Simple question: do you take responsibility for your life and all the things that you do and consume and participate in within it?

Responsibility

Is the instinct to say ‘yes’? Is that instinct there because when we’re young, we’re taught that taking responsibility is a good thing and therefore you want to instinctively answer ‘yes’ so that you don’t get in trouble? God forbid you feel bad about yourself, right? We don’t want to be judged by our peers, right?

We’ve got a whole melting pot of problems on the planet at the moment. All, essentially, stem from bad parenting. (We know how I feel about parenting *shakes head*.) So we divide into power-hungry humans, masking quivering insecure children on the inside. And people who turn a blind eye to helping one another because in our time of need as youths, no one helped us. We fight about all the wrong things and we misalign our priorities. We jeopardise our chances of happiness because we’re too damn involved within our own heads. We laugh, we cry, and ultimately devestate our earth one generation after the next all because we refuse to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions.

That phrase, ‘taking responsibility’ stretches further than simply saying we’ll be there to pick our kids up from school, or turning up for that meeting on time. Taking responsibility for ourselves and the role we play in society first means owning up to who we are, what our values are and facing all those inner demons. We don’t like to look at what’s wrong with us. We’re completely blind to it, as Allain de Botton so famously preaches in his work on love and why we find ourselves in unhappy relationships more often than not. And unless we open our eyes and face the bad stuff, how can we possibly take responsibility for our actions?

We act in really strange ways that seem illogical, all because of wounds that score the inside of our head and heart. Sometimes the nature of these strange acts is small and harmless, but get a collective of ‘small and harmless’ and you’ve got ‘large and harmful’.

Detachment

Let’s take a look at some of the ways that we do this. The first is that we are lazy and detached in our food consumption. We expect to have everything available 24/7 on a supermarket shelf. We consume meat we haven’t hunted, fish we haven’t caught and vegetables we haven’t grown. I get it. In this corporate world we find ourselves in where few are in touch with the environment these days, we can’t all be hunters and farmers. But there’s a fundamental problem with only ever seeing your meat (if you consume it) sold in small plastic-packaged portions on a cold, metal, sterile shelf. It detaches you from what is real. What’s real is that that is one of many parts of an animal that had a life and was kept captive and killed for you. You are not taking responsibility for your actions if you consume meat and aren’t OK with killing that animal yourself. You are not taking responsibility for your consumption if you don’t know how it was killed and what the living conditions were like for it while it was alive.

Then there are the fish. Take a look at the state of the world’s oceans today and you’ll see that they’re not doing all that great. Overfishing, invasive species, ocean acidification and plastic pollution are just some of the problems we face that are causing extinction on an enormous scale. If you consume wild-caught fish without having any awareness of the state of the sea from where it was caught, you are not taking responsibility. If you support farmed fish but haven’t looked into the effects of eutrophication in the area where they were farmed, you are not taking responsibility.

Then there’s all the packaging, the plastic and the processed food. You sit in your house and each week the garbage is collected from kerb-side and transported somewhere that’s our of your sight. You are lucky that your neighbourhood aesthetic isn’t tainted. But someone, somewhere has to look at your waste. Is that being a responsible person? Consuming mindlessly certainly is not. That sealed bag of salad that you bought from a supermarket is likely packaged in non-recyclable plastic. That piece of plastic will be sat on our soil for many hundreds of years longer than you will find yourself alive. It will degrade into smaller pieces and distribute itself across our soil and seas, working its way up the food chain until one of your offspring many generations from now will consume it. You may feel no remorse for what you did to that person. After all, you’ll never meet them; never love them. But does that make it OK? No, it doesn’t. You wouldn’t like it if you found yourself on this earth unable to find any unpolluted food to eat or water to drink, would you? You wouldn’t want to live in a wasteland because all the ecosystems had collapsed due to what your parents and grandparents and generations prior had done.

Think about the things you enjoy. Chances are, something outside, in nature, is one of them. After all, that’s why you bought that camera, isn’t it? You want to capture scenes of that beautiful waterfall you plan on visiting next year. And when you’re on those golden sands at the beach, you want to remember how clear the water looked and how vivid all the colours of those tropical fish were, right? Newsflash! Those things are disintegrating. Unlike the Midas touch, everything we touch these days turns to plastic. We are wrecking and ruining and depleting and consuming and soon there will be nothing left.

Everything you do creates a ripple effect across this globe. We influence each other and your actions are those that will change the world for better or worse. The decision is yours.

Photo via Unsplash

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Welcome to Part 3 of my ‘Troubled Tides’ series. Check out parts 1 and 2 if you didn’t catch them a while back. The aim of this series is to shine light on three of the most detrimental activities happening to our planet’s water right now. Today’s final post will be focusing on ocean acidification – probably the lesser known of the three topics I’ve covered, but absolutely catastrophic if it continues at the same rate.

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Dead zones

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Smothered and covered

Did you know that our oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere? I don’t remember learning that in school. In fact, it wasn’t until I got into my Marine Biology degree that I realised the extent of this problem. You see, we’re told about plants and how important they are for their CO2 absorption and O2 production during photosynthesis, but considering our planet is mostly water, what happens to all the rest of the CO2 that is the excess to what our plants are capable of absorbing?

The answer is that over a third of atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by the oceans. Now, this is fine so long as equilibrium is maintained. If harnessed by the algae living in the water to use for photosynthesis much in the same way as the plants do on land, with not much overflow, that’s not a problem really. But what about if there is overflow – and oh boy, is there; where does that go?

What happens is that it gets absorbed into the water itself, creating a chain of chemical reactions that produce an excess of H+ ions as an end result. You’ve heard of the term pH before, right? So pH refers to the acidity of something (the more H+ ions in a solution, the more acidic). That means, the more CO2 absorbed by the oceans, the greater the number of H+ ions floating around and therefore the more acidic the water body becomes.

Now, because our planet is always happiest at equilibrium, our oceans try to do something with all these excess H+ ions so as to keep the pH stable. Some of the alkaline carbonate (CO32-) molecules that are lingering around will bond with these H+ ions, forming bicarbonate. This steals free carbonate from the water, meaning there are less of these ions for calcium (Ca2+) to bond to. Now why is this important?

The problem is that our oceans are full of life. And that life, much like us, is sensitive to pH. You’ve probably heard the term ‘pH balanced’ thrown around on the commercials for some of your cosmetics; that’s because if we’re going to put a product on our skin, we have to ensure that it isn’t too acidic or alkaline for our skin to cope with. You’ve heard of acid burns, right?

Our oceans are full of calcifying organisms – organisms that build a protective shell for themselves, like plankton, molluscs and corals. These organisms used calcium carbonate (CaCO3). So if there is a decrease in CO32_, that means it is harder for these animals to make their shells. And worse, if there is a real excess of H+ ions, causing this whole imbalance, shells that have been built will actually start to dissolve, to free up CO32-.

These organisms essentially have their homes disintegrate right off their backs, leaving them vulnerable and unable to survive. This leads to extinctions, repercussions in the food chain and dead zones. If animals can’t survive in these conditions, we lose the beauty and abundance of our oceans. This affects us so deeply, because a planet with a 70% dead zone is no planet of beauty.

So what can we do about it? The key, as you know, is to stop pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere! We have got to cut it out with fossil fuels: the gas, oil and coal. We need to stop with the deforestation. We want our land masses to be filled with as many plants as possible, to absorb as much of the atmospheric CO2 as possible, limiting what our oceans have to face. The leading causes of deforestation include agricultural plantations such as soy bean and palm oil, as well as cattle ranching.

Be careful what foods your diet consists of. Pay attention to the ingredients label and try to only eat things if you know where they came from. Try to consume more of a plant-based, local diet. Try to explore renewable resources for your energy supply and transport. And lastly, educate yourself. Knowledge is power, so clue yourself in on what is going on and why it is going on, as this is the best tool to contribute to solutions.

It’s the 2nd of June and what better time to bring to your attention the sickening levels of pollution suffocating our oceans than the second day of the MCS #plasticchallenge! For those of you that don’t know, the Marine Conservation Society have set a challenge this month – live without single-use plastic. I started warming up for this about a fortnight ago and had a real eye-opening into what was to come. I feel less shocked now that I’ve conquered my first day, but it’ll be interesting to see over the coming month just how many challenges I face! If you’d like to join, head here for more info.

There are a million and one topics I could focus on when it comes to pollution in the oceans, but I’d like to focus on the real gem of the day here: plastics. These can be broken down into two categories: macroscopic and microscopic. Macroscopic plastics: the water bottles, plastic bags, old fishing nets, lighters, toys, condoms and packaging of pretty much every kind that floats around at sea. The stuff that washes up on our beaches, gets wrapped around the heads of seals, turtles, seabirds, dolphins, sharks… you see where I’m going with this. Then, there are microplastics. These are the ninjas of the plastic world – the tiny beads in your facial exfoliator, the small fibres washing off your synthetic fabrics and of course larger plastics in the form of any of the aforementioned ‘macroplastic’ items that have been weathered and degraded into smaller pieces.

One could describe macroplastics as the unsightly sore thumbs of the oceans. The obvious. The artificial textures and colours of course stick out like the synthetic beacons they are, as they converge at vortex points around the globe. Take the giant pacific garbage patches for instance – islands of plastic debris that are concentrated by the opposing flow of various currents in our seas. These are a death trap to any animal that goes near them. Take a look at the photos below and tell me this is OK?

Coastal Care

Coastal Care

John Chinuntdet, Marine Photobank

John Chinuntdet, Marine Photobank

We’ve got a number of reasons why all this crap ends up out at sea. Number one is active littering. This is when an individual mindfully throws a plastic product into a waterway, where it eventually washes out to sea. Number two is accidental littering. See below:

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Either way, the numbers are growing and soon enough this will be the norm across the world. The solution? We absolutely must start thinking differently about our resources and our environment.

Microplastics, the term coined by Plymouth University’s very own Richard Thompson are the terrifyingly tiny toxic teardrops of our oceans. They are consumed at low trophic levels (by small fish) and work their way up the food chain until it gets to, well, us (Lusher et al. 2013)! When we eat a fish, we remove the guts (where the bulk of the plastic remains), however microscopic plastics that work their way into the bloodstreams of these animals have the potential to end up in our bellies. Much more research is currently under way to explore the effects of this chain reaction, but what we do know is that there is the potential for physical damage by the plastic itself, along with chemical damage both by the plastic as it is broken down, and any external chemicals absorbed by the plastic and carried into each new living vessel.

What can you do?

1. Do not purchase any cosmetic products which contain plastic beads – look for the ingredient ‘polyethylene’ (exfoliators being key here!)

2. Reduce your plastic consumption – buy fruit and veg loose, carry a reusable water bottle, carry a folding fabric bag around with you everywhere for unexpected trips to pick up groceries etc.

3. Make a conscious effort to recycle

4. Pick up litter and put it in a bin when you see it