Microplastics are killing us and the planet but we seem oblivious

Saturday April 08 2023
Plastic pieces in frozen water.

Plastic pieces in frozen water. PHOTO | OLIVIER MORIN | AFP


Most — but not al — of science fiction is optimistic. It is full of shots of a planet that is generally healthy, green and vibrant outside of whatever war zones and destruction is “the other place.” Humans are handsome, youthful and prosperous.

My favourite part is that often money does not exist, and we all float around in an existence of fitness and fulfilled potential, creativity, smarts, laughing children, none of whom are riddled with microplastics.

The world reports on the wellbeing of the planet come out all year, I try to keep track. We are not doing well on the main measure, that of the temperature of the planet. We’re supposed to try and slow down so we don’t reach 1.5 degrees centigrade in the next decade or less. Surprise! We are not slowing down.

Join the crowd

If you also don’t see how 1.5 degrees is a problem, join the crowd. We don’t know, do we? It is not a number that makes intuitive sense. We know about changes in weather, we know about droughts that drive the price of grains up. But what the heck is 1.5 global degrees of warming?

Environmental science is difficult stuff. I used to count frogs and butterflies back in my day, capture air, even designed an absolutely terrible biogas system. If there is anything I learned, it was that snails are good and nobody understands the full picture.


An environmental scientist has to know all of the traditional sciences and then factor in human activity on top. They have to know where petrol comes from, and link that to microplastics, and then figure out how bacteria have evolved to eat that, and make it all work in our favour. And then someone discovered quantum physics! Did you even know that quantum might explain photosynthesis?

Tap water

The best minds in the world right now are wondering how to reduce, reuse, recycle and convince us all that tap water is still better than bottle. And, if I am honest, their message has been around since the 1980s as a public service, longer than that if one cares to read graphs of the measure of carbon emissions from the industrial age. Unfortunately, this has very little to say about capitalism and how resisting it might give the children a chance.

Africa is on the rise, you know that. But as I watch, we are relegated to the physical and the consumption. Become a singer, a football star. Don’t use your brain too much, don’t write if you can speak. Don’t think. Buy the Bugatti and the watches, make believe that Lagos or Johannesburg is the dream. Give your masses of plastic soda bottles to the old woman collecting on the street and burn some fuel. Tell the children this is what a chance at life looks like.

Definitely don’t tell them what 50, 100 years look like. They will be absent. So will old people.

Most, if not all, science fiction is beautiful. It’s full of optimistic shots of multilingual people flying around eating vegan food and touching a touch screen. But it rarely has children in it. Do you know why? Ask the plastic bottle you are drinking from during drought, and the corporation that made it.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email [email protected]