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Next Asbestosis: Plastic?

Mar 28, 2022

My Op-Ed: Illuminem

My Op-ed for Illuminem: In a week that witnessed Arctic at +30 degrees Celsius above normal, Antarctica hitting +40, glacier collapse in East Antarctica and Great Barrier Reef bleached, yet again – the news on discovery of micro plastics in human blood, for the first time, was bound to be subdued.

What was supposedly a wonder material is beginning to haunt the entire ecosystem. By 2050, if not before, plastic will exceed the fish in our oceans. Although a breakthrough, having found it in human blood, should it be a surprise?

Prof. Atsuhiko Isobe of Kyushu University highlights the scale of its ubiquity: “We were able to estimate the budget of ocean plastics, but they are only the tip of plastic-waste iceberg on Earth.” His next task is to assess the whereabouts of the nearly half a billion metric tons of mismanaged plastics trapped on land. “That’s going to be a Herculean task. Few advancements have been made so far in the field of ‘terrestrial plastics’ due to the lack of observation methods.”

“More detailed research on how micro – and nano – plastics affect the structures and processes of the human body, and whether and how they can transform cells and induce carcinogenesis, is urgently needed, particularly in light of the exponential increase in plastic production. The problem is becoming more urgent with each day.” Says Dr. Dick VethaakVrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU Amsterdam), who led this discovery.

In the meantime, plastic production and its reckless ‘waste management’ goes on. (I draw from ‘Thicker Than Water’, by Erica Cirino). Recycling does not seem to be the solution. For instance, Australia continues exporting plastic waste as Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF), highlights the Plastic Soup Foundation. International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) typifies the dumping of waste on recipient countries as neocolonial. RDF will be one of the subjects that the international community will have to agree upon within the ambit of the international treaty.

Plastic tends to be a blind-spot in the overall Climate space. The potential implications dwarf asbestosis. By outsourcing the issue to the likes of UNEP, the insurance industry is abdicating something it ought to be in control of. That there is no alternative to plastic would also mean justification for the continuity of the Oil & Gas industry.

Despite all the negative energy, it is the ‘Love letter to our future team’ from Natalia DorfmanKita Insurance CEO, which gives me the hope: “The #ipcc climate change reports are both clear and terrifying. We urgently need concerted climate action to enable a liveable and sustainable future for all”. That is the way forward for the Planet and the #insurers.

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