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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review August 8, 2006 / 14 Menachem-Av, 5766

The coming tsunami of trash

By Niall Ferguson


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | There is a wonderfully sinister poem by Edgar Allan Poe, "The City in the Sea," which depicts an Atlantis-like metropolis lost beneath the "melancholy waters" of a "lurid sea." The sea lures us from our cities to its shores at this time of year. This summer, however, I cannot help thinking of Poe's lines as a kind of prophecy:

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne

In a strange city lying alone

Far down within the dim West,

Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best

Have gone to their eternal rest.


Why am I haunted by this image of a sunken city? I think because it symbolizes the coming revenge of the sea on mankind for nearly a century of mistreatment. It was 99 years ago that Leo Hendrik Baekeland invented the first plastic based on a synthetic polymer — Bakelite — and ushered in the age of plastic. From that moment, a new kind of pollutant entered the sea; one that took a century or more to degrade.

The plastic plague is a global epidemic. According to the United Nations Environment Program, about 46,000 pieces of plastic are floating on every square mile of the world's oceans.

The problem is more than merely aesthetic. Last week, this newspaper carried a shocking report from Midway Atoll, which is about as isolated a spot as the world has to offer. Hardly anyone lives there, so the number of bottles thrown in the sea can't be large. And yet birdlife on Midway is being devastated as albatrosses inadvertently feed their chicks lethal fragments of plastic picked up from what's known as the Eastern Garbage Patch, a virtual island of trash formed by the currents of the North Pacific subtropical gyre.

The patch is not so much a city in the sea as a municipal dump on the sea. Albatrosses are not the only victims. Untold numbers of fish and marine mammals are killed each year by discarded fishing nets, compounding the chronic problem of overfishing. But what to do?

In economic terms, the pollution of the oceans is the ultimate "tragedy of the commons." As popularized by the ecologist Garrett Hardin, the tragedy is that an area of open pasture will tend to be depleted and eventually destroyed if the benefits of exploitation accrue to individuals, while the costs of exploitation are shared. When people dump rubbish in the sea, they are acting like a medieval farmer who overgrazed the common land. The rubbish is disposed of at no cost to the polluter, just as the farmer's cattle get fed for free. But everyone loses if the sea becomes a cesspool, just as everyone lost if the commons became a desert.

There are two classic solutions to this kind of problem. The first is regulation by a higher authority. In the case of the oceans, this solution is already in place, in the form of the 1994 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The problem, as with so many U.N. documents, is the lack of effective enforcement. So what about the alternative solution, namely privatization?

In early modern England, common land was progressively "enclosed" — claimed and fenced by individual landowners. In theory, of course, some parts of the sea have already been enclosed, in that countries with coastlines lay claim to coastal waters and fisheries. Yet, even if all such claims were universally respected, vast tracts of the world's oceans would remain "no man's water." In any case, it is far from clear that national governments are effective custodians even of their own coastal waters, because it is precisely there that most pollution of the sea occurs.

This, then, could be the ultimate tragedy of the commons. "The men of the hydrocarbon age," a future historian may write, "busied themselves with extracting oil from under the land and the seabed. Much of the oil they burned to heat their homes, fuel their vehicles and power their factories. But some of it they used to make plastic, a substance they valued for its durability.

"Perversely, men employed this almost indestructible petroleum product for quite ephemeral purposes. They obsessively wrapped it around everything they ate and drank. The result was that each human meal generated a substantial quantity of waste in the form of soiled plastic containers. Some they burned. Some they buried in huge holes. But a considerable quantity of this plastic ended up in the sea.

"Because plastic tends to float, the rubbish came to cover ever wider areas of the ocean's surface. Currents and tides deposited a proportion on beaches all over the world, but much of it remained out of sight in 'Garbage Patches.' As the principal victims of plastic pollution were birds, fish and sea mammals, men paid little attention. Only a few recalled Edgar Allan Poe's lines:

The waves have now a redder glow —

The hours are breathing faint and low —

And when, amid no earthly moans,

Down, down that town shall settle hence,

Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,

Shall do it reverence.
"

So enjoy the seaside. But beware the coming tsunami of trash.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.


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Niall Ferguson is a professor of history at Harvard University. He is the author of "Empire" (Basic Books, 2003) and "Colossus" (Penguin, 2004). Comment by clicking here.


07/18/06: Forget the '60s and ‘Make Love, Not War.’ Today's world is facing a Summer of Rage
07/11/06: When will China pull the plug on North Korea?
06/20/06: Hedge funds vs. central bankers: Will inflation, deflation or recession win in the coming months?
06/13/06: Britain's economy is just like America's — minus the entrepreneurs and growth
06/06/06: The X-Men have taken over Washington
05/30/06: Quit protesting, profs!
05/23/06: World markets' wild ride: Economic volatility is back with a vengeance
05/16/06: The Cold Wars are coming
05/09/06: Many commentators are missing dangerous political shift
05/02/06: Put some sugar in your tank
04/25/06: Hu and the dog that didn't bark
04/18/06: Should Americans be less optimistic?
04/11/06: Globalization's second death?
04/04/06: So many ‘special’ friends
03/28/06: Let's get it right about what has gone wrong
03/21/06: Congress is trying to give the world a globotomy
03/14/06: Lame ducks can still bite back
03/07/06: A 19th Century critique of a 21st Century president
02/28/06: The crash of civilizations
02/21/06: Not the president, but close
02/14/06: Want historic trouble? Look south
02/07/06: Greenspan advising Britain? It's housing bubbles, deficits and potential meltdowns all over again
01/31/06: Missing the Cold War
01/24/06: It's a sick, Thick World
01/17/06: Tomorrow's world war today
01/03/06: Scotland, it's over, but keep the accents
12/20/05: History, democracy and Iraq
12/20/05: History, democracy and Iraq
11/22/05: Ghost of Napoleon haunts Tony Blair
11/22/05: Can it happen in Britain too?
11/15/05: Red plus blue equals purple
11/10/05: The fires of disintegration
11/01/05: Triumph of an über-wonk

© 2006, Los Angeles Times Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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