the fight for bans on single-use plastic grocery bags is the plastic straw in the Pacific gyres
It was a heck of a thing – a hundred people at the Newport City Council at 6 pm most of whom wanted to talk about the proposed single-use plastic bag (grocery) ban that is an ordinance largely led by citizens, and members of the Surfrider organization. Interestingly, the Newport voters five years ago were asked in a vote to decide whether a plastic bag ban was what they wanted.
A minority of citizens brought that up – how very few of the registered voters voted in 2014, and the vote against a plastic bag ban was barely a feather’s weight on the scale of pro versus con. One of the city council members repeated that he was afraid of voting tonight on the ban because he wanted the citizens (less than 1/3 of registered voters) to have a go at it again, to vote again on the measure.
Ahh, the vagaries of representative and participatory democracy. I have to put the word “democracy” into big bold quotation marks. Here’s one issue tied to that – first, the very people who will see the effects of more and more plastic in the gullets of birds and around the necks of seals and in the bellies of toothed whales are the very ones who are learning the tools of research and expressing their voices in a city council meeting. Yet, they are 12 or 14 or 16 years old, not old enough to vote on a measure they show so much interest in.
I’m not going to jump down their throats – the school kids’ throats – or their overworked/overtaxed teachers for not knowing or teaching about the harder and possibly more important issues of our time – the racist society that we work-love-govern-consume-die in has put countless millions in jails, countless millions more in other countries in open prisons and in death camps, and has destabilized the world from culture to climate to citizenship to community.
I am not going to ram down the throats of the citizens who think that a vote by the few people who believe voting counts is the only way to determine if Newport has a ban on plastic bags. It’s too easy to list the tens of thousands of laws, codes, regulations, fees, fines, taxes, penalties, levies and regulatory language that we the people never voted on, directly. I am not going to lecture people who think and believe there is a god-given right to use, buy, produce, consume, destroy, throwaway anything in this barbarous society.
I am an ecosocialist, so I know all systems of oppression that are the basis of capitalism have to be thrown into the dustbin of failed experiments and genocidal ideas by the white man. The very idea of having standardized schools, standardized laws (against the people) and standardized oligarchical systems of benefits thrown to the minority (One Percent and Point Zero Zero One percent) against the majority in a casino game of gambling our futures on the whims and slippery thinking of the elite is plain wrong.
Radical means setting down roots, the fabric of what it means to be a sane human and humane community. We need radical and revolutionary changes to this system of economic, cultural and environmental oppression.
If voting in a capitalist society really counted, or mattered, or gave the people a real choice and real chance at representative democracy, then it would have been outlawed ages ago, Emma Goldman famously stated.
The rights of nature do not end up on any ballot measure. We have to send in reems of paper to elected officials and to official agencies of the government and then also to the CEOs and shareholders of corporations to plead with them to stop this or that major attack on our ecosystems and wildlife.
We don’t get to vote with our money, or vote with our buying “power.”
There is no power in consuming or buying or being labeled a consumer. There is no focus group in the world which is working for the benefit of the fabric of life – air water soil biodome ecosystem ecology human/non human community. The very concept of a throwaway society was never voted on, but rather foisted upon the Americans who once were frugal, more or less.
Of course, this is the land of theft, from the First Nations, and this concept of me-myself-and-I, or that is, my home and my family are my castle, that is what the concept of America the Taken is. This blind allegiance to the flag, and this racist pledge of one’s self to the group’s mob rule, well that is part and parcel of the American lie.
When you subjugate a people, you not only take their land and their language, their identity, and their sense of self — you also take away any notion of a future. The reason I chose this name is because in this particular era of neoliberal capitalism, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. The argument I’m making is that within our own traditions of Indigenous resistance, we have always been a future-oriented people, whether it was taking up arms against the United States government, whether it was taking ceremonies underground into clandestine spaces, whether it was learning the enemy’s language. This pushes back against the dominant narrative that Indigenous people are a dying, diminishing race desperately holding on to the last vestiges of their culture or their land base. If that were the case, then I don’t think we would have an uprising such as Standing Rock or, today, Line 3 or Bayou Bridge, or the immense amount of mobilization around murdered and missing Indigenous women.Nick Estes, author of, “Our History Is the Future,” which traces Indigenous resistance from the Lakota people’s attempt to deny Lewis and Clark passage down the Missouri River in 1804, to the Red Power movement’s demands for treaty enforcement in the 1960s, to today’s Indigenous-led fights against fossil fuel projects. Writing about the massacre at Wounded Knee, where 300 Indigenous men, women, and children were murdered by U.S. soldiers in 1890, Estes highlights the revolutionary premise of the nonviolent Ghost Dance movement the victims followed. With a long tradition of daring attempts at decolonization, Estes argues, Indigenous people represent a powerful challenge to the profit-driven forces that threaten continued life on the planet.
Even a city council meeting in small-town America, demands that mob allegiance to the Flag, one nation under god. I of course do not stand for any flag, and taking a knee is not my cup of tea. I am a taxpayer, teacher, volunteer, activist and informed member of no blind allegiance to any body or group or country. I do not stand for the pledge or the national anthem, and some people get pissed off, and some would like to take me out to the back of the woodshed and shoot me.
In any case, the city makes a large chunk of its yearly income from visitors, beach visitors, the ones that come to town and plop down hotel fees and restaurant fees and park fees and fill up their cars with fuel.
Forget the microplastics debate. Just the fact that plastic straws and plastic bags and Styrofoam cups are unnecessary for human survival, and they kill marine life, now how difficult is it to prohibit these luxury items? For beautification of the town and environs that make the most money on visitors, of all any ilk, all both sides of the same coin American, and many out of state visitors and if we’re lucky to meet them, out of the country tourists.
Yes, Japan and Norway and Iceland kill more whales each year than does the Safeway bag. Yes, US Navy sonar use and massive testing kill more whales than a plastic bag from Taco Bell does. Yes, more whales and other marine mammals are killed by ghost fishing gear and crab pot lines than the Target sofa sized plastic shopping bag does. Yes, non-point pollution – from sewage and stormwater drainage overflows or direct source Big Ag and Farming pesticides and fertilizers and industrial raised animal waste kill more fish overtime than does plastic Bic lighters do. But . . . the big but is how did we get in this place where shellfish warnings are given in a place that more or less looks pristine?
How is it that the Siletz Nation was ripped off by white men and the fiber wood felons who logged the hell out of this region, and now the forests reaching up to the coastline are clear-cut? Did I get to vote on that in Portland where I once worked? Who voted for confined animal feeding operations that produce more untreated manure, urine and body parts and blood than a small city produces and yet goes untreated, and many times is sludge that gets thrown across vast amounts of wild or green areas by the hundreds of square miles?
That is the contention, now, is it not? Do we vote for which glaciologist or paleo biologist or climatologist or chemist or ecologist or physicist or oceanographer or archaeologist or botanist or geologist gets to make the climate change theories relevant to the average person’s life?
That simple process of having youth speak at a city council meeting, where the council was either going to vote for or against the proposed plastic bag ban, or was going to vote for or against bringing the measure up for a future public vote, or for doing more study group meetings as a council and then bringing it up for a discussion and then council vote at a future city council vote (that’s what the city council ultimately without unanimous agreement voted for) — now that was the galvanizing moment last Monday.
Again, the city council and city manager and maybe a planner or two will meet and discuss the ordinance that was crafted and recrafted by Surfrider, and that non-profit looked at other communities with approved and in force bans of single use plastic bags.
It’s more than just a little disturbing that in 2019 we are having spasms around forcing these purveyors of pain and pollution and toxic food to rein in their paper-plastics-pesticides-food calorie footprints. Plastic bags, and yet this community, Newport, and this county – Lincoln County – are rife with tipping points that are in freefall: over-growth of population, over-growth of youth living in poverty over-growth of people working in the precarious labor market, over-growth of citizens about to be homeless in their pick-up trucks.
Aging in place with falling tresses on dilapidated homes. People who can’t name one person on their block. The adventures of surfing the internet and channel surfing for that just right story, yet not knowing who the mayor of your town is.
The conversation around plastic bags, man, this is the Pacific Coast, a town that depends on the fabric or façade of appearances – viewshed and beach beauty. This is a coast where the fiber felons clear cut all the way up to the estuaries, rivers and beachheads.
Talking about the inconvenience of banning plastic bags. Some believe this is governmental overreach. Those jack-booted government agents ripping those flimsy oil-based plastic bags from your cold dead hands.
This is what has happened in a society that has turned Tinsel Town into the mall experience, where Disneyland and Disney cruises are the ultimate forms of cultural experience.
Convenience. Hmm, how convenient is it to have to work for a felonious company like Amazon and rely on handouts and still have no health insurance? How convenient is it to let grandmother fester in her studio apartment with open sores and catatonic nightmares about being pulled out and thrown on the streets because she’s amassed too many medical bills and rent-past due letters and warnings that the water and electricity are about to be turned off until payment is remitted?
We worry about the sanctity of shopping with those lovely little single use plastic bags? Straws for slushy Starbucks concoctions? Jazzed up paper waxed lined boxes for our takeout double cheeseburgers and fish and chips?
Do we have to go to Chris Jordan again? I used to teach this in my college writing classes, looking at things, the Story of Stuff, the power of mass consumption to pull the blinders off our collective magical thinking:
The number of cups airlines use in an hour — disposable, not! Look at his stuff here, by photographer Jordan, By the Numbers!
Chris Jordan’s Albatross — watch! Look at the plastic and the albatross. Get blown away, man.
Then this daily consumption power (negative energy, entropy) of 7.4 billion people using those instant meal foil packages, all over the world. Plastic bags, all over the world. Flame retardant chems in every human being on earth, and then the shit hits the fan – every human has microbits and nano particles of plastics in their feces.
I’m curious when the city council vote or state capital amendment or federal election came up with my chance to vote on those realities? Atrazine in the food of babies and grandpa’s? The daily extrusion of more and more chemicals produced in the factories of the felons, forced into foods, additives, pillows, clothes, internal combustion engine lubes, facial creams and toothpastes, into the bottles of crap consumed, and the wild fish caught.
The vote, man, where’s that vote tally for the rest of the world which has taken the off-shoring of carbon chugging by the First World so those leaders can say they have reduced their CO2 output, even though those same countries consume all the metals and products produced in other countries, whose carbon dioxide footprints are chugging ahead to satisfy the needs of the multinational corporations and nefarious leadership of those countries to say, yes, “we Germans, have closed our coal-fired metal works factories and our air is clean.” While China and India burn, producing the junk of Germany.
In the scheme of things, the place to be is one where love and beauty can be captured, both in the eye and ears, in the touch and smell of life, in hearing birds rustling and waves crashing.
Who better than my literary muse and historical hero, communist Pablo Neruda:
Someday, somewhere – anywhere, unfailingly, you’ll find yourself, and that, and only that, can be the happiest or bitterest hour of your life.
We the mortals touch the metals,
the wind, the ocean shores, the stones,
knowing they will go on, inert or burning,
and I was discovering, naming all the these things:
it was my destiny to love and say goodbye.
― Pablo Neruda, Still Another Day
I said in my last piece I’d be talking about Peter Ward’s book, Under a Green Sky. I also know that someone like Tim Flannery, The Weather Makers, also tugs at my consciousness. The reality of how geological time covers each 10,000 years of human history, in a blip of strata colliding with ocean and receding sea, or now, with each inch of sea wallowing up and moving into the fragile dungeons of our fears and dreams – cities along the coast.
Ward talks about that big impact, that dinosaur killing event with the asteroid — Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary around 66 million years ago that space-origin rock hit off the Yucatan peninsula. But then, what about 200 million years ago, that event known as the “Permian extinction”: it wiped out 90 percent of all species and nearly 97 percent of all living things. While its origins challenged paleontologists, starting 30 years ago, this battle unfolded about whether it was from above.
Paleontologist Peter. D. Ward studied with others, that great Permian extinction, and it wasn’t some space object that did in the world’s living creatures. Rather, it was caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide leading to climate change. And it wasn’t the heat that did them in, as in global warming or the greenhouse gas effect. In his book, we find out that the oceans, belching hydrogen sulfide did in the majority of all land, air and sea life. Think of the four of the five mass extinctions caused by too much carbon dioxide in the air which in turn fouled the oceans, which became stagnant and deadly.
Our fate is set in the same way, but it’s not basalt lava flows that are running up the CO2 levels; it’s our fossil fuel societies running up the carbon dioxide footprint. Deforested forests and jungles. Putrefying wetlands, and dying oceans. Methane releases now in the tundra zones. The albedo effect lessened because of less snow and glaciers, as well as dirty soot on snow and glaciers.
Yes, in 7 billion years, that sun of ours will implode and destroy us, planet earth. Yet, humanity is set on sixty second time frames, 28 day calendars, two year election cycles, 180-day school years, 100,000 mile bumper to bumper warranties.
Average human lifespan: 70 years. The solar year has 525,948 minutes and 48 seconds, and an average person has a heart rate of 80 beats per minute, then the total number of heartbeats in year would be 42,075,840 give or take a few seconds. That’s 3 billion heart beats for 70 years of living on earth by Homo Sapiens Plasitica/ Consumpithecus.
All of those heart beats placed in the scheme of things! We try and frame that – perspective and scheme of things when we talk about Trump and those who toxically back him word, line and verse. We try and frame the context of any US administration whose marching orders have always been about empire, manifest destiny, overreach and displacement: displacing of original peoples, displacing of African citizens, displacing of people’s in other countries, displacing of various sub-communities and sub-populations within the 50 states and handful of territories.
Unfolding in real time the 6th Mass Extinction is part and parcel the reality of (un)civilization, the guns, germs, steel and artificial intelligence of our times. It’s the reality embedded in the defamation and despoilment of our own communities, our own parks and national monuments. What sort of species will save the whale when in our own communities we allow for old people, or the sick and infirm, to be put out on the streets? What sort of wolf protection or bee loving self can muster up the energy to stop the killing fields this country, with the support of other countries like Israel, UK, Canada, EU, Saudi Arabia, has created through the veins and arteries that are the delivery system of Capitalism’s own blood and heart flow?
Capitalism that weighs the actuarial logic of how long it takes for a person to drop dead from overwork, over-pollution, over-burdens of finances? We live in a system that says 20 deaths from exploding gas tanks on modern vehicles is worth the price in arbitration and legal payouts versus recalling millions of models and setting up a new assembly process?
A society that has allowable (safe) limits of tens of thousands toxins and carcinogens and nerve-eating metals in water, air, food, soil? Beauty products with asbestos in the foundation? What society, what species of animal, would allow babies to be exposed to mercury or aluminum in vaccinations, yet, somehow, we are going to protect the albatross from nurdles, fishing monofilament and Bic lighters?
It’s that earth time, human time, the time it takes to wrap up this article and send it in on the Internet sphere: what does that all mean in the schema of people who believe in the arc of social justice coming back to whack all those capitalists and armies of the capitalists? All those flimflam artists and scammers and deadbeats and despots against human kind and earth systems, is it hope that keeps us floundering.
Yet, the average American, here in Newport, or in Hoboken, or Phoenix or Seattle, even Amazon-Boeing-Seattle, can’t see past their Maslovian Homo Sapiens Retailophithecus nose to save the gray wolf, save the orangutan, the golden toad, the bristle-cone pine, the everglades?
We are in these moments now, with instantaneous news feeds, Encyclopedia Britannica’s worth of information on every imaginable topic on the head of a straight-pin. We have an opinion about everything but very little depth about anything. We are not critical thinkers but criticizing shoppers and blamers. We are trapped in a hierarchy of needs way outside any desire or innate need to be people within communities. Struggling with the powerful, but we are collectively more powerful than all the Bezos’ and Gates’ and Bloombergs and Weinsteins and Koch Brothers combined.
Bearing Witness and an act of love for that species, which is really us, one species at a time. Chris Jordan:
I shaped it like a sort of guided meditation. At the beginning of these ceremonies you usually have to face your fears and something really scary happens. This is how it starts: facing the horror of plastic. We start with horror and fear, but when aren’t scared anymore then we open up to curiosity and learning. There’s a scene that I specifically talk about fear as birds have no fear of us. Then there’s a scene of curiosity as birds come towards the camera and look right into it in such an amazing way. In the presence of curiosity we get the encounter of others and we experience empathy. Empathy and curiosity are the beginning of connection. And connection is the beginning of love. As we fall in love with the birds we also see in multiple ways that they’re filled with plastic and begin to experience grief. That’s the core of the film – the understanding and experience of grief. Grief is not a bad feeling. It’s not the same of despair. It’s a sort triangle: it’s beauty, sadness and love, all mixed together. It’s incredibly vivid, it’s the experience of being alive and so it’s electrically powerful. It’s almost an ecstatic experience that connects you deeply with life.
What Albratross is really about is shifting consciousness and this is the attention behind the film and project. By shifting consciousness I mean reconnecting more deeply with our love for the living world. That’s really my wish. I want to spread Albatross as far as possible as it’s a love story, a love offering on behalf of all life, not only albatrosses.