Will a giant, floating pile of garbage become the world’s newest country? — Part 1

Learning about Goal 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals and the state of our oceans and life below water can help youth become active global citizens.

Photo: globalgoals.org
Photo: globalgoals.org

Watch out South Sudan: If the supporters of the Trash Isles have their way, you will no longer have the title of being the world’s newest country. The Trash Isles are “an area the size of France that has formed in the Pacific Ocean” made up of “obscene amounts of plastic,” according to campaigners who have started an online petition that seeks to generate support to pressure the United Nations into making the Trash Isles the world’s 196th country.

The petition specifically seeks people willing to become “citizens” of the proposed nation in order to raise awareness of the environmental problem created by plastic pollution, which is a huge global problem. In fact, a report issued by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum in 2016 estimated that by the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. The report includes information from a study published in the journal Science in 2015 that found that “at least 8 million tons of plastics leak into the ocean each year,” which is equal to “dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute.”

If the rate of consumption of plastic continues to grow at its current rate, that figure “will increase to (the equivalent of) 2 per minute by 2030 and 4 per minute by 2050.” Animals and organisms that eat or become entangled in pollution and debris found in the oceans can be killed or have their reproductive capabilities limited, according to the United Nations (UN).

The world’s ocean plays a key role in supporting life on earth. According to the UN, “Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food and even the oxygen in the air we breathe are all ultimately provided and regulated by the sea.”

While clearly a significant problem, the pollution caused by plastics entering the oceans isn’t the only threat to maintaining a healthy environment in our planet’s seas, and people from countries around the world have come together to take action to protect this valuable natural resource.

World leaders, representing citizens from 193 countries, have agreed to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development,” which is embodied in Goal 14 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The Sustainable Development Goals are 17 interconnected goals that seek to transform our world by ending all forms of poverty, eliminating inequalities and improving the state of the world’s natural and human-made environments through sustained international cooperation and efforts by the year 2030.

By learning about, taking action and teaching others about the sustainability of our oceans and marine resources, young people can play a valuable leadership role in helping to accomplish Goal 14, as well as the other Sustainable Development Goals.

The following are some important facts and figures provided by the United Nations, and some related educational experiences, concerning Goal 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals that can help youth learn and be engaged as global citizens.

  • Oceans provide key natural resources including food, medicines, biofuels and other products. They help with the breakdown and removal of waste and pollution, and their coastal ecosystems act as buffers to reduce damage from storms.
  • Oceans cover three-quarters of the Earth’s surface, contain 97 percent of the Earth’s water and represent 99 percent of the living space on the planet by volume.
  • Oceans serve as the world’s largest source of protein, with more than three billion people depending on the oceans as their primary source of protein.
  • As much as 40 percent of the world’s oceans are heavily affected by human activities, including pollution, depleted fisheries and loss of coastal habitats.
  • Twenty percent of the world’s coral reefs have been destroyed and 24 percent face the near-term risk of collapse due to human activity, with an additional 26 percent facing the long-term risk of collapsing. According to the World Wildlife Federation, corals are predicted to disappear entirely by the year 2050.
  • “Fisheries and aquaculture remain important sources of food, nutrition, income and livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people around the world,” according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.
  • A 2015 report published by the World Wildlife Fund that measured the size of the populations of over 1,200 species of marine life showed a decline of 49 percent between 1970 and 2012. The report also states that “populations of fish species utilized by humans have fallen by half (between 1970 and 2012), with some of the most important species experiencing even greater losses.”

To continue reading Part 2 of this article, which includes a variety of educational resources to help young people learn about topics related to Sustainable Development Goal 14, go to: “Will a giant floating pile of garbage become the world’s newest country? – Part 2.”

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our 2016 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

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