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Recycling Plastiki

It was a couple of months ago that I started tracking the progress of the Plastiki project. It’s got a great story: A catamaran made out of recycled plastic bottles will sail across the Pacific Ocean, going through the great plastic gyre, where a giant island of plastic and other garbage floats. Led by Adventure Ecologist David De Rothschild, the journey will bring awareness to the problem of the garbage floating in the ocean…

…although there’s already plenty of awareness of that problem, isn’t there? It’s at this part of the story that the Plastiki voyage starts to fall apart for me.

People have been aware of the problems of excessive garbage, especially large amounts of plastic that never degrades, for as long as I can remember. Most people have been aware of the Pacific Ocean gyre for years. So, what do we need a Plastiki voyage to raise awareness for?

The only thing that the Plastiki voyage seems to raise new awareness for is the “career” of its leader, David de Rothschild, the Adventure Ecologist. What is an Adventure Ecologist? You probably haven’t ever met one before. There likely isn’t a neighborhood Adventure Ecologist working just down the block from you.

There’s a good reason for that. Being an Adventure Ecologist takes a lot of money. David de Rothschild seems to be the first and only Adventure Ecologist there has ever been.

An Adventure Ecologist is a person of leisure who has fun on a lot of adventures, using a lot of energy and resources in the process, but does so in the name of educating everyone else in the world about the importance of being ecologically sensitive.

David de Rothschild, you see, is an heir of the Rothschild family, perhaps the most wealthy and influential banking family in the world. The Rothschild family has funded the development of the industrial economy that has led to us having huge amounts of garbage littering the land and floating about in the ocean. The Rothschild family uses huge amounts of energy and natural resources just to satisfy its whimsies.

So, naturally, through his Adventure Ecology vacations, David de Rothschild seeks to educate us, the little people of the world who weren’t born into rich and powerful families, about what we have to do to make things better. David de Rothschild isn’t seeking to increase awareness within the Rothschild family empire about what the Rothschilds need to do to solve the world’s ecological problems. No, instead, he’s seeking to reform the rabble.

The more I look at the Plastiki project, the more it takes on the appearance of recycled Rothschild snobbery.

I’m not denying that the ordinary folks of the world have a lot of responsibility for the global ecological crisis we’re in today. I just don’t think it’s appropriate for a man who was born into extreme luxury, who has always been able to consume whatever he wants whenever he wants, to lecture the rest of us about how we need to live more simply, and change our lifestyles.

Have fun on your little corporate-sponsored South Pacific vacation, Mr. Rothschild, but please don’t expect me to give you applause as you board your yacht.

19 comments to Recycling Plastiki

  • Helen

    As an environmental scientist myself I have to say your story is not only (ironically) a complete and utter load of rubbish, it is also uninformed and inaccurate. Perhaps that is appropriate having come from a “news unfit for print” item. At least it’s keeping true to your motto. Unfortunately the ‘average’ person is not aware of the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch at all. So any attempt (by any person), to raise awareness of issues such as this deserves credit. Furthermore, if you had done any amount of research into the building of the Plastiki you would have discovered that one of the most fascinating parts of this expedition is the development of innovative materials which are being used in the construction process. The reuse of non-biodegradable materials (such as plastic) as a resource must become a future way of thinking on a widespread scale, and as such the Plastiki provides a timely example of the possibilities.
    As for your ridiculous attack on David de Rothschild himself, how prejudice and pathetic. I don’t see how someone’s family background should be relevant in any regard. Other scientists applaud David for his efforts and the innovation of his team, and he provides an excellent example of how his ‘adventures’ can be used to educate and inform. Perhaps David is instead an example of how the current environmental problems in the world affect everyone, regardless of background, race, gender etc. If anyone who has an understanding and passion of the current issues facing our planet chooses to educate others, then that is a great thing, regardless of who they are. If he happens to get personal recognition for it, then good for him. At least he provides a better role model for younger generations that the usual Hollywood imbeciles.

  • Helen, your critique isn’t a scientific one, as it deals with public information, economic and social issues. So, I don’t see how your position as an “environmental scientist” is relevant.

    You’re missing the relevance of the Rothschilds’ historic role in the creation of this environmental mess, and the issue of the discrepancy between the great power he has because of his family connections and financial resources on the one hand, and the eco-vacationing he decides will be his contribution to society. Nobody thinks it’s impressive when a circus elephant can lift a 3-pound weight.

    David de Rothschild is most certainly not an example of how “environmental problems in the world affect everyone regardless of background”. Rothschild can only do what he’s doing because of his background. How can a Rothschild be a “role model” for younger generations? What role are young people supposed to emulate? Are kids supposed to all go off and do Adventure Ecology? You know darned well that they can’t follow his ecoplayboy path.

    As for innovating construction materials, are you seriously saying that we need a Rothschild to sail across the Pacific Ocean to innovate construction materials? David de Rothschild has not invented the idea of recycling plastic, you know.

    I’m not prejudiced against Rothschild. I didn’t come in and look at the Plastiki project determined to find something wrong with it and its leader. Rather, I watched what Rothschild is doing – raising “awareness” without actually using his substantial power to change much, while using a heck of a lot of resources on his Adventure Ecology vacations at the same time he’s telling us all to change our lifestyles.

    I think we should change our lifestyles. I don’t think a wealthy playboy is in any position to give us advice on how to do so, until he gives all his money away to actual projects for environmental improvement, and goes to live in a tent.

  • Helen

    Firstly, my critique wasn’t supposed to be a “scientific” one, it was more aimed towards a general audience. There is more than enough scientific data out there demonstrating why this sort of publicity is exactly what is needed. However, I believe my position is relevant not only because I understand the science behind these issues but also because I have seen first hand the importance of expeditions such as the Plastiki. In fact I used the Plastiki example this year in one of my lectures to provide students with an understanding of how people can raise awareness of environmental issues. The students didn’t care (nor were they probably aware of) David’s “background”, but instead they saw him as an individual willing to take action on issues. So in this regard he is a ‘role model’. If you want examples of similar ‘role models’ who just happen to not have such readily available finances then I can provide you with a multitude. Environmentalists and ecologists have long undertaken inspirational work, frequently on no budget at all. Finances may vary but the messages that come across still carry the same importance.
    Yes, hopefully kids will “go off and do Adventure Ecology”. If this means we can somehow link children back to the outdoor environment than that is an achievement in itself. I believe part of the “Adventure Ecology” idea is to provide an interactive mechanism for the education of children. If David can provide the basis of an adventure that educates through allowing children to follow online, than what a fantastic achievement. If he can do it without having to go through the funding nightmares that the rest of us do, then even better.

    In regards to your comment on the construction materials of the Plastiki I was not referring to the fact they were ‘recycled’. If you had researched the Plastiki build more you would have found information regarding some of the innovative materials they have developed in unison with their work. So maybe we do need a “Rothschild to sail across the Pacific Ocean” in order to develop innovative materials.

    Yes, we do need to change our mentality, culture and lifestyles towards more of a Planet 2.0 way of thinking. But I don’t see why a “wealthy playboy” can’t provide advice just like anyone else. I don’t think David (nor anyone else for that matter) needs to give all their “money away to actual projects” and “go and live in a tent”. That’s not really a very constructive undertaking for anyone. Unfortunately the environmental crisis currently facing our planet is going to take more than just money to solve. Individuals can make more important contributions through relating the current crisis to the wider community, just like the Plastiki expedition.

    • Wait a minute, Helen. First, you say that your argument wasn’t supposed to be scientific. Then, you suggest we ought to pay particular attention to your arguments because you have scientific expertise.

      Those two statements don’t fit together, Helen.

      If you’ve got scientific evidence that a wealthy Rothschild sailing a yacht across the Pacific Ocean “is needed”, please share it, Helen. You’re a scientific expert, right? So, where’s that evidence?

      Rothschild is taking “action”? What action is he taking to reduce that big pile of garbage in the middle of the Pacific? He isn’t. He’s just going to look at it, and talking about to a bunch of people. He’s going on a vacation. He’s talking. I don’t see any action on the actual issue itself… unless the issue that Rothschild cares about is that he isn’t getting enough attention.

      Or, is the issue Rothschild cares about that the world lacks “innovative materials”? There are already plenty of people working on inventing “innovative materials” all the time. Why does a Rothschild have to go on a yachting vacation to create “awareness” for that?

      How can you say that it wouldn’t be constructive for Rothschild to give his vast fortune for projects in which actual environmental action is taking place? What’s not constructive about funding environmental cleanups, or projects like building efficient energy or transit systems?

      Are you seriously arguing that the environmental crisis will “take more than just money to solve”, and therefore we need to have extremely weatlhy people NOT spending their money on environmental projects, but engaging on publicity vacations and just telling other people what they should do instead. How often have you encountered environmental improvement projects with leaders who say, “We have enough money to fund our efforts. What we need is more talk.” ?

      It doesn’t make sense, Helen. Rothschild’s money could have a lot more impact than a pleasure cruise, no matter how he tries to spin it.

      Perhaps you could also explain how children who lack the Rothschild fortune can grow up to become Adventure Ecologists, with a career like Rothschild’s. Please, bring your scientific expertise to bear, and demonstrate to me how it’s possible for a new generation of middle and working class kids to do what Rothschild has done.

      You say that you’ve been involved in awareness efforts like this one. What actual, concrete, positive change in the environment have they created, Helen? Show me the evidence. It sounds to me that you’re trying to defend yourself as much as you’re trying to defend Rothschild.

  • What, rich people aren’t allowed to be environmentalists?

    • Oh, they’re allowed, but what is an environmentalist? Is an environmentalist someone who tells everyone else what they should do to make the environment better, or is an environmentalist someone who actually does things themselves to make the environment better? It seems to me that David de Rothschild does plenty to tell other people what they should do (“education” and “awareness”), but doesn’t actually do much for the environment himself. He just goes on vacation.

      If David de Rothschild was a real environmentalist, he’d put his share of the Rothschild money where his mouth is.

  • Tom

    Helen and Green Man: It’s too late to do anything to slow down what’s coming down the road at us. Yeah, sure, recycle, re-use, reclaim, etc. We’ll need to do that out of necessity shortly (within 50 years) as many natural resources including metals, oil, and top soil are rapidly becoming scarce and, with the population as it is, will practically disappear in the same time frame. We’ve (humanity) been ignoring scientific warnings about population (Ehrlich), peak oil, air quality, potable water, erosion and weather pattern changes (to mention a few) since 1896 and now it’s just too late to mitigate the imbalance we’ve caused. Here’s an old article you can read:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSN0837368420070809

    After years of watching vested interest groups (Big Oil, Coal, & Agribusiness, etc.) disrupt any change to their money-making agenda through crippling the EPA, putting their own people in charge of vital government agencies through political patronage and crony capitalism, and lobbying Congress to do their bidding rather than what’s necessary to stop the predicted (and now measurable) occuring climate changes, i’m convinced that the glacial pace of human change will be nullified in the next 10 years by the rapidity of climate change due to feedback loops, continued pollution and failure to make the necessary changes, and these same interests throwing up roadblocks to change. In other words, humanity is too stupid to survive.

    http://www.alternet.org/environment/140532/learning_to_live_with_climate_change_will_not_be_enough/

    and

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126921.500-one-last-chance-to-save-mankind.html

    So do what you can now, certainly, and push for REAL climate change through government, industry and personal action, but don’t expect much – you’ll be disappointed time and time again. Enjoy your life.

  • jpm

    poor comment this one mr. congressman! wake up for the green economy . every one independent of the social class needs to come in! including you with your poor soul!!!

  • bill

    Hey Green Man,
    Helen is making salient points about the need for projects such as the Plastiki that bring awareness to the every day public who don’t give a second thought to recycling. Contrary to what the world that you seem to live in, the one I live in needs people like DDR who are willing to put their famous names and reputation on the line for awareness, even if it does seem to be a vacation in your eyes. If we make environmental causes all sound like heavy slogs through the mud, how do you imagine you will get the younger generation interested? If it takes someone like DDR to be the face of a cause, I say bravo. Like Helen said, at least he is not using his fat wallet to fly around the world with Paris Hilton.

  • Bill, I don’t get it. Recycling has been around for a generation. Do you truly, honestly believe that a rich guy sailing a boat across the Pacific Ocean will bring in awareness of recycling plastic that has not been created by a generation of other awareness efforts?

    David de Rothschild wants to have fun on his plastic yacht, and seeks our praise for his vacation. I don’t particularly feel like joining that bandwagon.

    Why doesn’t Mr. Rothschild put his share of his family’s vast fortune into projects that actually help to reduce pollution, instead of just going on public service announcement vacations?

    Why doesn’t Rothschild put his money where his mouth is?

  • kenny

    Green Man,

    Why are you so caught up in Rothschild’s economic status? It seems that so many people get caught up in the Rothschild name & how they have a part in ruling the world.

    He’s not apart of his family’s banking business – he took a different route to focus on what he really likes, which is nature and helping the environment. He went to school for Holistic Health, so wouldn’t exactly right him off as an eco-toff. From what I have observed & read, he owns his own organic farm, lives by his word on environmentalism & runs Adventure Ecology to raise further awareness.

    The focus should be on the fact that he’s actually using materials that have not been used for sailing purposes. How many people would take the risk to float from San Francisco to Australia on a boat held together with plastic bottles & raw eco-friendly materials to hold a boat together? I know I couldn’t, so I wouldn’t exactly call his adventure a vacation.

    And Bill I agree – at least he isn’t using his fat wallet to fly around and do nothing like a tart.

    • I’m not exclusively focused on that, if you pay attention. I’m also focused on the fact that his Plastiki project doesn’t actually accomplish much, while it preaches to other people about what THEY should do.

      But the economic scale of Rothschild’s status matters. You don’t evaluate an elephant’s physical accomplishments on the same scale as a flea. Rothschild is an elephant, but he’s acting like a flea, taking little flea vacations in the name of “awareness”, and lecturing fleas about what they ought to do to make the world better.

      I think it’s a lousy standard of success to judge Rothschild as some kind of eco-hero merely because he ISN’T personally funding industrial pollution, though his wealth comes from investments that do.

      How many people would take a personally-designed yacht across the Pacific ocean, with GPS and other services keeping track of every movement, and warning of weather threats coming along the way? I’d do that, if I had the money, and the time to take away from work. Sounds like a lot of fun, but it doesn’t actually accomplish anything much to make the world a better place.

      I’m not against people taking vacations. I’m against people having entire careers out of taking vacations, and expecting to be regarded as eco-heroes as a result, while they sit on vast fortunes of industrially-created wealth that could create actual improvements.

  • kenny

    “I think it’s a lousy standard of success to judge Rothschild as some kind of eco-hero merely because he ISN’T personally funding industrial pollution, though his wealth comes from investments that do.”

    Well, I don’t think he characterizes or expects to be regarded as such, but the media hype behind him does. I think you make some valid points, but context of your argument always goes back to the wealth factor or seeking kudos for his adventure.

    I haven’t seen the preachiness factor in regards to his TV show that appeared on Sundance or his book. He simply gives people options to affordable green living by starting small.

    Rothschild is not looking to be the God of the enviro-movement, just using his name to help others seek environmental awareness whether people see it as good or bad.

    “while they sit on vast fortunes of industrially-created wealth that could create actual improvements.”

    In the end it comes down to corporations vs. the lone environmentalists. Until there are larger groups of lobbyists that truly give a damn about the environment vs. the big payoff paycheck, then we can see actual improvements.

    Green Man, I think you & Rothschild need to get together for a picnic & hug it out;).

  • Dawn

    Let me ask you something, do you recycle? Does everyone you know recycle? How far do you go to make sure that the product you’re recycling is turned into something that can be recycled again, or used again? Did you know that even though recycling is an older term/idea not that many people are doing it. Plus most of the things that we use everyday, like plastic bottles are not recycled into new plastic bottles that can be used over and over again; instead they are turned into new plastic items that cannot be recycled again.
    I’m not a scientist, or an expert on plastic, or the environment, but I have done a fair amount of research. I’m more into plastic bags than bottles, and the stats on plastic bags are even more alarming. For instance plastic bags are made out of the cheapest plastic materials, and can only be recycled once, but are usually never recycled at all. Even when people think they are recycling their plastic bags, chances are that these bags are instead being shipped off to India and China to be burned. You’re a green guy right, so I don’t have to tell you how bad that is.
    At this point I recycling has turned into more of a coined phrase used by corporations to get what they want, much like the word natural. It makes us feel better about ourselves, but it’s not really getting the job done. That’s why I think what David De Rothschild is doing is great, because he’s doing something that goes beyond recycling.
    Taking control of the products we use and reusing them yourself, helps people realize that the plastic bottle they just finished drinking their beverage from, could be used for something else in their own life. Why go through your plastic bottle in a bin that says it will get your bottle recycled, when it might not. Of course not everyone can and will build their own boat, but maybe the bottle will have a longer useful lifespan doing something else. The Plastiki shouldn’t be taken so literately as an object, but more like a symbol of inspiration. I think he’s offering more than just words, and instead he’s giving us stronger ideas, and examples.
    As for the money thing, you seems to be so fixated on, I’m curious about how you would spend the money to save the planet. I can tell you that personally even though I had heard things about the Pacific Garbage Patch, I was still unclear about what it looked like. The way it’s described by most of the people I’ve talked to, they say it’s an island in the middle of the ocean made out of plastic. I was picturing chucks of plastic that could be removed, somewhat easily with the right resources. Then I saw the Earth Day Oprah episode, where they only spent about 10-15 mins. talking about it; but they said it was two times the size of Texas. Ocean explorer Fabien Cousteau explained that we should think of it more like soup, and less like an island. Still hard to picture, because most of the media still shows you things like chunks of plastic floating around in the ocean. Then I saw these videos on You Tube:

    I don’t think that most people understand the problem to this extent. It’s not something someone with a lot of money can just go into the ocean and clean up. It’s too late for that. We can however try to stop adding to the problem. Which is why what he’s doing is a good thing. It’s something that is going to take everyone to fix, and it’s not about much money you or your family has, it’s about how you take responsibility for the things you buy and the things you throw away.
    I also think that the Adventure Ecology is a great way to engage with kids, and that kids are a great resource. If these children can get into the habit of living their lives in a way that is beneficial to the planet, then he’s accomplishing something amazing enough with that project alone. We’re already set in our ways of living in a disposable lifestyle, and think about how hard it’s been to change our own habits.
    As far as the vacation point your trying to make, which I have say is your weakest point, from what I tell this isn’t going to be a vacation. From what I’ve heard, and read the trip is more like an exploration of the garbage patch. Updates will be posted. Pictures, videos and descriptions will be sent out to show us what most of us haven’t been able to see first hand. It sounds more like working than vacationing to me.

    • Okay, Dawn, look, you’re proving my point. You have all these points of awareness that predate the Plastiki, one after another, after another. There are problems with recycling, but as I see it, these problems are exaggerated by people who don’t want to recycle. The chances are not high that particular plastic bags returned for recycling in the United States are sent to China to burned. Maybe it happens, but most of the time, it doesn’t.

      This critique of yours isn’t even consistent. First, you criticize the recycling of some plastic things into other plastic things, and then you praise David de Rothschild for recycling plastic bottles into a boat.

      I’m beginning to think that there’s some kind of weird David de Rothschild cult of personality thing going on here.

      Actually, yes, I recycle, and everyone I know recycles too. Everyone. I can’t think of a single person or business I engage with personally who doesn’t, and who doesn’t do it consistently.

      As for projects to actually make things better, gosh, that’s not hard. How about solar power for homes in developing countries where people currently burn coal/wood/dung? How about anti-desertification/reforestation programs in the Sahel? How about high speed rail lines? How about supporting local food networks? Etc, etc, etc. I could name a hundred projects that would be of actual environmental benefit that David de Rothschild could fund, instead of vacationing for self-promotion.

  • randy ray haugen

    wow, green man, cut the guy sum slack. i don’t think he controls the entire rothschild fortune. it’s sounds like you would have to spend that ten-fold and even then not scratch the suface of this plastic problem. after watching the video link from dawn i can’t see how you can put down anyone trying to spotlight the issue. green man,you say that rothschild’s project doesn’t accomplish much. but, not much is more than nothing and that’s better than nothing.

  • randy ray haugen

    did i say sum slack? meaning the total sum of all slack?
    well, at least some slack. i know he’s a rich, elitist bastard, so, maybe not the total sum of all slack. how about just a little tiny bit of slack. you know, not much but more than none.

  • Kevin

    Green man.. I think maybe you are too hard on the young lad. If I were stinking rich and good looking I would most likely be sailing on a yacht staffed with 20 servants and 10 bimbos. and I would AVOID a big pile of crappy plastic floating around in the ocean.

    He seems to have setup a foundation that has an office and some expenses and he’s paid people to build this thing, and non-eco types might get involved a bit more (especially LA types)

    He most likely does not have any leverage with the family directly. and I don’t recall seeing ANY MSM coverage or any self-promoting comments of his posted anywhere.

    For you and I, sure we know about dead birds and turtles, and the containers of ducks and shoes and stuff. but maybe some young girls will start a fan-club and follow his every move and get the high-school to build a playground out of re-cycled trash.

    or sumptin. I don’t begrudge the guys trying to turn an endless vacation in something slightly more meaningfull.

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