When 28,800 plastic bath toys are lost at sea, a journalist becomes obsessed with their whereabouts.
(Page 2 of 2)
Hohn, who is now the features editor at GQ, writes with precision and passion about what he sees and learns on his various travels and about his discussions with scientists, mariners, do-gooders, and beachcombers. His writing is lively and literate, filled with vivid descriptions, telling context, and lightly seasoned with quotes from Melville and others. He knows a symbol when one bobs into his ken, and what to do with it: “Here, then, is one of the meanings of the duck. It represents this vision of childhood – the hygienic childhood, the safe childhood, the brightly colored childhood in which everything, even bathtub articles, have been designed to please the childish mind, much as the golden fruit in that most famous origin myth of paradise ‘was pleasant to the eyes’ of childish Eve.”Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The author also knows a clever con when he sees one. He concludes that “Keep America Beautiful” approaches, which are largely spawned and bankrolled by the very corporations that are producing all the plastic detritus, are not the answer. There is no way to keep much of anything beautiful when barely five percent of all plastic we use is recycled. The whole point of plastic things is that they are made to be thrown away; that’s what makes them so darn consumer-friendly and profitable. What companies are doing with their “Let’s Not Litter” PR is to “greenwash” their own sizeable and systemic culpability, according to Hohn.
So what is the answer to oceans beset by a rising tide of indestructible trash? One is people like boat captain Charlie Moore, a self-made scientist and activist, who works to raise public awareness of the problem and lobbies for more enlightened regulations and corporate practices. Others Hohn encounters are volunteering their time and money to clean up our collective mess.
But the author wonders if such solutions, nibbling around the edges, are enough: “I’d like to share Moore’s faith in the arc of progress.... but I had a hard time imagining the bright future he saw, in which we Americans would trade conspicuous consumption for cradle-to-cradle manufacturing practices, disposable plastics for zero-waste policies and closed ecological loops. I had a hard time because such a future seemed to me inimical to the American gospel of perpetual economic growth.”
David Holahan is a freelance writer in East Haddam, Conn.