Gambling on Humanity

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

It’s hard to think too far ahead into the future without feeling a certain amount of despair about humanity’s prospects but then someone like 29-year-old Boyan Slat comes along and makes environmental repair feel totally possible. How can it not when this young Dutch inventor created a giant “vacuum cleaner” for waterways that has prevented 77 tons of trash from flowing into the Pacific this past winter in Los Angeles County alone?
The salvation of the world’s oceans has been Slat’s single-minded goal from the age of 16 after he saw more plastic bags than fish while on a diving trip to Greece. Two years later he founded The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit. With an estimated 80% of plastic flowing directly into oceans from only 1% of the world’s rivers, those rivers are The Ocean Cleanup’s entire focus for now. It currently has 11 high-tech barges dispatched around the world at key waterways and plans to add hundreds more with the goal of collecting 90% of floating plastic pollution by 2040.
That is the kind of hope that feels solid. But maybe also the kind of hope that lets me put it all out of my mind while the world goes on producing about 400 million metrics tons of plastic waste each year, with roughly half of it being tossed out after a single use. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that when New York journalist A.J. Jacobs set off to live one single day without coming in contact with any plastic at all, it was impossible and also really, really complicated to prepare for. He couldn’t sleep in his bed. He couldn’t walk on his carpeting. He couldn’t use his iPhone. He couldn’t open food packages. He couldn’t open his bathroom door. He had to get a completely new set of bathroom supplies packaged in burlap. (Okay, not burlap but something earthy.) Basically, his wife had to do a lot of stuff for him in their apartment and that was all before he even attempted to walk out into the world. By day’s end, he’d committed 164 violations of plastic interactivity. In other words, we are literally living and breathing plastic. We are probably part plastic ourselves.
But we’re not sitting around at Northern Light. Last April we signed the Health Sector Climate Pledge promising to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50% by year 2030 and 100% by 2050. A Climate Health Team is investigating the areas across the system that need modification and developing a mitigation plan. Annual data is being collected across the system with a baseline year of 2021 – 2022 already established. All projects and capital purchases are being undertaken in consideration of environmental impact. A lot is going on. That feels good. Find out more about Northern Light’s sustainability work right here.
Doesn’t it also feel like we are at a juncture in which every move we make matters in a real way, perhaps more consequentially than at any other point in history? It’s a lot to take in. A lot of dismay to feel for where we have gone with this planet. But despite it all, poet Ayisha Siddiqa would gamble on humanity a hundred times over. She’d choose this world all over again, even if that meant “following love into extinction.” This stark poem doesn’t shy away from our reality and some dire potentialities, but in the end, it comes back to the ultimate truth of love, the love that moved a 16-year-old boy to save the oceans, the love that moves through us every day. Love makes a lot possible.
To love,