Friday, April 24, 2009

Earth Day McIlheran Column Is Disposable

You may recall that Patrick McIheran, the Journal Sentinel's in-house conservative columnist, used Earth Day to pooh-pooh all this pesky concern about pollution.

His column is here.

McIlheran found an environmental skeptic who said all the un-recycled garbage created in the US for the next century isn't much to worry about.

Here's how McIlheran put it - - though when you click on the source link at "each side," you get the entire text of a 400+-page book:

"There's no shortage of space for it, say the government's own regulators. Americans now recycle a third of their garbage. Much of what's thrown out takes up less space than it used to because packages are thinner. A dump holding all of America's garbage for the next century would only be a square 10 miles on each side."

And how tall might that pile be?

Maybe the answer is in the book. Or not.

[Online, I find that there is a spirited debate over the value of this oft-cited 10-square-mile trash estimate, originated in 2001 by Bjorn Lomborg, a Dutch statistician, which apparently includes the depth of the big pile: 255 feet.]

Lomborg and McIlheran aside - - here's another statistical estimate: there is a mass, heavy on plastic, that floats permanently in the Pacific Ocean trapped by currents - - and is also connected to another such "patch" in the Atlantic - - covering in the Pacific between 700,000 and 15 million square kilometers.

Even I can do that math, with a kilometer being 5/8ths of a mile - - and that mass is a lot more than ten square miles.

Sure: I know that a lot of that floating plastic didn't originate here, and yes, it's out of sight, out of mind, perhaps - - but it's our planet, and we eat fish from that trashed ecosystem.

No newspaper has been more focused on the health perils of plastic than the Journal Sentinel, with its award-winning reportage by Suzanne Rust and Meg Kissinger.

They get the big picture.

Having worked at the paper, and been raised in a journalism family, I recognize the value of varied voices in media.

But the paper's reporting on this issue certainly isolates McIlheran, or at least ironizes him.

More here about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.


jimspice said...

And how tall might that pile be?Funny. That's exactly what I thought when I read it. I did a search, but did not find the 255 figure. But given that, that would cover roughly Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia a foot deep.

Truth be told, I wouldn't put too much into that figure anyway, having not bee given the source.

James Rowen said...

To Jimspice:
Here is the attribution of the 255-ft. depth, which I added in the blog text, too:

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