August 2010

Monthly Archive

Ecotopia #101 Social Soap Operas

Posted by on 31 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

August 31, 2010

Our guest is Bill Ryerson, who is President of the Population Media Center. His organization takes a unique approach to education: They create soap operas and melodramas in many languages for myriad countries around the world. They have evidence that soap operas can be a very effective way to inform and influence people on such issues as population, AIDS/HIV, women’s roles, and family planning.

Listen to the program.

Background on Population and Social Justice

Back in February of this year, we talked with Laurie Mazur, author the book, A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice, and the Environmental Challenge. We were impressed by the connections that Laurie made between population and issues ranging from poverty to religion to agriculture to education to technological fixes to the world’s problems. As background for tonight’s guest, we’d like to read a section of the introduction to Laurie’s book. She wrote:

 We are living in a pivotal moment.Even a casual glance at the headlines reveals this to be a pivotal moment environmentally,… from acidifying oceans to depleted aquifers, the natural systems we depend upon are nearing “tipping points,” beyond which they may not recover.But it is less well known that this is a pivotal moment demographically. While the rate of population growth has slowed in most parts of the world,…our numbers still increase by 75 to 80 million every year….[T]he ultimate size of the human population will be decided in the next decade or so. [She calls for an approach to “population justice” that takes] a nuanced understanding of the relationship between human numbers and environmental harm, and the inequitable patterns of consumption that mediate that relationship….Of each proposed action we must ask, Does it uphold and enhance established human rights? Does it advance the cause of social justice; will it reduce inequality? Will it promote human well-being and protect the environment?




 A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice, and the Environmental Challenge. Laurie Mazur, ed. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2010.

 Our Discussion with Bill Ryerson

Our guest tonight, Bill Ryerson, shares that belief in the centrality of population to a host of global issues. And his approach to educating people is unique: His nonprofit, Population Media Center, produces soap operas that run for months, even years, in dozens of countries around the world. Through these melodramas, they provide information as well as role models for people of all ages.

[We play an excerpt from Coconut Bay–distributed in the Eastern Caribbean]

Please tell us a little about what we just heard from Coconut Bay and how this illustrates your project.

  • You have produced soaps all over the world–please tell us some of the countries where you’ve worked. [For our reference: Brazil, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Vietnam.]
  • Do you seek or need governmental cooperation? theirs or ours?
  • How do you go about launching a project–including writing, recruiting actors, production, airing the programs?
  • What kinds of cultural or cross-cultural precautions do you and your staff take before launching a project in another country?
  • Who pays for this and how costly is it?
  • We’ll talk about your central issue of population a little later in the program. What are some of the other issues you’ve addressed in these dramas? [Our reference: Environmental preservation, HIV Aids, Reproductive Health, Gender Issues, Women’s Education, Child Protection.]
  • You use something called the Sabido methodology for creating your programs, which you candidly say are highly melodramatic. Where did this method originate and how does it work?
  • What kinds of evidence have you collected that this approach works? WHY does it work? Do people really emulate soap opera role models? Do people sometimes find it “preachy”? Or do people identify with the wrong character [the Archie Bunker effect]? How many people do you think your broadcasts have reached?
  • What additional media projects have you developed–TV? other media? your worldwide game? [From the press release: a transmedia program aimed at teens here in the U.S. to help prevent teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS. This cutting edge approach of using multi-platform storytelling (the story’s content is seamlessly delivered through multiple devices including TV, mobile phones and video games), has been proven to strengthen bonds between audience members and the characters, especially youth ages 18-24.]

 [We’ll take a short break and listen to part of another episode of Coconut Bay, then ask our guest Bill Ryerson, about the broader issue of population impact.]

  • You argue that population is “the multiplier of everything else.” Please explain that position.
  • If we look at birth rates and population change over the past century, it sometimes seems as if change just happens and that the consequences are unpredictable. [The birth rate falls in the UK, and suddenly England is importing workers for the jobs Brits don’t want to do.] What are the most important trends (and consequences if the world doesn’t act)?
  • You have argued that that contraception-as-a solution is a myth. Please explain. What are some of the other myths about population solutions?
  • And what are your best hopes for solutions? [An impossibly broad question, we realize.]
  • Population and abortion are still inflammatory issues in this country, and we’ve seen policy changes between the Bush and Obama administrations. What are “we” doing constructively at the moment? What should the U.S. be doing?
  • What other groups or organizations are taking action around the world?
  • How can concerned listeners become involved with or show support for constructive population programs and solutions?

 Our guest has been Bill Ryerson, President of Population Media, you can learn a great deal more about their work by visiting their website We’ll also post links on our website to several related articles by Bill or about the population issue.

 How Soap Operas Might Save Us from Overpopulation

 Population: The Last Taboo

Population: The Multiplier of Everything

Playlist for Ecotopia #101

1. Stay Human (All The Freaky People) 4:27 Michael Franti & Spearhead   Stay Human

2. Worldwide Connected 5:06 The Herbaliser Something Wicked This Way Comes

3. People (Single Version) 3:43 Barbra Streisand People

4. Weave Me the Sunshine 4:28 Peter, Paul And Mary The Very Best of   Peter, Paul and Mary

5. The Road to Utopia 4:54 Utopia Adventures In Utopia

Ecotopia #100 An Interview with Ernest Callenbach

Posted by on 23 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Tonight’s is the 100th installment of Ecotopia. For almost two years, we’ve delighted in exploring ecosystems—environmental, social, and technological. We want to thank KZFR, our listeners, and our financial supporters for making this radio program possible. To celebrate our 100th, we have a special guest interview with Ernest Callenbach, author of Ecotopia, the book from which our show takes its title. (We want to once again thank Jim Reis and Connie Fisher for introducing us to the book and the phrase, Ecotopia.)

Listen to the program

About Ecotopia

The book was published and 1975 and became an instant classic in the science fiction and utopian genres. It is set in the future and is based on the premise that Northern California, Oregon, and Washington have seceded from the United States in order to form a more perfect union.

The Ecotopians have tackled a wide range of social, environmental, and economic problems, from food and sewage to energy and pollution to recycling to transportation to education to equality of sex and race.

The novel is told from the point of view of William Weston, a newspaper writer, who is the first American permitted into Ecotopia in over twenty years, and the book consists of his journal entries and his dispatches back to his newspaper in the U.S.

Initially skeptical, Weston becomes more and more convinced of the validity and vitality of Ecotopian thinking, and at the end of the novel, he faces a difficult decision, whether to return to the United States or to remain in Ecotopia. (You’ll have to read the book for yourselves to find out the answer!)

Our  Questions for Ernest Callenbach

Part I:  Ecotopia the Novel

 –Ecotopia has been a best selling novel since it first appeared in 1975. Please tell us about how you came to conceive and write the book. What were the social, environmental, or political conditions that inspired or motivated you? Who were the major thinkers and writers who influenced you?

–Why did you choose the genre of the utopian novel rather, than, say a collection of essays? What did the novel allow you to do that might not have been possible in essay or editorial form?

–Perhaps you could illustrate Ecotopian thinking for our listeners with one or several examples from the book, e.g.

“Food, Sewage, and Stable States”
“Their Plastic and Ours”
“Work and Play Among the Ecotopians”
“Ecotopian Television”

–As readers, we were puzzled by your chapter on Ritual War Games in Ecotopia, where young men participate in primitive warfare with spears that actually results in injury or death. Do you personally believe that humankind has this dark and savage side that needs to be vented?

–Ecotopia touches on just about every aspect of human life. How did this comprehensive social vision form in your mind? Did it come all at once, in bits and pieces, perhaps even as you wrote?

 II. Ecotopia and the World Today

–What progress (if any) has the world made toward your Ecotopian vision since 1975? What problems have deepened or worsened during that time?

–In the novel, change comes about all at once through secession from the Union. The Ecotopians wipe the slate clean and start over. Do you think a slower or partial transition might be possible or desirable?

–You have written about an intentional living community in Japan that is based on Ecotopian principles, and there are a number of small, sustainable communities around the world and here in California. Please tell us about Ecotopian communities you have visited. What kinds of problems do they encounter and solve?

–Can Ecotopian ideas be implemented in larger communities? Is there hope for some of the cities included in the original borders of Ecotopia such as San Francisco or Portland or Seattle or Berkeley or Chico?

–Could there be a global Ecotopia? The United Nations and the European Union have provided models for progressive social, political, and environmental policies on a large scale. What is your assessment of their efforts?

–A question regularly ask on this program: If wholesale change is to take place, will/can it come about through:

governmental regulation and mandates?
common sense and good will of people?
desperation at the edge of the cliff?
all or none of the above?

–What can our listeners do to help nudge the planet in Ecotopian directions? Can you recommend other books, organizations, or resources to guide them?

Playlist for Ecotopia #100

1. Clear Blue Skies (LP Version)        3:07        Crosby, Still, Nash & Young        
American Dream       
2. Utopia        4:58        Alanis Morissette        Under Rug Swept       
3. Weave Me the Sunshine        4:28        Peter, Paul And Mary        The Very Best of 
Peter, Paul and Mary       
4. Supernova        4:42        Liquid Blue        Supernova       
5. Big Yellow Taxi (LP Version)        2:15        Joni Mitchell        Ladies Of The Canyon

Ecotopia #99 The Eye of the Whale

Posted by on 16 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

17 August 2010

Our guest tonight is Douglas Carlton Abrams author of a new novel called, The Eye of the Whale. It is a “eco adventure” story that focuses on the dangers to the whale population through hunting and through ocean pollution. In researching the novel, Doug investigated problems facing the whale population, and we’ll talk with him about what he discovered.

Listen to the program.

Background on Whale Issues

We’ll begin with some alarming headlines compiled by Ashley Anderson, publicist for Doug Abrams, with whom we’ll be talking:

• A beached whale in Seattle garnered headlines in April 2010 because its stomach was full of plastic and beach towels.• Beluga whales in the remote Hudson Bay are so filled with industrial chemicals, including plasticizers, that they must be treated like toxic waste when their dead bodies wash up on shore.• Congressman Jim Moran of Northern Virginia and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts introduced The Endocrine Disruption Prevention Act in December 2009 to explore linkages between hormone disrupting chemicals in the environment and everyday goods and the dramatic increase of autism, hyperactivity, diabetes, obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer and other hormone related disorders.• Childhood cancer is up by 26 percent, making cancer the greatest threat to children.• 1 in 3 women will develop cancer. 1 in 2 men will develop cancer. • Male fish across the country are developing eggs.• Time Magazine recently published a feature article, “The Perils of Plastic,” investigating endocrine disrupting chemicals found in everyday products.

 The connections among those various headlines about whales and people will become clear later in the show.

In more positive news: The National Resources Defense Council reported in late June that efforts to rescind the 1986 ban on commercial whaling have been thwarted, at least temporarily:

 In a move welcomed by conservationists and pro-whale countries around the world, the International Whaling Commission […] announced that it would postpone a compromise proposal that would have legalized commercial whaling. This move is a dramatic turnaround from years of secret, closed-door negotiations that led to the compromise proposal — a proposal that would have sacrificed the quarter-century old ban on commercial whaling in an attempt to rein in Japan, Iceland and Norway’s annual killings.[The National Resources Defense Council] believes the whaling moratorium to be one of the 20th century’s most iconic conservation victories. It has saved hundreds of thousands of whales since it took effect in 1986. […]


Taryn Kiekow, staff attorney with NRDC’s marine mammal protection program, said:

 “I’m cautiously optimistic. If the pro-whaling compromise is indeed off the table, that will be a huge victory for the whales against terrific odds. The Commission tasked with protecting these mammals has shown great leadership by refusing to adopt a proposal that could have led to the extinction of some already endangered and threatened species.”

“Still, it is not enough that the decision is delayed. The International Whaling Commission must reaffirm its dedication to the preservation and protection of whales around the world. Now is the time to push for the conservation of whales — without trading away the moratorium. Every day marine mammals face new attacks from entanglement, ship strikes, and pollution. It was reckless for the Commission to even consider sanctioning their slaughter at this time.”

 [Even so, NRDC reports that ] Japan, Iceland and Norway have killed roughly 35,000 whales since the moratorium was introduced in 1986. In Japan’s case, the killings have been justified under the guise of “scientific research.” Prior to the 1986 whaling moratorium, roughly 38,000 whales were killed annually (between 1945 and 1986), compared with an average of 1,240 whales killed per year after the moratorium (1987 onwards).

 Our Conversation with Douglas Carlton Abrams

 Listeners may recall that two weeks ago, we talked with Skipper Jo Royle of the Plastiki about her concern for plastic pollution in the seas. And some months back, we talked with Simon Avery, who is a pilot on the Sea Shepherd efforts to harass illegal Japanese whaling.

 Our guest tonight offers insights into those concerns and more. He’s Douglas Carlton Abrams, and he has written a novel called Eye of the Whale. It’s a suspense novel centered on saving a stranded whale in the Sacramento Delta; it’s also research-based and serves as a serious warning not only about the whales, but about human health in an increasingly polluted world.

 We asked Doug to set the scene for us a read from the novel to give readers a sense of the book. He reads from Chapter 2, where the heroine, Elizabth McKay is able to swim with the whales and observe the birth of a humpback whale.

Our Questions for Doug Abrams:

–The Eye of the Whale is what you call “fact-based fiction.” Please tell us what that is and how you came to write a novel about whales and their plight.

–We DON’T want to ask you which parts of the book are “true” and which are “false,” but rather, let’s focus on what you learned as you did your research for the book.

  • You swam with the whales and looked one in the eye. Please tell us about that.

Part of Elizabeth McKay’s work centers on the songs of whales, so before we ask Doug Abrams about that, let’s listen to a short piece from Songs of the Humpback Whale.

  • You did a great deal of research into whale songs and communication, and this plays a major role in the novel. Who are some of the researchers that you talked with and what did you learn?
  • It seems like an unlikely theme for a novel, but this book is about endocrine disruption. What is that, and what did you learn? [Pete Myers, with whom you spoke, also appeared here in Chico last year at the sustainability conference, and we were enlightened his discussion how small quantities of toxic chemicals have effects that have been previously ignored.]
  • In one of the subplots of your novel, activists go to Japan to dramatically protest Japanese whaling practices. Please tell us how that became a part of your book.

–You are an environmentalist as well as a writer. What do you see as the greatest threats to the environment right now? Are threats such as ocean pollution and global warming reversible? or at least controllable to the level that some of the threats you describe can be neutralized?

–Your heroine, Elizabeth McKay, winds up testifying before Congress, and you acknowledge the work of Senator Boxer and others in “trying to address the environmental crises we face.” What did you learn about Congressional efforts to take action?

–We’ve done several programs on international efforts at saving the environment, including the Copenhagen Climate Change conference. Do you think these efforts are likely to make a significant impact? Are the Obama administration’s goals strong enough to make a difference? Do you think our Congress can pass significant climate change legislation?

–A question we often ask on this show: Do you think threats to the environment can be eliminated through:  government mandates?  government incentives?  the good will of people doing the right thing?  humankind being pushed to the edge of the cliff?

–How can our listeners become involved in the issues discussed in Eye of the Whale? Are there some watchdog organizations you can recommend?

What’s your next project?

 We’ve been talking with Douglas Carlton Abrams, author of The Eye of the Whale. It’s published by Atria Books, which is a division of Simon and Schuster. You can learn more about Doug and his work at his website and at

Two Resources for Learning More About Saving the WhalesThe National Resources Defense Council has been fighting efforts to compromise the international whale hunting ban. NRDC also has a broader aim of saving the world’s ocean health, and their web site is a great resource for information on myriad threats to the seas and sea creatures. They also have an excellent action page which makes it easy for you to send your opinions to legislators on a wide range of environmental issues. They’re at, .

 We also encourage you to check out the Save the Whales site, which includes a great deal of basic information on various whales and their nature and habitat, plus action links, additional media resources, and excellent activities for kids.

Playlist for Ecotopia #99 –The Eye of the Whale

1.  The Whale Song      2:25    Hoagy Carmichael
Hoagy Carmichael: The First Of The Singer-Songwriters
2.  Song Of The Whale – Part One: From Dawn … 8:20    Tangerine
Dream   Underwater Sunlight
3.  Song of the World’s Last Whale      2:39    Pete Seeger   At 89
4.  Solo Whale          9:29    Humpback Whales  Songs of the Humpback Whale
5.  Who Is She / Song For The Whales    5:12    Petra Haden and Woody Jackson  Ten Years
6.  Weave Me the Sunshine       4:28    Peter, Paul And Mary  The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary
7.  Calypso     3:49    John Denver  Earth Songs

Ecotopia #98 Gardening–Summer Into Fall

Posted by on 10 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

August 10, 2010

Tonight we are going to discuss Gardening—Summer into Autumn—in the Northstate. We’ll be interviewing two guests tonight. First, David Grau is joining us in the studio. David Grau is the owner of Valley Oak Tool Company and organizer of the Organic Gardening Classes that have been conducted at the Chico Grange for the past two years  The newsletters from that class are filled with gardening tips, really, practically a whole course on organic farming and gardening. You can find issues of the newsletter by going to the website: Click on the link on the left “Organic Gardening Newsletter.”

In the second half of the show, we have an interview with Jennifer Jewel. Jennifer is a Northstate garden writer, and her radio program on KCHO—In a Northstate Garden—can be heard on Saturday and Sunday mornings. We talked with her last week in her garden here in Chico. Jennifer Jewel’s website includes many excellent resources for those interesting in knowing about and creating gardens. Her “Regional Resources” include information on:
–Botanic, Teaching and Open Gardens
–National & State Garden Club Organizations
–Regional Garden Clubs
–Plant Societies
–Master Gardener Programs
–Independent Nurseries
–Horticulture Libraries & Bookstores
–Regional Gardening Publications

She also has a list of websites and blogs that are related to gardening, farming, landscape and food, including some of our favorites, The Chico Permaculture Guild, GRUB, Local Harvest, River Partners, and the Shasta Slow Food Cascade.

Conducting our interviews tonight are Jef Inslee, a new programmer here at KZFR, and Susan Tchudi, co-host of Ecotopia.

Listen to Jef Inslee’s interview with Jennifer Jewel.

Our Conversation with David Grau

 Thank you for joining us in the studio this evening. As you know, tonight we also will be including a pre-recorded interview that we did last week with Jennifer Jewell about what to think about this time of year in your ornamental or mixed garden. Given your expertise and experience with vegetable gardens, we’d like to hear your advise on what we should or could be doing in our vegetable gardens. Of course, that discussion could span several hours, so maybe you can talk to us about  some of the general themes that we should be focusing on right now. It’s early August in California’s North State region, so even though we may be at the peak of summer, we have several more months of potential growing season.

 1. We’ve just retired some of my tomato plants and replaced them with new cherry tomato plants. How do we know when to remove zucchini, bean,  and tomato plants? Any of the plants that are indeterminate producers.

2. Do you think we can still plant potatoes? And if so, what are the varieties that work well for layering. And by layering we mean adding soil vertically as the potato plants grow in order to increase the potato yield.

3. Early this spring we planted several raspberry plants and built an inadequate trellis system. Now that part of the garden is just chaos and we have no idea what to do. Is there any way  to regain some control? And what kind of maintenance is required for plants like this, including grapes.

4. Tell us about some of the reliable fall favorites to plant. And maybe some unusual and unique vegetables or fruits that we might want to experiment with.

5. As our vegetable plants come to the end of their usefulness, what should we do with all of that empty garden space? Is there anything that we can do to improve or protect the soil over the fall and winter

6. Tell us about the Organic Gardening Class for the coming year. Who do you have on tap so far?

7. Susan and Steve participated in your first class, but were out of the country for the second class, so we followed it via the newsletters. We know it’s probably hard to choose but: What have been some of the most engaging surprising and/or interesting sessions you’ve had. (We remember one report about soil science with Carl Rosato and the Organic Flower Farm owner . . . )

8. Are there some newsletters that you’ve gotten particularly positive response to? What are some highlights people might find there?

We’ve been talking with David Grau, owner of Valley Oak Tools and organizer of the Winter/Spring Organic Gardening classes at the Chico Grange. His website is where you can read newsletters from past organic gardening classes.

Playlist for Ecotopia #98: Gardening–Summer Into Fall 

1. Seed 6:25 Afro Celt Sound System Seed

2. Lean In 5:15 MaMuse All The Way

3. Poor Old Dirt Farmer 3:53 Levon Helm Dirt Farmer

4. Mr. Soil’s Song 1:45 Singin’ Steve Billy the Bean

5. Zemelya-Chernozem. Black Soil. (Variations ) 3:35 Andrei Krylov Russian Classical Guitar Music. Vol 2. Romance, Folk Songs.

6. Weave Me the Sunshine 4:28 Peter, Paul And Mary The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

7. Plant a Radish 2:34 Hugh Thomas & William Larsen The Fantasticks (Soundtrack from the Musical)

8. Food Food Food (Oh How I Love my Food) 2:10 The Wiggles Toot Toot

#97 Plastiki Arrives

Posted by on 03 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

August 3, 2010

As many listeners know, for the past several months, we’ve been following the voyage of the Plastiki, a catamaran constructed principally from recycled plastic water and soft drink bottles. Last week, the Plastiki landed in Sydney, Australia, after a 8000 nautical mile voyage that started in San Francisco. We have twice interviewed the Plastiki skipper, Jo Royle, and we’ll talk with again her tonight from dry land in Sydney.

Listen to the program.

Background on the Plastiki and Ocean Plastics

Here’s a news release that came out from the Plastiki project: 11.10am – Monday 26 July 2010 – Sydney time.  The headline reads: “Message in a bottle to beat waste has global impact to create change”

 After sailing more than 8,000 nautical miles and spending 128 days crossing the Pacific […]in a boat made of 12,500 plastic PET bottles [–PET stands for Polyethylene terephthalate, the stuff plastic soda bottles are made of], the Plastiki expedition and her crew have safely and successfully reached their planned destination of Sydney to cheers of welcome and support.

Arriving at Sydney Heads at 11.10am local time with a 12 knot south south easterly breeze, the Plastiki triumphantly sailed into Sydney Harbour to cheers of welcome and support from a small spectator flotilla.[…]The historic expedition was completed in four legs : San Francisco – Kiribati – Western Samoa – New Caledonia before reaching the Australian Coast (Mooloolaba) on Monday 19 July and continuing on to Sydney.

[Expedition leader David de Rothschild said,] “It’s an incredible feeling to finally arrive in Sydney. We had great faith in the design and construction of Plastiki and while many people doubted we’d make it, we have proved that a boat made from plastic bottles can stand up to the harsh conditions of the Pacific.” […]

[De Rothschild also] paid tribute to his fellow adventurers, Jo Royle (Skipper), David Thomson (Co-Skipper), Graham Hill (Founder of, Olav Heyerdahl [grandson of Kon Tiki rafter Thor Heyerdahl], Matthew Grey, Luca Babini (Photographer), Vern Moen (Myoo Media Film maker), Max Jourdan and Singeli Agnew (National Geographic Film makers) for their skill and commitment during the voyage.

“Jo and the rest of the crew did a remarkable job sailing the Plastiki safely across the Pacific and it is due to their collective efforts that we’ve been able to raise global awareness of the issue of plastic waste in the world’s oceans.

 To give us further perspective on the problem of plastic in the oceans, we’ll quote from another source, Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. He has written that “Plastic is Drastic.”

There is a large part of the central Pacific Ocean that no one ever visits and only a few ever pass through. Sailors avoid it like the plague for it lacks the wind they need to sail. Fisherman leave it alone because its lack of nutrients makes it an oceanic desert. This area includes the “horse latitudes,” where stock transporters in the age of sail got stuck, ran out of food and water and had to jettison their horses and other livestock. Surprisingly, this is the largest ocean realm on our planet, being about the size of Africa- over ten million square miles. […]

Because of the stability of this gentle maelstrom, the largest uniform climatic feature on earth is also an accumulator of the debris of civilization. Anything that floats, no matter where it comes from on the north Pacific Rim or ocean, ends up here, sometimes after drifting around the periphery for twelve years or more. Historically, this debris did not accumulate because it was eventually broken down by microorganisms into carbon dioxide and water.

 [The place Captain Moore is describing is the called the Pacific Garbage Patch, where huge quanities of throwaway plastics accumulate, and the Plastiki expedition sailed quite close to it.]

Captain Charles Moore continues:

 Now, however, in our battle to store goods against natural deterioration, we have created a class of products that defeats even the most creative and insidious bacteria. They are plastics. Plastics are now virtually everywhere in our modern society. We drink out of them, eat off of them, sit on them, and even drive in them. They’re durable, lightweight, cheap, and can be made into virtually anything. But it is these useful properties of plastics, which make them so harmful when they end up in the environment. Plastics, like diamonds, are forever!

If plastic doesn’t biodegrade, what does it do? It “photo-degrades” – a process in which it is broken down by sunlight into smaller and smaller pieces, all of which are still plastic polymers, eventually becoming individual molecules of plastic, still too tough for anything to digest. […] [In our research voyage out from Santa Barbara, we found] Everything from huge hawsers to tiny fragments [,forming into windrows that are] miles long[…].. We picked up hundreds of pounds of netting of all types bailed together in this system along with every type and size of debris imaginable.

Sometimes, windrows […] drift down over the Hawaiian Islands. That is when Waimanalo Beach on Oahu gets coated with blue green plastic sand, along with staggering amounts of larger debris. Farther to the northwest, at the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, monk seals, the most endangered mammal species in the United States, get entangled in debris, especially cheap plastic nets lost or discarded by the fishing industry. Ninety percent of Hawaiian green sea turtles nest here and eat the debris, mistaking it for their natural food, as do Laysan and Black Footed Albatross. Indeed, the stomach contents of Laysan Albatross look like the cigarette lighter shelf at a convenience store they contain so many of them.

It’s not just entanglement and indigestion that are problems caused by plastic debris, however. There is a darker side to pollution of the ocean by ubiquitous plastic fragments. As these fragments float around, they accumulate the poisons we manufacture for various purposes that are not water-soluble. It turns out that plastic polymers are sponges for DDT, PCBs and nonylphenols -oily toxics that don’t dissolve in seawater. Plastic pellets have been found to accumulate up to one million times the level of these poisons that are floating in the water itself. These are not like heavy metal poisons which affect the animal that ingests them directly. Rather, they are what might be called “second generation “ toxics [, and] they have been shown to have a number of negative effects in everything from birds and fish to humans. The whole issue of hormone disruption is becoming one of, if not the biggest environmental issue of the 21st Century.

He concludes:

I know that when people think of the deep blue ocean, they see images of pure, clean, unpolluted water. After we sample the surface water in the central Pacific, I often dive over with a snorkel and a small aquarium net. I have yet to come back after a fifteen minute swim without plastic fragments for my collection. I can no longer see pristine images when I think of the briny deep.

There is much more to the article.  Read it at

Our Discussion with Jo Royle

Jo Royle is an incredibly accomplished ocean sailor, including skippering the only all female team in a two person transAtlantic Race, but she is also an environmentalist, with graduate work in Environmental Science and Society at the University of Central London.

  • In the first part of the interview, we’d like you to tell us all about your trip. Was it fantastic, or what?
  • How well did the Plastiki perform? both as a sailing vessel and as home for the crew?
  • What was your route across the Pacific?
  • We read that you went near, but did not venture into, the Pacific Garbage Patch. Please tell us about that?
  • There must have been some scary moments. Please give us a vicarious thrill by telling about them?
  • How do you cope with claustrophobia on a trip like this? Where do you go when you want to get away from the crew? How do you pass the time in the boring stretches?
  • What was your reception like in your ports of call?
  • You had filmmakers on board? When will the movie be out?
  • Where is the Plastiki now, and what will become of it? 

    You have studied environmental science and are concerned about the intersection of science and society.

  • Let’s start with the science. What are some of the things you learned about the condition of the oceans from the Plastiki voyage. How bad are things? What was the evidence you saw or collected?
  • And the social aspects: What, if anything, can be done to keep plastic out of the ocean? Is this a reversible process?
  • We’re assuming you and the crew monitored the Gulf Oil Spill, which was taking place concurrently. Are there observations you can make that relate to your primary concern for plastics at sea? [We note that just two weeks after the oil flow was stopped, specialists are talking about how the oil is dissipating, evaporating, biodegrading. It’s not the same with plastics, is it?]
  • Are plastics-at-sea something that can be controlled through regulation? international agreements? Alternatively, are we possibly dependent on humans’ good will and sense of responsibility to cut down on plastic pollution?
  • What are the next steps, either for you personally or for the Plastiki campaign?
  • Are there other organizations that share you concern? How can listeners learn more and become involved?
  • Where will you sail next?

 Be sure to check out the Plastiki web site, which includes photos and videos of the expedition, Jo’s own blog, and information on how you can contribute to the campaign.

Additional Resources on Plastics in the OceanIn doing research for this program we discovered another daunting voyage that is taking place to publicize the problem. Go to to learn of the voyage of a man named Tom Jones, who is paddling from Key West, Florida, to New York City. He started May 12 and expects to finish August 28. The web site reads:

[For Tom] To accomplish this feat, the land mass between Key West and New York City is broken down into daily “legs” of paddling. Because of the continual unpredictability of weather and especially high winds, Tom has the option to paddle each daily leg either North or South depending on what he has to face on the water that day. Every day, starting and ending GPS points are precisely logged so that the distance paddled creates a continuous line that will cover the entire coast from the starting point at the Southernmost Buoy in Key West, Florida, to the world-record finish in Battery Park, New York.

The website has additional information on the plastics problem in the sea and sponsors campaigns to raise public awareness.

We also recommend a website, Ocean, which has a portal to other organizations the are concerned with a broad range of ocean issues.

Playlist for Ecotopia #97: Plastiki Arrives

 Pollution 4:50 Basskick   Sound Of The Nature – Collection 5

Pacific Ocean Blues 2:37 Dennis Wilson   Pacific Ocean Blue & Bambu

Sail On, Sailor 3:19 The Beach Boys    Greatest Hits Volume 3: The Best Of The Brother Years 1970 – 1986

Weave Me the Sunshine 4:28 Peter, Paul And Mary    The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

 Bali H’ai 3:29 Juanita Hall    South Pacific (Original Broadway Cast)

Calypso 3:49 John Denver  Earth Songs