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The Power of Celebrity Cuts Cloth In Port

Earlier this year, the world was promised, amidst a great deal of publicity, that we were all about to see a fantastic current day version of the Kon Tiki expedition, but this time with a boat called the Plastiki a boat made out of recycled plastic, which would voyage across the Pacific Ocean, going through the North Pacific Ocean Gyre, and thus creating awareness of the vast expanse of plastic garbage floating there.

When I questioned the value of such a trip, given that countless thousands of articles have already been written about the Pacific plastic patch, people retorted that the fame and money of David de Rothschild, the “Adventure Ecologist” leading the Plastiki project, would be invaluable in bringing media attention to the problem.

Since then, an actual scientific expedition, which conducted systematic observations to assess the problem of floating plastic in the middle of the Pacific, went out onto the water, did 19 days of work, and came back. This week the expedition, out of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, reported the results of its observations.

In the meantime, the Plastiki has not yet made it out of port. David de Rothschild has found many amusing distractions, and the Plastiki is not yet actually made. The last update from the project came five days ago: “The strips of cloth needed to make up the beams are being cut straight from the large rolls using an industrial (metal cutting) band saw.”

In the race between systematic science and sidetracked celebrity, science comes far, far ahead.

13 thoughts on “The Power of Celebrity Cuts Cloth In Port”

  1. Shelly Groves says:

    David & Plastiki brought waste and plastic in the ocean to my attention through twitter. I noticed Chris Sacca (almost one million followers) followed David. I have since posted it to all my facebook friends. In addition, I shared it with my children. My children shared it with both of their schools and suggested more recycling projects be used. The school has given up using plastic water bottles. The students are now required to bring a reuseable water container. It appears you have gravely miscalculated your irregular conclusion.

    Shelly Groves

  2. GreenGirl says:

    I became aware of the Plastiki via a news article several months ago and have followed both the boats progress and David (via twitter) since. Like Shelly mentioned this has had a cumulative effect among my followers and friends. Indeed, I introduced a son of a friend of mine to the Plastiki website (, who thought it was awesome. He then showed it to his friends and teacher at school which inititated a school-wide project for kids to turn their recyclable trash into new products/resources. Last week I went to the show put on at the school where over 100 students showed their proudly made creations (ranging from wearable outfits to futuristic skateboards) all made from recyclable materials. The students loved the project, were all educatd in a fun manner, and the school now follows the Plastiki’s updates.
    All of this occured as a result of the Plastiki and David.
    It is hard to imagine such enthusiasm being generated from students who were instead just informed of a scientific expedition.
    It’s all about how we tell the story!


  3. Cristina says:

    I think the Plastiki Expedition captures the imagination in a way that the scientific expedition hasn’t and who is to say that inscription in the imagination will not motivate more than scientific equations about the chemical composition in the water? What’s important, I think, (even if the Plastiki does not set sail) is that we are incorporating a new culture of recycling and thinking about reusing goods into the general behavior of a people.

    That is something science doesn’t necessarily do. My applause to Mr. De Rothschild (even though I wish he would not set sail because I think it’s a little bit too dangerous).

    1. Green Man says:

      Well, the Plastiki expedition so far is little more than imagination. The scientists are out there, on the other hand, actually doing something that will help people take concrete action to deal with an environmental problem. Rothschild is only preparing to take a nice long pleasure cruise for himself.

  4. GreenGirl says:

    I’m a scientist and I’ll be the first to admit that we’re terrible at communicating messages/findings to the general public. There have been many recent articles within scientific literature demonstrating concern about this issue (I’ll provide the links if you want). That’s why expeditions like the Plastiki, which act as a storytelling medium, are so important. I think the problem is that scientists aren’t good at “helping people take concrete action”. We are good communicators amongst ourselves but not amongst others. The Plastiki fills a vital gap.
    But perhaps your comments are born out of jealously/personnal vendetta? They seem to have little evidential support but instead evidence to the contrary (see previous comments)!

  5. Green Man says:

    I hear that all the time, but I also know of many scientific institutions that are very skilled at communicating about their work. Scripps, for example, in this article, seems pretty effective at making its work known by the general public. The IPCC is another scientific group that does the job extremely well. I just don’t buy that trust fund eco-vacationers are necessary to get the word out to the public at hand.

    I have no personal history with David de Rothschild. I’ve just watched the Plastiki expedition for a while as its promises have diminished, and its reasons for existing have become less and less reasonable.

    I’m surprised that you, as a scientist, don’t recognize the relatively objective standard for evidential support that I’ve written about in my article: Which project has actually gotten out of port?

  6. Cristina Kevia says:

    Perhaps that’s the whole point? To be unreasonable?
    To communicate just how unreasonable it is to speed to the finish line in whatever
    arena you are in – whether that is in science, commerce or public relations.

    Perhaps this kind of art is the kind of art that will inscribe not facts and numbers, but
    the genuine ridiculousness of purchasing our way into swift convenience and conclusions?

    At the end of the day, science has its role to play as does art and imagination.
    For without the art of marketing, what in the world would compel someone
    to spend $2.50 on bottled tap water?

    Science and studies have done a great job of getting the information out that much of bottled water
    is mostly tap water and everyone knows that walking cities and transportation is
    the honest way out of a sustainability crisis —

    art convinces you to buy that car, doesn’t it Green Man?

    : )

  7. Kenny says:

    Green Man,

    If you were building the Plastiki, what would we your plan of action? You love bringing up his trustafarian status;.

    Yes, there was the Junk Raft that floated from Long Beach to HI, but Rothschild & crew are sailing to Sydney in rough waters. It is in their benefit to create an “eco-friendly” boat that they are confident to sail across the ocean.

    There is a lot of marketing & PR going into it, so they have no choice but to set sail after all the hype.

    I recently visited Pier 45 to check out their exhibit. I asked had they picked an official date & was told that they were thinking of setting sail in October.

    So Green Man, maybe you can attend the bon voyage & hug it out with your favorite trust fund vacationer in the eco-world:.

    1. Green Man says:

      My plan of action would be to not build the Plastiki. It’s an empty stunt. I’d much rather support the work that scientists are doing to provide genuine environmental assistance.

  8. Cristina Kevia says:

    Green Man,

    That’s interesting. I’ve been very conflicted since I heard
    about the building of the Plastiki. I must confess that.
    Actually, I cried the first time I read about it.

    It wasn’t out of joy or inspiration, but rather out of the same
    feeling an employee might feel when their boss goes
    to Paris five times a year, just because, while we stay
    behind doing the drudgery.

    I live in a terribly ugly part of the world. On the surface
    it seems beautiful but it is overwhelming once you realize there are no
    gardens and walking areas and that other cultures
    provide these basic pleasures and freedomes to people instead
    of confining them to automobiles, funding the consistent
    and predictable paychecks and economic structures
    of a few at the top.

    But one thing the Plastiki has taught me is this –
    where is the place for art in a world where it is so undervalued?

    I mean, think about the Louvre and this new glass pyramid in the
    middle of its plaza –

    does it speak? Should it have a voice? It’s not science. It’s
    purely beauty – and yet the very design on the website
    and the very presence of even the attempt (as shocking
    as it might be to the genearl population) of building a Plastiki –
    allows a platform for this conversation.

    And that’s perhaps that’s the most important thing of all?

    A conversation?

    Environmental assistance performed by science is not
    environmental prevention.

    It’s sort of like having a cavity. Science can fill in the
    tooth that is decayed and design a new crown.

    It’s the little tune in te morning and the colorful
    toothbrush that convinces the child to wash
    their teeth in the morning. Even that very impractical
    hug in the morning after you wash.

    Or the positive reinforcement you get when someone kisses you
    and it’s just that much more pleasant because it’s clean.

    Sounds silly?

    Science doesn’t inspire the heart.

    1. Green Man says:

      Science certainly DOES inspire the heart. It bothers me that so many of the people who defend the ineptitude of Plastiki do so by attacking science.

      These people ought to remember that the Plastiki expedition itself was inspired by information revealed by scientific research.

  9. Cristina Kevia says:

    Interesting. I think
    they work in concert.

    That’s why I said, “generally.”

    Everything is art. There’s good art
    and then there’s bad art.

    Scientific research of this kind can be
    very valuable is that is can serve as
    hard data that to be submitted to
    regulators that can file suit
    against companies that are making
    billions bottling water. I’ve also
    read that drinking water from a plastic
    bottle is very unhealthy because it
    detaches a person’s intestines from
    the organisms it is to ingest from its

    Perhaps this kind of science can help
    a legal fight in attaching hard
    data to why bottled water is being sold
    in the first place.

    But Green Man, science is very clear
    on many levels – for example it is
    clear that the automobile is
    destroying the American landscape. And,
    it is clear that we have so many
    other ways of living and existing that
    are harmful to the environment.

    How do you propose that with all of the
    hard data science has found it has
    not yet founds it’s way into
    the walking man?

    I think they work in concert.

    Perhaps science’s ineptitude is the Plastiki’s
    brilliance and vice versa?

    So, rather than juxtapositioning these
    two notes against each other to create
    dissonance —

    Green Man, may I ask you where the
    sidewalks, water fountains and
    our beautiful zoning laws went and
    exactly how the science of architecture
    and perfectly timed traffic patterns
    and traffic lights inspire the
    heart to walk?

    Or, rather than drinking bottled water in a car,
    drinking from water fountains or
    maybe even having the time to actually
    sit down for a meal instead of sitting
    in traffic hours, thirsty?

    See the picture?

    I’d love to hear your ideas…

    how can the two work together, in concert?

    Seems to me that a lawsuit might be the
    best way to get a big chunk of the
    bottles out – but when has ever science
    trumped money?

  10. Cristina Kevia says:

    Green Man. Excuse me. English is not my first language and I am in a rush to get back to my job. I did not read my entry – but I hope you get the gyst.

    Perhaps my ineptitude in writing can be your brilliance?

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