the Earth will tell the story of how we spent our time on it. I was always raised to leave a place better than you found it. I believe that through avenues of opportunity provided by our globally interconnected world in collaboration with mankind’s inherent ability to keep progressing on top of the fact that we now have the technical capacities to do things on the planet that no other species in history ever has before each individual’s potential to impact the Earth for the better is the greatest it has ever been. We can all find a way to be apart of the solution. Now after studying in-depth the impact the actions that we considered to be societal norms have on our environment I am going to be intentional with my actions and mindful of my surroundings.
The reason I fancied that obscure quote from Dr. Wilcox was the subtle keen observation about how simply being mindful of the impact that even smallest of our actions could, can and probably will have on the world around can help to make the world a better place. Before I wrote this paper I would have never thought of the environmental damage caused by something as simple as not recycling a plastic bottle cap. We take out of life whatever we put into it and no matter what we do it have a direct impact on the world around us. Whether that impact is a positive or negative one is entirely up to us. We can all find at least one small thing each day to ensure that we do our part in taking care of the planet. Whether it’s something as simple and small as buying a reusable water bottle instead of buying disposable plastic one and encouraging those around you to do the same. Be an advocate of treating the Earth like you would want others to treat it. Not all of us can find a solution to eliminating oceanic pollution, be able to swim the English Channel or paint the Mona Lisa because we are all unique. One thing we can all do is take care of our home which we all share with 6.6 billion other humans just like countless humans have before us and hopefully if we take care of it good enough countless humans will continue the cycle for many generations after us as well.
The reason I wanted to go down this little journey with you was to arrive to the realization that when you boil it all down there are simple solutions to solving these gigantic environmental problems. Through each one of us taking responsibility for selves and letting other know that they can help make the world a better place too by doing the little things. If we can all do this then we can ensure that the reactions to our actions are not part of the problem rather the solution itself.
Research Question: For my research question I am going to look at the contributing factors in the formation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch along with the consequences our oceans, marine life and food supply suffer as a result of the contamination. I will also examine the ways in which the regime complex of international environmental governance takes actions both currently and in the future through the UN, independent actors and NGO’s in regards to aiding in efforts to cleanup the world’s water ways.
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