It is easier to give way to negativity, be subsumed by the status quo, and adopt a Nihilistic perspective on life. It is harder by far to choose to cultivate a positive outlook which ignores commonly held limitations and the dark attraction of the inertia of oblivion. While many in Generation Y have given themselves up to the inevitable slide, Dutch 21 year old Boyan Slat had a simple inspiration which he has turned into a planet shifting project. Addressing the crippling ocean pollution Slat invented an Ocean Clean-Up Array with the projected capacity to remove 72.5 million tons of plastic and trash from the ocean. Sidestepping the constant negativity which idealists and inventors must contend with, Slat’s concept has stood up to initial testing and is set to be in effect by 2020, making our world a better place through positive thinking.
The reality of ocean pollution is far outside the conception of most people, but currently the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is twice the size of France. In 2009 “There are now 46,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre of the world's oceans, killing a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals each year” (Grant). This number grows every year, polluting the entire food chain, and represents a serious threat to human health. However, in 2009 people agreed largely that there was nothing to be done, and envisioned the problem getting worse (Grant). That has changed since 2012 when a young Dutch boy shared a simple idea with the global community.
It is notable that American Nihilism and consumerism is blunting the edge of the nation to the degree that the once bright star may be becoming eclipsed by the emerging brilliance of other countries who may have been inspired by the American Dream. The Dutch people have reported record highs on the international happiness index, and enjoy peace and prosperity. This is the environment in which natural genius flourishes. Boyan Slat is a nature lover, and a keen observer of his world. He describes the inception of the Ocean Clean-Up Array; When I was 16 years old, I was diving in Greece and suddenly I realized I came across more plastic bags than fish in the ocean. For my high school science I then dedicated half a year to the problem itself, and why floating ocean plastic is so difficult to clean up. I’d always been interested in and then came up with a concept of how I thought we could feasibly clean the ocean garbage patches. (Singh).
When other nature lovers were despairing at the death of their world, or protesting corporate indifference, or working on legislation to ban plastic bags, Slat took direct action. The power of his desire to enjoy the natural beauty of the planet, and his unwillingness to allow his imagination to be limited by the stifling status quo led Slat to other; In October of 2012 I presented this idea at a TEDx conference, and then spent several months with professors and industry experts, compiling a list of 50 questions that should be answered in order to confirm feasibility. One year ago the idea suddenly went viral on the internet, which enabled me to raise funds and assemble a team of 100 people, which whom I’ve now published an extensive study indicating the concept’s feasibility. (Singh)
Slat came at the problem of ocean pollution from a different perspective. There is an old parable of a rich raja living in an ancient desert. However, the raja was tired of the hot sand burning his feet, and gathering his advisers and go-to men together told them he had an idea-pave the desert over with leather so he could walk where he pleased without discomfort. While most of the raja’s advisers cow-towed and praised the genius of their leader while sweating with the terror of the task, one adviser had the courage to suggest, “Instead of putting leather over the entire desert why do I not make a patch of leather to put over your majestic foot so that wherever you tread it is made safe?” The agreed to this simple and brilliant idea, and sandals were born. In a similar fashion, Slat studied the and saw there had been many conceptual attempts at cleaning up the ocean. He understood these methods,were all based on vessels with nets, that would fish for plastic. Not only would this take billions of dollars and 79,000 years, but it would also create by-catch and emissions. Not a very attractive proposal. the plastic rotates in the areas where the plastic concentrates, so it does not stay in one spot. So I wondered; why move through the oceans, if the oceans can move through you? I came up with a passive system of floating barriers that is attached to the and oriented in a V-shape. The barriers first catch, and then concentrate the plastic, enabling a platform to efficiently extract the plastic once it arrives in the center of the V. (Singh).
This realization would end up being the pivotal aspect of the idea which has projected that half the Great Pacific garbage patch could be cleaned up in ten years. As a natural and a keen observer of human character, Slat was not surprised by the whirlwind of criticism he received when the Ocean Clean-Up Array was still in the concept phase. He commented that this is the inventor’s dilemma, and, “To further develop an idea, you are forced to do some communication: setting up a webpage, talking to people, etc., but with the risk it gets picked up by the media, and you get criticized by peers because it is just an idea” (Singh). However, Slat was motivated by his total faith that his passion was founded in truth, and in the essential benefit to humanity that cleaning up the oceans would bring.
Rather than envision a more positive future many people responded to Slat’s idea with criticism and naysaying. Some excuses of the status quo:
These are the excuses of those who are not creative and do not have the desire for positive change. If there is a keen enough motivation (like oil under the sea bed) people will find a way, invent a way, and Slat’s desire is a pristine environment to enjoy and play in.
During the process of beginning initial testing, recruiting experts and volunteers, Slat commented, “Only if you realize change is more important than money, money will come” (Singh). Many of Slat’s comments are stylized in a somewhat Zen fashion, reflecting his intimacy with nature which is the greatest support network for natural genius. Thus, he understands that the widespread pollution of the environment is also polluting the psychic and emotional health of humanity, who need a loving relationship with nature as much as they need anything. Such a pristine motivation as Slat’s creates positive feedback loops. In opposition, the corrupted motivations of corporations who contribute to such pollution create negative feedback loops.
One example of the positive feedback is the fact that plastics pulled out of the ocean have the capacity to be recycled into new products! However, Slat understands that cleaning up the oceans is only a starting point towards increasing positive feedbacks, and emphasizes; There is no single answer to preventing plastic from reaching the oceans. It starts with raising awareness about the existence of the problem…. However, I don’t think this will be enough to significantly stem the flow of new plastics into the oceans on the short term. Infrastructural improvements, legislation aimed at certain high-risk products like microbeads, and alternative materials are different aspects. The Ocean Cleanup has plans to explore the possibilities of intercepting plastic in rivers before it reaches the oceans in the upcoming phase of the project. (Singh).
This is the attitude which supports the context for widespread change, whereas so many people entranced by the status quo become too discouraged to envision a positive future. As reported Vibeke Venema asks, “But can the system really work - and is there any point when so much new plastic waste is still flowing into the sea every day?” (Venema). The real question is why ask such a question when the result of doing nothing is the death of the biosphere? When Slat began inquiring what was being done about ocean pollution, “’Everyone said to me: ‘Oh there’s nothing you can do about plastic once it gets into the oceans,’ and I wondered whether that was true’” (Venema). What this response really refers to is the status quo operation of out of sight out of mind, and the fundamental disregard of the environment. If people really cared about environmental health they would make the changes necessary to see it occur, such as not buying gas from BP to show polluters that they will be punished for disregarding environmental health. However, many consumers are conditioned to believe their actions do not matter and that they do not have the power to shape corporate policy when in fact they are the only ones with the power to do so.
This is a power which Slat understands, and he knows that a grand passion eclipses all perception of limitation. To this status quo mindset Slat offers, “I don't understand why ‘obsessive’ has a negative connotation, I'm an obsessive and I like it…I get an idea and I stick to it” (Venema). After all, it takes stick-to-it-ness to accomplish anything of worth, and what could be of greater worth that cleaning up the environment to enable humanity to live on and thrive on the planet? During his TedTalk Slat emphasized that the time to clean up the ocean is now while the debris is still big enough to be collected, for in fifty years much of it will have been broken down into smaller and smaller pieces which will become more and more difficult to remove (TedxTalks). The ocean cleaning system will be the largest structure ever deployed into the ocean, at 2,000 meters, and will stand as a symbol for positive change (Anonymous).
Where there is a will there is a way, and what humanity is lacking is not inventiveness but passion fueled by empowered positivity. Boyan Slat is one of the many examples of the youth who are unwilling to write their lives and future’s off before they have even begun, and have the ingenuity and positive thinking to change the world. Cleaning up the ocean is one step towards cleaning up the detritus which is choking the human heart.
1. Excuses pulled from Michael Dumiak’s article, “Is Boyan Slat's idea to clean plastic from the oceans fatally flawed?”
Anonymous. “20-Year-Old Inventor Builds The First Cleaning System That Could Rid The Ocean Of Waste.” Anonhq.com, 7 June 2015. Retrieved from: http://anonhq.com/20-year-old-inventor-builds-first-cleaning-system-rid-ocean-waste/
Dumiak, Michael. “Is Boyan Slat's idea to clean plastic from the oceans fatally flawed?” ABC, 17 Dec. 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.abc.net.au/environment/articles/2013/12/16/3911379.htm
Grant, Richard. “Drowning in plastic: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is twice the size of France.” The Telegraph, 24 Apr. 2009. Retrieved from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/environment/5208645/Drowning-in-plastic-The-Great-Pacific-Garbage-Patch-is-twice-the-size-of-France.html
Singh, Timon. “19-Year-Old’s Ocean Cleanup Array Could Clean Half the Pacific Garbage Patch in 10 Years, Study Shows.” Inhabit.com, 15 June 2014. Retrieved from: http://inhabitat.com/19-year-olds-ocean-cleanup-array-could-clean-half-the-pacific-garbage-patch-in-10-years-study-shows/
Singh, Timon. “INTERVIEW: Boyan Slat, Teenage Inventor of the Ocean Cleanup Array.” Inbabit.com, 10 Oct. 2014. Retrieved from: http://inhabitat.com/interview-boyan-slat-teenage-inventor-of-the-ocean-cleanup-array/
TedxTalks. “How the oceans can clean themselves: Boyan Slat at TEDxDelft.” Youtube, 24 Oct. 2012. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROW9F-c0kIQ
Venema, Vibeke. “The Dutch boy mopping up a sea of plastic.” BBC, 17 Oct. 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29631332