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There is a growing tendency on the part of the public—and its leaders—to believe what they want to believe. To hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see.

Decision-making based on tried and tested scientific methods have been jettisoned and replaced with policies founded on short-term expediency.

Hard decisions have been repeatedly postponed because they are politically unpalatable. Or, alternatively, they have simply been ignored.

Next week there is a dangerous example of one this blinkered approach to world problems—the UN conference on the future of the oceans., which, appropriately enough, coincides with World Oceans Day.

There is more water than earth on Earth. Three quarters of the our planet’s surface is covered by oceans. Of the estimated 8.7 million plant and animal species, 2.2 million are found under the surface of the water.

The oceans provide roughly 15 percent of the world’s food,  and jobs for about 10 percent of the human workforce.

Scientists say that the oceans absorb nine-tenths of the greenhouse gas emissions that are pumped into the air by factories and car exhausts. They play a major role in controlling the weather. Hurricanes form in the South Atlantic and travel to the Caribbean and North Atlantic. The Gulf Stream makes Northern Europe habitable and El Nino affects weather patterns across the globe.

Coral reefs provide vital nitrogen and nutrients for the planet’s food chain. They are spawning grounds for most of the fish we eat and they protect coastlines from damaging wave action and tropical storms. And yet, because of human pollution, it has been estimated that the coral reefs could disappear by 2050.

Because the oceans are vast expanses which stretch beyond the horizon and to unplumbed depths they have been viewed by successive generations either as a limitless resource or an immense dumping ground. For millennia it has been the repository for human sewage, but since the start of the 20th century its role as a huge watery trash can has grown exponentially.

Between 1946 and 1993,  13 countries used the oceans to dump nuclear waste. Barrels filled with radioactive materials are gradually deteriorating and releasing radiation into the oceans.

But that not is all, an estimated 200 million tons of toxic waste are deposited in the world’s oceans every year.

Plastics—toys, tools, bags, clothing– have become one of the worst contaminants. They are easily and quickly ground into tiny pieces by wave action so that they are easily consumed by fish and sea birds. It is estimated that 100,000 sea turtles and sea birds are poisoned each year by plastic materials.

But it is not just the sea animals that suffer. Although plastics are easily ground down they are not biodegradable and they contain dangerous elements such as lead, cadmium and mercury. The fish eat the plastic. The elements enter their blood stream and are deposited in their muscles, fat tissues and organs. Humans eat the fish….

Some marine scientists are now refusing to eat fish.

The pollution of the world’s oceans is so bad and so extensive that even the bottom of the Mariana Trench—the deepest point in the world’s oceans—has been discovered to be covered in human-generated pollutants.

So what is being done about all of the above? Very little. The UN Conference in New York is one of a long string of such talkfests. Since 1988 it has been illegal for ships to dump plastics in the oceans.  But it still occurs. Britain on its own dumped 8 million tons of plastic in 2015 alone.

Nothing is done because it is inconvenient to do something. Jobs, profits, dividends and entrenched work practices are based on the false assumption that the oceans are so immense as to be able to accommodate our waste forever. This assumption clearly contradicts the basics of scientific observations. It even contracts the basics of common sense. Politicians need to assume a leadership role, stand up to special interests remove the blinkers and use meetings such as the UN conference next week to force through binding international agreements to protect future generations.

Tom Arms is editor of


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