Expert Opinion: how Plastic Affects Global Warming

 
 
The Effects of Plastics on Marine Rafting Organisms:
 
Biodiversity is also affected by plastic in oceans through the phenomenon of “marine rafting” (Branes & Miller). Marine rafting is an event where organisms latch on to a surface and can travel either long or short distances to new places (Branes & Miller). The organisms that partake in this are very diverse (Branes & Miller). The example of marine rafting organisms that Branes and Miller give in their 2004 work “Drifting Plastic and its Consequences for Sessile Organism Dispersal in Atlantic Ocean”, are organisms that range from algae to lizards (Branes & Miller). While marine rafting has existed for millions of years, the creation of commercial shipping has completely changed the means by which it happens (Branes & Miller). Through the availability of abundant and fast moving vessels to marine raft on, organisms have been dispersed at a rate far more rapid than any time before industrial shipping (Branes & Miller).
 
This is vitally important since the introduction of non-native species into new environments has proved to be a major factor in biodiversity loss (Branes & Miller). One area of particular concern is the sub-polar regions (Branes & Miller). Cold temperatures are one deterrent for nonnative species looking to take root in a new ecosystem (Branes & Miller). The sub polar regions cold temperatures had been protecting them from invasion, however, today, this area is increasingly more vulnerable as it warms (Branes & Miller). This is especially alarming because the southern ocean is the only place identified as having no known invasive species (Branes & Miller). In addition, the southern ocean has the highest level of endemic species, or species that are only native to one area, dwelling there, making it of the utmost importance to protect (Branes & Miller). The destruction of aquatic biodiversity is just one of the many effects that plastics have on complex ocean ecosystems. I will now offer the policy recommendations and mitigation strategies for ocean plastics that I have found in my research.
 
Policy Option #1: Targeting Entry Points
 
One policy option is to focus mitigation efforts to decrease plastics entering waterways (Rochman, 2016). Rochman contests in her work “Strategies for reducing ocean plastic debris should be diverse and guided by science” that ideally, among the sites that should be targeted are China and Indonesia as both of these countries produce large amounts of plastic and are thought to be main entry points for plastic to infiltrate oceans (Rochman, 2016). In addition, Indonesia is a good candidate because the sea is semi closed off, which accumulates high densities of plastic, causing major ecological issues in the area (Branes & Miller, 2004). One model predicts that by focusing efforts on the sources of plastic and entryways into water systems, 31% of plastics could be removed by 2025 (Rochman, 2016). Focusing energy on extracting plastic out of the ocean, however, yielded only 17% of plastics removed by 2025 (Rochman, 2016). One way to control the amount of plastic entering the oceans is by creating policy that outlaws specific plastic products that are particularly harmful, for example, microbes from beauty and personal care products (Rochman, 2016). In addition, putting caps on plastic production could be a way to ensure companies are not producing more than needed. Taxes on companies that have plastic in their products could provide incentives to switch to a different, more eco-friendly medium of packaging. The various, complex stakeholders that this approach to plastic pollution mitigation would involve include any company that produces plastic, Indonesian and Chinese government organizations to enforce new limitations on companies, and the general public that uses these products.
 
Challenges of Policy Option #1:
 
While it makes sense to stop production of plastic at the source by targeting big corporations and government, it is an important to remember that the general public also plays an important role (S.B Sheavly & K.Mk Register). These policies are likely to be met with a great deal of pushback from companies that rely on plastic for producing their merchandise (S.B Sheavly & K.Mk Register). Also, in order for a policy option like this to be successful , there would have to be a great amount of supporters. For this to happen in Indonesia and China would be unlikely due to their government’s primary focus on industrialization over environmental concerns (S.B Sheavly & K.Mk Register). This became evident when Indonesia pledged to keep greenhouse gas emissions at a certain level through the 2015 Paris Agreement, yet consistently exceeded that threshold with plans for more greenhouse gas causing palm oil plantation expansion. If Indonesia did agree to a revolution on plastic production, it is highly likely that those promises would not be fulfilled.
 
Policy Option #2: Geoengineering
 
Another policy option is to fund technology to make more eco-friendly plastic (S.B Sheavly & K.M. Register). This would mean that humans would be able to mitigate, the quality of Earth’s oceans through geoengineering, or the creation of innovative technology to control or mitigate the climate and its rapid changes (S.B Sheavly & K.Mk Register). If plastic was biodegradable, then the risk it poses to Earth’s oceans would decrease dramatically (S.B Sheavly & K.Mk Register). Issues like aquatic biodiversity loss, poor water quality of oceans, and changing ocean ecosystems would be slowed, or even stopped, with implementation of the right technology. Funding for a project like this could prove to be difficult, whether it was from a government agency or an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) (S.B Sheavly & K.Mk Register). Other stakeholders would include researchers and scientists to develop the technology to improve the qualities of plastic, companies who would implement this new plastic in place of their old plastic, and citizens who use the end product (S.B Sheavly & K.Mk Register).
 
One argument against geoengineering plastic production is that it will not change the minds and habits of the general public (Hamilton, 2013). While a technological advancement might help the short term effects of ocean pollution, there is a need for serious change in the way humans see their environment (Hamilton, 2013). Many people believe that geoengineering undermines human’s ability to change behaviors which are the root cause of environmental concern (Hamilton, 2013). Technology can likely only solve the issue to an extent, and if ocean plastics is solved, it is likely that a new problem will sprout up in its place eventually. Geoengineering puts humans in a constant cycle of careless and disruptive behavior rectified by technology (Hamilton, 2013). Instead, if efforts were placed more on educating the public and creating a global community of environmental allies on a local scale, efforts for not just ocean pollution, but for many other environmental concerns would slowly improve.
 
Conclusion:
 
The issue of plastic pollution in Earth’s oceans has many diverse, moving parts. It is difficult to identify exactly how much plastic is in the ocean, and therefore, how severe the problem is. Regardless of the exact quantity of plastic in the oceans, there are clear effects on aquatic biodiversity. Without dramatic changes in both the compositions of plastics, as well as human’s relationship to Earth’s oceans, this problem will continue to worsen. For humans to see that oceans are not dumping grounds for disposable human waste will take time, however, with correct education of the risks of plastic and increased funding to programs and research, oceans might once again be free from the suffocating grip of plastic pollution.
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