Kristen Sparrow • February 02, 2019
Reading this fascinating discussion of possible ways to clean up the megatons of trash in the ocean , the article focuses on, of course, a young charismatic male entrepreneur from the Netherlands. He has a great name, Slat, and of course, he’s a great admirer of Elon Musk, and, of course, gave a TED talk which helped him to raise tons of money. By the end of the article you realize that his technology does not work, but, of course, we forgive because it’s all hands on deck to try to solve these enormous problem. But the other solution, of banning plastics, of stopping them at the source, is not funded by billionaires. Why is this? The article doesn’t deal with that topic, but rather looks hard at Slat and his project. But the “why” of this narrative is the crux of some deep seated problems in the modern world. It interests me because of the parallel with medicine. In modern medicine it’s all about the fix, and not the unglamorous process of prevention. It’s a mindset that we just can’t seem to quit.
I don’t want to sound too cynical since obviously, any efforts in this direction are really really needed and welcome. I just wish that
Slat comes out and says “He (Musk) understands how human psychology works, just like the Ocean Cleanup,” Slat said. “We don’t say, ‘Ban all the plastic’—we sort of provide an alternative that’s better, that’s exciting, that fits into a world view that you can be excited about.”
The article goes on to quote Jennifer Jacquet a professor of environmental studies at New York University and “the author of the book “Is Shame Necessary?,” believes that Slat’s success goes beyond “technological solutionism,” or the “TED Talk obsession.” “We always love the idea of cleanups more than we love the idea of prevention, or mitigation,” she said. “We love treating illnesses more than we do preventing them. But our affinity for simplistic solutions isn’t innate; they’re narratives we’ve been sold.”
Later in the article, Eriksen, a dissenter “In mid-September, Eriksen sent an e-mail blast to a Listserv called Marine Debris, in which he called Slat’s mission “a misdirected activity” that “makes it harder for those working to focus the narrative to prevention.” Eriksen reminded me, by phone, that only one per cent of the plastic entering the ocean is on the surface of the North Pacific gyre. Scientists still don’t know where, exactly, the rest goes. Eriksen explained that it might be on the seafloor, or suspended as nanoplastic, or have washed back onto the shore. “
I love a great story like everyone else and I dearly hope this entrepreneur succeeds since his mission is worthwhile and close to home (instead of on Mars). But the article hits all of the cliche’d points. Drawn to DIY from an early age, man on a mission after seeing tons of trash scuba diving, 100, 000 followers on Instagram, crowd sourcing for the name of the boom came up with Boomy Mc Boomface, TED talks, the Bilderburg group… Like his idol Elon Musk, he knows how to promise and get excitement. Having followed the Theranos debacle closely, I just hope this isn’t the same since the mission is actually incredibly important. But I also wish some of that money would be channeled toward prevention…