We should all be ashamed . . .

“There’s a great future in plastics, my boy”.  -The Graduate

I must confess, modern life is pretty convenient and rather enjoyable.  No more grooming and feeding horses just to get from point A to B.  No more shopping every day in order to have fresh food.  And a lot less cooking and housework than our parents and grandparents did.  That equates to more free time, hopefully to pursue engaging, stimulating, knowledge expanding, physically and socially positive activities. Being more creative.  Making things better.  Developing new ideas into businesses.  Making a difference.

And for many of us that is how we spend our free time.  But along with that free time and the conveniences we enjoy comes a price, and that price was driven home to me when I took a fishing holiday to the little Caribbean country of Belize.  Belize lies on the coast between Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to the north and the countries of Guatemala and Honduras to the south.  It’s ancient Mayan country and filled with wonderful temples indicating a rich civilization that once flourished in the jungles and along the shore.

And the Barrier Reef that runs offshore provides a rich and fertile environment for an abundance of ocean life. And for a fly angler like myself Belize provides an opportunity to fish in a pristine environment of clear water and fresh winds.

Well, almost pristine!  But there is a blight on this beautiful country, and I suspect it’s not just limited to Belize.  And that blight is a sickening amount of plastic that litters the beaches and the ocean-facing sides of the hundreds of small mangrove islands offshore. The flotsam and jetsam of our convenient and disposable society.  I’m not talking about a few plastic water bottles and a plastic bag or two.  On island after island the shore was literally covered.  There were as many plastic objects as rocks on the shore!  It made me sick, sad, and to be honest ashamed.

And where does all this plastic come from? Talking to the locals it became clear that while our modern “throw-away” life style in the developed countries has become a growing part of their lifestyle, the majority of the plastic trash comes from passing ships that dump their garbage in the ocean as they move goods north to south.  Why else would it just be concentrated on the windward sides of the islands? It moves with the wind and the currents and pile up on the mangrove islands and the shore of the mainland.  And these are uninhabited islands.  Locals don’t picnic there and leave trash.  We dispose of our trash in their waters.

I am ashamed for two reasons.  First for those of my species who so wantonly disregard the environment and dump tons of trash into the ocean, and secondly for myself for the convenient and wasteful way I use plastic in my every day life.  Here are some frightening statistics:

  • The world’s annual consumption of plastic materials has increased from around 5 million tonnes in the 1950s to nearly 100 million tonnes today (200 Billion pounds!)
  • About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute.
  • A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
  • More than 3.5 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were discarded in 2008
  • Plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts (2008)
  • Plastic bags remain toxic even after they break down.
  • Every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.
  • Americans threw more than 22 billion water bottles in the trash in 2006 (that was 5 years ago – yikes, what is it now?)
  • In the US studies show up to 10 tons of garbage per mile of coastline, a record that can probably be matched in many other parts of the world. Plastic forms the biggest single item found.

As a fisherman I really don’t like seeing all that trash spoil the beauty of my fishing experience, not to mention the ecological damage.  And I doubt if the Belizians like it either.  Since that trip I have definitely become more aware of my (and our) reckless use of plastic.  We recently bought some nice glass water bottles which we fill up with filtered tap water now instead of buying water in plastic bottles.  We find other uses for our plastic.  I even cut plastic bottles in half to use the bottom for storing pencils, pens, nails, fly-tying materials.  And we try to use as few plastic bags as possible.

We anglers, and everyone else who enjoy the outdoors and have so much convenience in our lives must also be equally accountable.  One thing I love about fly anglers is that they seem to come home with more trash than they start with, picking up crap along the river bank or lake shore and taking it home to (hopefully) be disposed of properly.  We also need to rethink a way to make ships more accountable for their trash.

The greater the freedom the greater the responsibility.

There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth.  We are all crew.  ~Marshall McLuhan

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E | john@johnrchildress.com      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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3 Responses to We should all be ashamed . . .

  1. Bill Collins says:

    John, this page should be translated into every language, every illiterate should be taught to read,
    and then every human on earth should be made to realize thier responsibility in keeping their little corners of the earth clean and safe by reading materials like this. The U.S. Navy has been one of the heaviest polluters of the seas for the last 100 years along with all the commercial ships that have lived by the belief that if no one is around to see them dump their refuse into the ocean then it didn’t really happen. Until there are “Eco-officials” on every countries’ naval ships and all commercial ships, these practices will not cease. Accountability and monetary compensation for offloading refuse in port are the only viable ways to change the accepted day to day operations of these huge polluters.


  2. Pingback: Death by Plastic . . . | John R Childress . . . rethinking leadership

  3. Pingback: Behind Paradise . . . let’s do the math | John R Childress . . . rethinking leadership

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