Thursday, September 24, 2009

Are biodegradable plastics the answer to the Pacific gyre?

Not long ago I posted here about a continent of plastic circulating in the Pacific gyre, and how slow degradation of some plastics may actually be releasing toxins. Since then a great deal of discussion has taken place as what might be possible solutions. Some have suggested biodegradable materials, including biodegradable plastics, while others suggest that just adds to the problem.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), the primary organization for large chemicals manufacturers in the United States, including the plastics industry recently issued a press release entitled "Degradable Materials Hold Great Promise, But Not a Current "Solution" to Preventable Marine Litter." In it they first argue that it is all marine debris, not just plastics, that are the problem. The then note that there isn't any one easy answer, but that most agree that "recycling, coupled with tough litter abatement laws, well-run municipal waste management systems, and behavioral changes," are needed.

The idea of biodegradable plastics and other materials has been met with mixed reviews. In general these degrade into less harmful materials, and if fully biodegradable, into carbon dioxide and water. But as the ACC release notes, Keep Los Angeles Beautiful has suggested that the perception of biodegradability actually leads people to litter more, as they think the litter will "just go away."

Another concern is that "biodegradable" is often defined broadly to include plastics that break down into smaller particles but retain much of the original chemical composition. Small particles are mistaken by marine life as food and ingested, which presents both the risk of possible leaching of materials into the bloodstream but also the risk of blockage, which keeps animals from eating normal food, extracting nutrition, and eliminating waste. Another option are bioplastics, which are actually created from renewal biomass sources such as vegetable oil and corn starch (normal plastics are derived from petroleum based sources).

So the jury is still out on what to do, but clearly the process begins with each of us, including limiting our plastic (e.g., less bottles of water and soda), recycling, and not tossing out trash into the environment.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fake "Experts" Touted by Climate Denialists (A Series): Paul Chesser

"Paul Chesser is a special correspondent for The Heartland Institute."

That in itself should immediately bring into question Mr. Chesser's ability to speak independently on climate change issues. After all, The Heartland Institute is a free market lobbying organization whose stated mission is:

The mission of The Heartland Institute is to discover and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems.

Their entire reason for being is to help their members avoid what they see as excessive regulation. So what is their interest in climate science? Well, policy remedies being discussed to deal with the global scientific consensus that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are significantly contributing to climate change, a dramatic and perhaps irreversible disruption of the natural balance of the earth that sustains us all. Since most policy options would require additional regulation, and Heartland's mission to limit regulation, they made a strategic decision to deny the science. Don't like the cure, so deny the disease.

So where does Mr. Chesser fit in? Chesser is basically a Heartland hired propagandist. He has no scientific training at all, never mind in climate science. He's just there to be a new name since so many of the other skeptics Heartland puts forth have lost credibility (or never had it). Chesser bills himself as the Director of Climate Strategies Watch, which itself admits is a web site dedicated to "exposing stealth environmental advocacy by the Center for Climate Strategies and scrutinizing global warming policy in the States." In other words, their sole purpose for existence is to do a hatchet job on CCS and write propaganda articles for Heartland.

Why would he do that? Well, because the Heartland Institute told him to do that. Climate Strategies Watch admits that it is nothing more than "A joint project of the John Locke Foundation, The Heartland Institute and the Better Government Project. Like Heartland, the John Locke Foundation is a libertarian, free market think tank and lobbying group. The Better Government Project is a made-up web site name that as of this date existed only as a one-page (actually, one-paragraph) web site (it's part of a network of fake organizations set up by Heartland to make it look like there is more dissent than there really is).

Back to Mr. Chesser. According to his bio on the John Locke Foundation web site, he's kind of a freelance writer/blogger whose only other background experience is working as an accountant. No climate expertise. Not even any science expertise. Just writing for hire.

Which, of course, is why he was hired by Heartland to write and post on denialist blogs.

Rule number one. Consider the credibility of the source.

More climate related articles.