We interviewed marine biologist and professor at Bournemouth University, Rick Stafford. On his recent articles released for The Guardian, The Conversation among his multiple interviews in newspapers and radio for publications such as Nature, Radio Solent and Bournemouth Echo.
Having a discussion with Mr Stafford about his work in The Guardian, “Reusable coffee cups are just a drop in the ocean for efforts to save our seas“. As well as The Conversation article, “Plastic Pollution: seaside communities coming together will save us – not technology“. When asked what originally persuaded him to write the research and the articles
Rick explains, he was asked initially to write the article for the conversation, partially from twitter, after viewing tweets and articles from coral reef biologist Terry Hughes. His work includes bleaching of the coral reefs in Australia. Hughes often writes about dredging and mining cole and its effects on the great barrier reef and marine life. Hughes focuses on technologically solutions and argues that its actually about stopping the amount of carbon we use. Explaining he had never seen a plastic straw o the great barrier reef and how we need to get back to discussing the real issues.
“When I was asked i thought I would put some of that in, because it isn’t the biggest issue”
The other reason for the article was that of Peter Jones, after Rick contacted him asking if he could include some of his tweets within the article it resulted in a collaboration. Rick further explains that plastic pollution is not the biggest issue, lots of people are becoming distracted and given the idea that there is nothing wrong with it. Grabbing his reusable coffee cup, “we are still buying loads and loads of plastic” “although there is nothing wrong with it, it is not solving the problem and pushing the problem back to people”. The conversation article discussed a technological solution “people want to innovate there way out of everything”. We may be able to, to some extent with plastic pollution but not with climate change as a whole. The real big issue is we as a society need to stop using so much carbon. It is not an big of an issue, being used by governments and companies, creating the image that they have charged for plastic bags and got rid of straws. Showing that they are putting something in place when this is just the tip of an issue.
Technological investments like The Ocean Clean up, invented by a 22-year-old who raised £30 million pounds to create his new innovative to clean up our oceans (below).
In actual fact its much larger. Its not addressing the route cause which is over consumption.
Compared to 69% of fish stocks worldwide are either over/ fully exploited. This is in accordance to our over consumption and the markets needs for fish stock.
Do you think the little legislation that has been put in place has changed/ will change attitudes? Rick: I don’t think changing attitudes, I think there is evidence that fewer bags are in the ocean and fewer bags are being purchased, there is a demonstrable effect. He delves further by saying he doesn’t think its changing attitudes, it doesn’t make individuals environmental aware. They are a law, so one myst then abide by them and it must in turn help the environment. The underlying driver is a term called neo-liberalism:
“Refers to an economic system in which the “free” market is extended to every part of our public and personal worlds”
All down to markets and individuals and why we consume and how we consume. Everything from tuition fees to products in supermarkets. “We are not going to get environmental change quick enough”.
The Government are currently hot on appearing to reduce the use of single-use plastic and eventually banning straws, drink stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. Currently banning free plastic bags and creating a 5p carrier bag charge, as well as the influence to increase the use of energy efficient light bulbs among many other small individual moves. These little factors really are not making much of a difference explains Rick,
“They are more energy efficient but in terms of net gain we are past that with climate change.”
Our government is not stepping up to the plate and changing policy, Rick explains that climate change and plastic is one perspective of the issue. Both raw materials of these are oil. Oil it a massive industry and largely political. The companies don’t want to have an effect on big business, and the idea of economic growth. Instead we should have a much fairer economy and system if we don’t worry about large businesses.
As well as plastic pollution and climate change, Rick mentions often about the other issues which our effecting our environment. Mentioning factors of over-fishing and how detrimental it truly is. The focus is being forced on plastic pollution. Out government and industries are making small changes and appearing to have a larger effect, looking like they have a much larger impact than they really do.
In regards to overfishing and changing our consumption patterns. Articles out there say one flight across the atlantic and back are our entire carbon footprint for the year, not body is willing to address that explains Rick. If we switch to a corn starch coffee cup, it looks like we are doing more for the environment. It is tangible to see, Blue Planet, obviously portraying plastic pollution, more so than other climate change and over-fishing we cannot see these effects. It is easier to make small changes that larger ones, people are prepared to make small consumer driven changes, refill bottle and coffee cups. In other articles its discussed that items such as reusable cups are highly instagramable, gaining gratification and one is viewed as doing something for the environment.
Rick discusses that it is important for organisations and communities making a change, knowing the scientific evidence, recycling does not make that much of a difference, most of it gets chucked out because its contaminated. The waste is the shipped of to a developing country and put into landfill. If everyone did beach cleans and stopped putting plastic in the ocean now, we could have a cleaner ocean, alot would also be broken down into micro plastics. Rather than just doing these elements we need to have some sort of message, its the over consumption that is the issue. Making small laws is not going to get rid of such an issue but is scalable action. This could then be replicated across the country. Its about doing something like a beach clean and make it replicable and spreading it. It is about driving major change and not smaller issues.
Rick also mentioned ‘Distinction rebellion’, the group stop traffic and demonstrate peaceful demonstrations to get people attention on climate change. Looking at the process of top down and not individual action. If everyone doesn’t do there bits its not enough, changing elements that people don’t want to change.
We asked can Versova beach be replicated? Rick explains that there is a culture in places which have had recent development, Asian countries just do not have the infrastructure to deal with plastics and other waste, so it is now washing up on our beaches. It is more about dealing with the cause of these issues rather than the consequences. Plenty of beach cleans, and there is nothing wrong with these individual actions but we need to also look at much larger ones. It is again this ‘top down’ theory. We need to find where its coming from or we will be cleaning it forever, deal with the underlining problem. A major factor is that of convenience and fast food, without this we would have much less waste and plastic. People are not willing to give these habits up.
Another recent issue within society are palm oil, there was no pressure for Iceland to change their sources. It does not quiet work, only works for the business model Rick explains. Palm oil is incredibly efficient in terms of oil to the land. You would clear 3x as much land if you were to change the oil. It is mainly in convenience food as a preservative, if we get rid of it palm oil usage would be reduced. Where do we draw the line in legislation?
Lastly we asked, do you think society will become desensitised? Rick thinks that was the first time we became really embedded in the consciousness for these topics. I think thats why there has been such a surge in this ordeal of plastic pollution, being encouraged because it hides the bigger environmental issues we face. Over time people will become desensitised if we can solve the plastic issue, then great. What does not happen is the evidence for these little changes making a big impact. Instead we are concentrating on one factor at a time.
Written by: Natalie White