Did the expedition succeed in its stated goal of getting you to see the world differently?
Each one of us has agency, and the truth is that fundamental change is possible. Part of that perspective may come from my experience as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. I had to make this huge psychic shift from thinking that certain substances were somehow necessary for me to survive to realizing that living without those substances actually resulted in a much better life. We may think that we can’t live without fossil fuels or that we can’t survive without all of the stuff we manage to amass, but we can— and we can have a better life for giving them up.
It led to such interesting shifts in perspective and scale. It’s hard to judge distance, for example, out in the Arctic Ocean. There just aren’t that many familiar objects, besides birds, to use as reference points. You see a glacier, and you think you’re right next to it. And then you sail and sail and sail, and it turns out you were really, really far away from it. Since there’s no visible evidence of human civilization out there, it can feel a bit like being on the earth before people Getting just one person to kick an entered the picture. addiction is hard. But when you’re Then, just when you’re start- talking about billions of people. . . ing to feel tiny and insignificant, I know. But again, just to use my you’ll get this jolting reminder of own story as an example: my life the incredible impact we’ve had was being totally destroyed, and I on the environment. One day still wasn’t willing to try any other we visited this particular island, way until things got so bad that Moffen Island. There have never I finally hit bottom, in the lanbeen any humans living there at guage of recovery. We spend all all, but you step onto the shore, this money on fracking and deepand then you sea drilling, on look down, and extreme efforts Find Ted Genoways in conversathere’s garbage. to get an evertion with other newsmakers at Plastic bottles. diminishing onearth.org/tedqas The current carsupply of fossil ries them over from Siberia. So fuels out of the ground. To me, we’re polluting these places that’s the familiar insanity of adwhere we’ve never even lived, diction. We’ll go to any lengths and which only a handful of hu- to get this stuff that we know is mans will ever see. destroying the habitability of our environment, rather than taking That seems like exactly the kind of those same resources and putting image that both an activist and an them toward clean energy. Nothing will change unless and artist might be able to convey powuntil we go through that same erfully, albeit differently. shift in consciousness that I exArt can crack open our consciousness in a way that other means of perienced. There’s a line in a song describing the world can’t. Even from This Clement World—a song if my piece just makes people based on Woody Guthrie’s “This think about what’s happening to Land Is Your Land,” in fact—that the climate for an hour more than goes: “The bottom is when the digthey might have otherwise, for ging ends.” What the song is sayme that feels like a triumph. The ing is that we can’t wait until we’ve more people are made aware, really and truly hit bottom before the more likely they are to make we decide to act. We’re always choices—even tiny ones—to live free to make the choice about when to begin getting better. more sustainably.
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filthy-minded teenager How a 19-year-old’s design for a floating recycling bin could help turn the ocean cleanup tide
hile most other kids his age were thinking
about how to sneak into R-rated movies, Boyan Slat, a Dutch teenager, was contemplating how to overcome some of the most vexing physical hurdles inherent in our ocean cleanup efforts. Specifically, Slat remembers wondering to himself: “What if there were a way to turn oceanic currents—which can make it so difficult to collect marine trash—from an obstacle into a solution?” Now, at the ripe old age of 19, Slat may have come up with a plan for doing just that. His ingenious design for a marine garbage trap, should it ever be realized, has the potential to capture nearly one-third of the 7.25 million metric tons of plastic currently floating atop the surface of our oceans. Slat’s invention is essentially an anchored system of floating barriers and platforms that can be dispatched to some of the most notorious waterborne garbage patches, where plastics tend to accumulate in massive currents known as gyres. After being arranged so that they transect one of these gyres, the floating barriers can then be angled in such a way as to create a funneling effect—gradually directing debris toward the platforms, where it can then be stored before being transported to land-based recycling facilities. Dubbed the Ocean Cleanup Array (and looking somewhat like a spaceship on a leash), the contraption would get all its energy from the sun, ocean currents, and waves. And since we know you’re about to ask: yes, Slat has designed the whole apparatus so that marine life can easily swim below it without getting caught up in any of its machinery. Even though his innovative trash collector is still in the feasibility-study phase, the technology behind it has already garnered Slat a number of prizes. Kids these days, we swear. —KRISTEN FRENCH left: Erwin Zwart/Fabrique Computer Graphics; Right: photograph for onearth by Richard Darbonne
Turning Grass Into Gas, by Bruce Barcott