Sunday, 22 April 2018

In need of plastic surgery

Public attention has finally been drawn to the vast amounts of plastic waste which are finding their way into the world’s seas, ruining the natural environment and harming the wildlife. The natural environment is the world God created for us, and it is our duty, and in our own interest, to look after it. Following the success of charging for plastic bags, the UK government is now planning action on plastic drinks bottles as the next step in reducing the amount of plastic used.

Where does the plastic in the seas come from? We are now learning that most of it is waste which has been thrown (or been washed) into rivers, in countries which have no proper control over their pollution or general rubbish. It has been estimated that ninety per cent of all the plastic going into the sea comes from just ten major rivers in Africa, Asia and South America. And apart from looking a mess, it is a problem because it does not break down – it does not decompose. Plastic not being part of the natural system, nature does not have microbes, bacteria or tubeworms which have evolved to eat plastic. Even the types of plastic which do end up in tiny pieces persist as “micro-plastics”. So the rubbish in the sea is there to stay.

According to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (the son of Bahá’u’lláh): “all created things are closely related together and each is influenced by the other…” Human thinking often does not have this viewpoint, tending to categorise each issue separately, and believing that anything can be undertaken, with no consequences. However, Bahá’u’lláh specifically warned that “the civilisation, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences, will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men.” Even leaving aside the general detrimental effect on wildlife, it is not possible to laden the waters with continuously increasing amounts of artificial substances, without affecting the food chain on which so much of the world’s population depends.

It is humanity, collectively, which has created this situation, so it needs to be humanity, collectively, which solves it. The Universal House of Justice, the Bahá’í world body, has called for “global cooperation of the family of nations in devising and adopting measures designed to preserve the ecological balance this earth was given by its Creator.” If the “family of nations” fails in this duty, the world will need to evolve a form of world administration, which can take a more global view of problems. The possible solutions to the plastic problem definitely need tackling at a global level.

There are a variety of practical solutions – re-use, less use, recycling, etc - but the first part of the solution has to be the realisation of our own responsibility. This includes empathy for our fellow-creatures: human beings must “show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature…” We have recently seen on television programmes birds mistakenly feeding items of plastic which they have “caught” at sea to their chicks. It has long been known that turtles starve to death after mistaking plastic bags for their natural food, which is jellyfish. The bags then prevent real food entering the turtles’ stomachs. As individuals we need to drastically reduce our use of plastics, particularly single-use plastics, and we can start by using wrappings, containers, and bags made from natural materials.

As most of the plastic waste in the sea comes from countries with no proper waste collection, this is clearly where much effort needs to be targeted. Waste collection provides jobs for local people, and the organisation of it helps to build up local governmental infrastructure. Having collected the waste, proper waste disposal is also essential, for materials which cannot be reused or recycled. The waste collected can (if carefully undertaken) be used as fuel for power stations, can be treated chemically, or in some places can be used as landfill for old mines and quarries. Ideally, of course, all the plastics should be recycled. But it takes time to develop the recycling facilities, and also to develop uses for the end result of the process. However, there is plenty of scope here for mankind to work on making use of what has so far been seen as useless. What is needed is the will to do it.

Another part of the solution might seem to be the increased use of plastics which have been developed so that they can decompose, because there are organisms which can tackle them. These exist already, and can be used for some purposes, but they are not really the answer to the problem in the seas. These biodegradable plastics sink rather than float, and are therefore not exposed to either the ultra-violet light or the warm temperatures which provoke their decomposition.

Finally, there needs to be some sort of marine collection process, to collect the plastic already in the water. As with all the other solutions, international or supra-national effort is clearly necessary, because so much of the sea is outside territorial waters, and therefore seen as no-one’s responsibility in particular. Some sort of vessel needs to be developed which will take the rubbish from the water, so that it can be treated and either properly disposed of, or, again, recycled.

Underlying this whole problem is a spiritual imbalance in human life. Instead of realising that we are spiritual beings, which should have a respect for other forms of life and for one another, we feel that we can treat the earth and its natural materials as expendable. In essence, we were bequeathed a world of forests, deserts, plains, mountains, water and ice. Each is home to different types of animal and plant. If mankind destroys its natural inheritance, then humanity is in trouble. Man-made plastics may have their uses, but polluting the natural world is not one of them. Bahá’u’lláh stated that, “Nature is God's Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world.” At present, that world is in need of some careful surgery.


Just before publishing this blog, my attention was drawn to a machine designed to clear up rubbish from water. This is a link to it:

Monday, 2 April 2018

It’s not cricket

The world of cricket has recently been thrown into turmoil by deliberate pre-planned cheating in a match, and the individuals concerned have also had their lives turned upside down. This seems to be the end result of a culture of ad-hoc cheating on the part of a number of teams, plus a lack of respect for the players in the opposing team, to such an extent that a lot of name-calling and intimidation has been going on. This is not only by the cricketers, the spectators have been encouraged to join in too. To non-cricketing folk like me, this behaviour seems appalling! Cricket has a reputation as a “gentleman’s game”. If anyone, in any walk of life, behaves in a way which is not upright, honest and scrupulously fair, English people – and probably others - are inclined to say of their action, “It’s just not cricket!”

However, deliberate flouting of both the rules and the spirit of the game by supposed sportsmen is at one level symptomatic of people not having clear moral guidance in their lives. Religion, which usually laid down such guidelines, no longer has such a prominent place in most people’s lives. Bahá’u’lláh stated that “Religion is a radiant light”, and observed that, “Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness and justice… cease to shine.”

Every religion brings guidance on personal behaviour, reminding us all how we should treat others. One of the aspects of life which Bahá’u’lláh emphasises is the need for human beings to be polite and considerate one to another: “O people of God! I exhort you to courtesy... Blessed is he who is illumined with the light of courtesy, and is adorned with the mantle of uprightness!” He also exalted the principle of honesty: “This Wronged One enjoineth on you honesty and piety... Through them man is exalted, and the door of security is unlocked…”

Inseparable from honesty is the virtue of trustworthiness, which “is the greatest portal leading unto the tranquillity and security of the people.” Those who follow all sports regard the trustworthiness of the participants as crucial. It is the absolute fairness of the competition which is an essential part of its enjoyment. If you cannot trust that what is happening is fair, then what is the value of it?

Team sports are a type of social activity, and require people to be co-operative, and therefore kind to one another. Bahá’u’lláh says on this subject, “A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men… it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding.” The Bahá’í community therefore sees the establishment of a kindly and upright character as crucially important, and to this end it organises neighbourhood children’s classes based on morality and virtues.

Sport is a microcosm of society. It involves skill, competition, comradeship, diversity, identity, bravery, exertion, heroism, self-sacrifice and so many other aspects of human life. Let cricket rescue itself from this present stage, and retake its place as a noble sport. Positive, kindly and upright behaviour is required to rescue cricket’s reputation from the ashes.