Brennan: Solving a few tough problems.

By Tom Brennan |

Technology got the world into its worst environmental problems and technology is our best bet to solve them.

That’s not a threat and it’s not wishful thinking. Take, for instance, the massive collection of plastic waste that is choking our oceans, killing fish, birds, sea turtles and whales and making the water a toxic mess.

The obvious answer to that particular problem is to develop truly biodegradable plastics, preferably of a kind that will degenerate into residual materials that will benefit the climate, perhaps fertilize the ocean floor. Think that’s impossible? Then you should pay closer attention to scientific developments and investments by the plastics manufacturers. They created the problem and they should be motivated to find a solution.

Market forces make such things happen. In the case of plastics, the ones with the greatest research capability in that area are probably the companies that make and sell those products. And their motivation to move ahead with such research is the world’s growing concern about plastic trash in the oceans.

To encourage work in that area, government agencies could and perhaps should ask the companies what would encourage them most. Obviously legislative leaders should exercise caution but that’s why we pay them the big bucks. And the answers could be beneficial to both the companies and those who are concerned about the oceans.

Some work has already been done in biodegradable plastics but so far the results are unimpressive. Plastic is virtually an immortal substance and preliminary efforts to make it biodegradable have been only marginally successful. More work needs to be done but researchers, their companies and legislators should get on with it.

In the meantime efforts are underway to capture and remove plastics already floating in the ocean, presumably forever. Those have also been only marginally successful but that effort needs to go on. Getting old plastic out of the water will be necessary even if future contributions to the problem can be headed off.

The problem is a big one and affects people here in Alaska. The Environmental Protection Agency says “every bit of plastic ever made still exists” and a lot of it is in pieces large and small floating in the gyres of the world’s five major oceans. Efforts are underway to capture some of it but they have so far been only marginally successful. Such projects are important and will be needed even if ways are found to keep future plastics out of the system.

In the same vein it’s worth noting that ExxonMobil has joined the industry effort to reduce human contributions to climate change. Exxon was long a holdout and its leaders maintained that human consumption of fossil fuels had little impact on the gradual  but worrisome warming of the world’s temperature regime.

That attitude changed when Rex Tillerson was leading the company prior to his adventurous service as secretary of State for President Donald Trump. Exxon now acknowledges that fossil fuel consumption appears to be a major contributor to the climate change problem.

Exxon has changed its attitude and CEO Darren Woods has pledged $100 million to support the work of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative. The company joins its peers BP, Shell, Chevron and Total in the effort. Exxon is the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas company and its participation is a very significant development for the initiative and its goals.

And in the spirit of the season let’s give a shoutout to Gov. Mike Dunleavy for bringing Ben Stevens into his administration with a job as one of three policy advisers on matters relating to transportation, legislation and fishing.

Ben is one of three sons of the late Sen. Ted Stevens and had a fine career going in politics and business when his reputation was tarnished by consulting contracts he received from VECO when he was a member of the Alaska Senate.

No charges were ever filed against Ben but fallout from the investigation into dealings by the VECO Corp. caused him to drop out of public life and resume his old jobs in fishing and transportation. Lately, he has been working as president of Cook Inlet Tug and Barge Company, a testament to his leadership abilities.

Ben is a fine and capable guy and deserves a second chance at work in the public sector. Another good choice by Gov.  Dunleavy.



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