The Great Plastic Tide & catholic social teaching Maria Almodovar

The clock is ticking. We must confront the environmental crisis we face and put an end to our plastic oceans. Throughout your reading, you will find connections between Laudato Si, Catholic Social Teaching principles, and coastal clean-up movements.

Let's begin at the source - the problem.

Plastic Ocean

Wouldn’t it be lovely for our oceans to be as pristine as those photos you see on your favorite travel blogger’s website, or as breathtaking as that nature account you follow on Instagram and Twitter? Unfortunately, we are turning our beautiful oceans into a plastic soup. 8 million tons of plastic enter the sea every year. To give you a visual, this is the equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute. This is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050. At this rate, we face a future with more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050. Our plastic addiction and waste mismanagement is condemning countless organisms and species to death by chemical contamination, entanglement, and poisoning. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch and vast swirls of plastic garbage visible on the sea surface and coastal areas are horrifying precursors and signs we need to take-action now. There is an urgent and needed solution calling for enhanced awareness, reduced plastic use, and improved waste management.

The Plastic Problem, Rather Crisis

Plastics and plastic packaging are an integral part of the global economy and is quite frankly a ‘miracle material.’ Plastic has contributed to advances in healthcare, the growth of clean energy, and revolutionized safe food storage. It is convenient and cheap which makes it ubiquitous in our day-to-day lives. Plastic is also a resistant material which can be molded in a variety of ways and utilized in a wide range of applications. As consumers, we dispose of our plastic, often after a single fleeting use, in land-fills which litter our Earth and pollute our oceans. The world produces more than 300 million tons of plastic every year. The largest industrial sector is plastic packaging, which is single-use material designed for immediate disposal. Our oceans have been used as a dumping ground around the world and horrendously, this has resulted in one of our planet’s greatest environmental challenges.

Single-use plastics end up littering the environment because of our irresponsible behavior and poor waste management systems. The most common items found washed up on beaches and littering our seas include cigarette butts, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags, plastic lids and straws, glass beverage bottles, other kids of plastic bags, and foam plastic take-away food containers. Plastic is perhaps the most poignant example of the throwaway culture in which we have created and live.

Global Tragedy for Our Oceans and Sea Life

Plastic accumulation in our oceans and on our beaches is a global crisis. Billions of pounds of plastic and swirls of garbage cover our world’s ocean surfaces and have a direct and deadly effect on wildlife. “Every year we dump 300-400 million tonnes of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes into the waters of the world.

Sea turtles, seals, and other marine organisms are killed every year after getting entangled in and/or ingesting plastic. Social media has probably exposed you to the impacts first hand, such as a sea turtle with a plastic straw in its nose, a dolphin entangled in a fishing net, and other marine creatures with plastic beverage rings around their necks. Sadly, this isn’t even revealing the real danger these animals face at the hands of our doing. The truth is 1 in 3 species of marine mammals have been found entangled in marine litter. The truth is over 90% of all seabirds have plastic pieces in their stomachs. The truth is plastics impact nearly 700 species in our ocean.

In fact, plastic production and consumption are predicted to double over the next decade which means if we don’t do something now, we’re facing an inevitable 250 million metric tons in the ocean.

We cannot just idly stand by and watch the impacts we caused in the first place.

Catholic Social Teaching Embedded in Laudato Si & Transformative Change

Embedded throughout Laudato Si are the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. Next, I will describe how these messages relate to the crisis aforementioned and articulate how we can bring about transformative change.

The encyclical letter, Laudato Si written by Pope Francis calls “for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet” (Laudato Si, paragraph 14). Addressed to all people of good will, we are called and asked to acknowledge the appeal and urgency of the challenge we face. The Earth is a gift, not something to discard. It is not just our home, but the home of all the creatures that live with and among us.

Care for God's Creation

We are called to care for God’s Creation. Though rather uncommon to consumer habits, government, and multinational companies, humanity does not own the oceans nor do we own the Earth for that matter. Like previously stated, the Earth is a gift. “Oceans not only contain the bulk of our planet’s water supply, but also most of the immense variety of living creatures, many of them still unknown to us and threatened for various reasons” (Laudato Si, paragraph 40). Not only do sea life suffer because of our arrogance and waste, but sooner or later humanity and society will too. Our children and grandchildren will never see the countless species we have condemned to death nor the wondrous and pristine coastlines and sea water before we polluted them. Not to mention all of the undiscovered ocean life species and advances in medicine that can contribute to the betterment of society. Furthermore, our food chain will crumble with and after disappearance of sea life that our food depends on. Our water supply will dwindle in our cities, but before then, the poor and marginalized will have even less access to clean, drinkable water than they do currently. While we only start to suffer the consequences, the vulnerable will become even more susceptible and poverty-stricken.

We are called to show respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation. We are called to protect people and the planet by living our faith with respect for God’s creation. “In tropical and subtropical seas, we find coral reefs comparable to the great forests on dry land, for they shelter approximately a million species…Many of the world’s coral reefs are already barren or in a state of constant decline. ‘Who turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of colour and life?’” (Laudato Si, paragraph 41). Taking Australia’s Great Barrier Reef as an example, coral has succumbed to mass ‘bleaching’. This is the phenomenon of decaying and dead coral leaving behind a white skeleton instead of the normal lively and natural colors. The world’s coral reefs are not just a beautiful natural gift to admire and take photos of while on vacation, they are important for what they tell us about what is happening to our planet.

It is important to pay attention to the health of our world’s reefs because this tells us about climate and ultimately humanity. ‘Bleached’ dead coral is not respect for creation nor is it protecting creation—this is precisely what Pope Francis calls us to act on and for. Exploiting our resources is extremely costly in terms of degradation, ultimately reaching the ocean bed. This is a screaming picture of our intervention in nature and the consequences evident.

In a society with controversy over environmental issues, the Catholic Church believes it is a fundamental moral and ethical challenge that cannot be ignored. This leads me to my next point and principle of Catholic Social Teaching.

Call to Family, Community and Participation

Humanity is sacred and social. How we organize our society plays a directly role in dignity and community of the human person. Catholic Social Teaching and Laudato Si argues that we are fulfilled in community and family. Thus, we have the responsibility to participate in society and promote common good, especially for the poor and vulnerable, our oceans and Earth included.

This is our planet and at the rate of our consumption we don’t have much time left to discover and explore all of the amazing gifts life has to offer. Just imagine, you got to witness the beauty and grace of the natural world yet the future does not hold to same for your loved ones—at the hands of your doing nonetheless. We are therefore called to act, rather, participate in our community and society. As people of good will, we must act on the injustice we see in our world—injustice we have caused. We are called to end the ocean plastic crisis together. We have one ocean and one mission.

Call to Action & 4Ocean

Coastal Care

4Ocean is a global movement actively removing trash from the ocean and coastlines while inspiring individuals to work together for a cleaner ocean, one pound at a time.

The founders of 4Ocean wanted to create an economy that employs fishermen and coastal communities to collect plastic from the ocean. They succeeded and have created jobs for the locals around the world by collecting and weighing plastic collected and paying them per pound. 4Ocean has become the largest ocean clean up company cleaning the oceans and coastlines 7 days a week. To date, over 4 million pounds of trash have been removed from the ocean since the company began in January 2017. This is funded primarily by the 4Ocean bracelet made from 100% recycled materials. Their mission is to educate and inspire individuals to work together to clean our oceans one pound at a time.

4Ocean is exemplary in its execution of the principles of Catholic Social Teaching seen throughout Laudato Si. Their model truly upholds the principle of ‘Care for God’s Creation’ and ‘Call to Community and Participation’. 4Ocean cares for our oceans and beaches by cleaning them of the swirls of garbage seen all too often around the world. It shows respect for Creation and the Creator and protects the planet by advocating for ocean sustainability, globally disrupting society’s perception about ocean pollution, and preserving and preventing trash from entering the ocean. Furthermore, 4Ocean embodies the call to action through four pillars as a foundation and pledge. 4Ocean stands for Optimizing Technology (utilizing the latest technology to intercept, prevent, and remove trash from the ocean and coastlines), Creating Jobs (full-time captains and crews cleaning the ocean and coastlines 24/7), Education and Awareness (educating corporations, individuals, and governments on the impact of plastic; raising awareness and changing behavior), and finally New Global Economies (by giving ocean plastic collected a value, they strive to create a new economy for trash removal).

4Ocean is a movement and organization close to my heart. As an avid surfer who grew up on Long Island, the ocean is practically my second home. My mother would always tell me I was going to grow flippers any day now because of the amount of time I spent in the water. I have first-hand witnessed the pollution on my own beaches and its heart-breaking. Not only have I witnessed the impacts on wildlife in my area, it also discourages those from going to the beach and exploring all the wonders it beholds. I have personally been involved in beach clean-ups across Long Island and on the coast of Corpus Christi, Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. It has taught me a great deal about the environmental crisis we face and has triggered me to advocate for something I am so passionate about.

Enforceable international agreements are urgently needed, along with global regulatory norms to impose obligations and prevent these unacceptable actions. If government and laws are to bring about significant and long-lasting effects, members of society must be amply motivated to accept them, and be personally transformed to respond.

“There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle.” (Laudato Si, paragraph 211).


Created with images by Simson Petrol - "untitled image" • John Cameron - "untitled image" • Dustan Woodhouse - "untitled image" • Brian Yurasits - "untitled image" • Hans - "straws tube plastic" • bilyjan - "guise waste line costs" • tkremmel - "water polluted plastic" • Ishan @seefromthesky - "untitled image" • Logan Lambert - "untitled image" • Q.U.I - "untitled image" • Brian Yurasits - "untitled image" • Jed Villejo - "untitled image" • Helena Lopes - "untitled image" • Mohsen Ben Cheikh - "untitled image" • Claudia14 - "dolphin marine mammals water" • Shifaaz shamoon - "untitled image" • PublicCo - "water waves ripples"

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