Philippe Cousteau: Everyday Heroes

June 11th, 2010, posted by Shore Crew Tags: Oceans, Opinion Pieces, Plastics

I was at the grocery store the other day, minding my own business, when I noticed the woman in front of me pull out a large cloth reusable sack at the checkout aisle. “Progress!” I thought to myself with satisfaction. Then I watched in horror as she first placed her purchases into several plastic bags and then placed those into the reusable bag. As I walked out of the store I realized two things, the good news is that we are making progress (at least she had a reusable bag… the bad news is we clearly have a long way to go. First let’s explore the good news – I believe it is no small thing that I am contributing this blog to a global adventure like the Plastiki Expedition which is getting attention on an international level from the likes of traditional media such as CNN as well as online sites like and other green networks which would not have been conceivable just a decade ago.

You see, for the majority of the 20th century, environmentalists were often seen as granola eating hippies living on a commune and being green was perceived as a passing fancy sulking on the fringes of society. While that has certainly changed; as the woman at the grocery store reminded me, we have an uphill battle ahead of us. Now the bad news – in the United States the public is almost evenly split between those who think climate change is real and those who do not. Despite the fact that an overwhelming amount of science supports the climate change reality, we are rarely a science driven society either politically or socially. Instead it seems we regularly prefer pithy soundbites that support our worldview rather than intelligent arguments that challenge us to learn and expand our understanding and the media is no different. One morning recently I picked up a major national newspaper and as I flipped to the metro section I was greeted by a large picture of a Koi fish. The cover story was about the National Arboretum in Washington DC and how they were conducting their annual Koi fish auction. It wasn’t until I glanced down at the article that was unceremoniously squeezed beneath extensive coverage of a fish sale and the bottom of the page that I found what I was looking for, a brief story covering one of the most incredible achievements of human kind.

This weekend, in addition to being the groundbreaking time when a national institution auctions off oversized goldfish, is also the time that we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Trieste descending to the bottom of Challenger Deep, the deepest point on earth 7 miles beneath the shiny waves of the Pacific Ocean. Only two men have ever gone that deep in the history of all humanity, and that was 50 years ago!

Don Walsh and Jacques Picard both risked their lives to descend that deep, and only the former is still alive. More men have landed on the moon than have landed on the deepest part of our own planet and that despite the progress I wrote about earlier, we are a still struggling to recognize that this planet and all its wonder should be valued above all else. Pop stars and sports figures are fine but we should equally value those who continue to fight for a more just, enlightened and hopeful future. Teachers, scientists, explorers and the like are heroes that walk amongst us every day and deserve more than a passing mention at the bottom of the newspaper.

That is why the Plastiki Project is so important in my opinion; it reminds us that nature is both to be explored and revered but is also a fragile victim of our greed and stupidity. As the Plastiki sails through an ocean of trash we should all be ashamed of what we have done to this planet and what we have condemned our children to live with and I hope that if Plastiki inspires us to do anything it is to think a little bit more about the choices we make…and at the very least…cut out the plastic bags.

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  1. KnowThankYou says:

    Thanks for this great post. You are absolutely right – we need science to have more of an influence on society. At this point we are leaving science almost entirely in the hands of corporations, who are using science to achieve financial advancements for their shareholders rather than to achieve scientific advancements for the common good. Leaving the fight against cancer in the hands of pharmaceutical companies – who profit from cancer treatments – is like waiting for petroleum industry scientists to invent a sustainable biodegradable replacement for plastic packaging. The problem then with science is who funds it. We can begin to overcome this by making science a more important part of school curricula. With greater knowledge of science should come two important things that our general population clearly lacks: the ability to use critical thinking skills and question what what is presented to us by corporate marketers, and the ability to creatively use scientific knowledge in ways directly related to lives rather than to profit margins.