“It is a pervasive condition of empires that they affect great swathes of the planet without the empire’s populace being aware of that impact – indeed without being aware that many of the affected places even exist. How many Americans are are of the continuing socio environmental fallout from U.S. militarism and foreign policy decisions made three or four decades ago in, say, Angola or Laos? How many could even place those nation-states on a map?” – Rob Nixon
Violence can be described as “the use of physical force to harm someone, to damage property” or as “great destructive force or energy”. Many lack knowledge of a form of slow violence that can be described as the silent killer. Violence is not always something that is sudden but can occur over a long period of time with severe delayed destruction.
This blog post aims to discuss Rob Nixon’s (2011) notion of ‘slow violence’ as well as provide a narrative of four images based on an environmental concern which can be regarded as a form of ‘slow violence’. This aims to increase the public’s awareness of the environmental concern and its silent destruction of the ecosystem and biodiversity.
Slow violence is a term introduced by Rob Nixon (2011). It can be defined as violence that is gradual and that goes unnoticed, followed by a destruction that is spread out over a long period of time. Some examples of slow violence provided by Nixon are climate change, deforestation, toxic drift, radioactivity left as a result of war, acidifying oceans and other environmental problems that are slowly unfolding. They appear small now but will lead to massive problems in the future with dire consequences (Nixon 2011:2). Often this form of violence is not viewed as violence at all due to the public’s preconceived idea of violence (Nixon 2011:2). Violence is seen as an immediate act, erupting into something that can be seen. Humanity is only aware and responsive towards violence they can see. One needs to begin to engage with this type of violence, providing narratives and representations to allow for a better understanding of what is happening in the world today (Nixon 2011:2).
I have provided a narrative that focuses on the consequences, effects and damages of slow violence. Four photographs have been provided which symbolise the growing environmental concern of waste removal of plastic.
We as a society unconsciously use numerous forms of plastic in our everyday lives. The above pictures illustrates a number of these items ranging from plastic water bottles to a yoghurt pot. Living in the twenty first century, our lives are based on consumerism, speed, and convenience making plastics are an inseparable part of modern society. According to statistic, eleven billion plastic bags are used annually while the recorded resident uses 450 plastic water bottles on an average in a single year. However, how many of us take the time to separate our waste into categories? and how many of us have the knowledge of where our plastic waste goes after it is collected from our doorstep?
Check out the National Recycling Forum at: http://www.recycling.co.za/plastics.html for more info on what you can do to make a change! Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!
This image illustrates the setup of an event, a fiftieth to be exact. The use of a plastic marquee tent is put in place to ensure that regardless of weather, their is shelter for the guests. Furthermore, this marquee creates a sense of ambiance and elegance to any occasion. However, we perform a selfish act of erecting and dismantling such an infrastructure without knowledge of the amount of plastic that is needed to create such a luxury, and where this plastic is disposed of once it tears or becomes obsolete. We as society indulge in such behaviour for personal gain, and for an event that last only a few hours while the production of this infrastructure takes a few days.
This photograph was taken at a waste disposal site in Craighall Park. These large bags of plastic that are visible in the foreground of the photo, are made out of the exact same plastic that is used to create the Marquee tents. I asked one of the men on site about how their waste removal process works and his response was shocking. I learnt that at this particular waste disposal site, these plastic bags had been sitting their for months. Plastics can take as much as thousands of years to degrade. Till then, they take precious space in landfills and while in landfills, plastics emit harmful greenhouse gases, which lead to global warming.
Watch this shocking YouTube video on how the Modern Landfill works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pC1u6rJkyzA
After exploring the landfill further, I found numerous areas where plastic was just dumped. The further implication of this apart from plastic waste being an eye-sore and civic menace. When in open areas, animals ingest plastic bags, mistaking them for food which causes massive calcified balls of plastic in the stomachs that eventually kill the animals.
As a human race, we are told to throw away our rubbish and then we are satisfied with our contribution to helping the environment. However, we are only scrapping the surface of what can be done to help reduce this harmful practice of plastic pollution.
Read this interesting article by Renee Cho called “What Happens to All That Plastic” on: http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2012/01/31/what-happens-to-all-that-plastic/. A quote from the article “What would modern life be like without plastic? According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, global plastic consumption has gone from 5.5 million tons in the 1950s to 110 million tons in 2009. Where does all this plastic go when we’re done with it?” – Renee Cho.
Three long term effects plastic waste has on the environment:
- Plastic is not biodegradable, but photo degradable. And in reality, most plastic does not ever disappear, but becomes long-lasting “plastic dust”. When items like plastic bags break down, they readily soak up (and release) toxins that then contaminate soil and water, as well as harming animals that ingest plastic fragments. And there’s no winning: producing recycled materials uses copious amounts of energy.
- In addition to not breaking down fast, plastic materials also break down dangerously. A lot of plastic already contains toxins, such as phthalates, BPA and flame retardants. And as plastic breaks down, it can absorb many dangerous toxins more easily, such as damaging pesticides like DDT, PCB and PAH.
The production of plastic for the U.S. alone uses 331 billion barrels of petroleum, equal to 5 percent of the national consumption of petroleum. Petroleum production and its use plays a harmful role in polluting the environment, as its use contaminates the water and air.
MOST READ! article on 10 ways to Reduce Plastic pollution: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/10-ways-reduce-plastic-pollution
In conclusion, I hope this post has bought about awareness of the severity of plastic pollution. We are so quick to turn a blind eye to anything that does not appeal to our chosen or desired lifestyle yet our complete disregard for such an issue will be the exact cause of harm and destruction of our ecosystem. Stop making it so easy to just throw away your rubbish into a dustbin, stop making it so easy to put our trash out for collection once a week, and stop making it so easy to make plastic the ruler of consumerism.
Check out #DigEcoAction on a variety of different environmental issues and lets get this hashtag trending!
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Nixon, R. 2011. Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Science for Environment Policy. (2011, November). Plastic Waste: Ecological and Human Health Impacts. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/IR1.pdf
Salma, S. (2013, March 3). UAE bans non-biodegradable plastic products. Retrieved May 9, 2013, from GulfNews: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/environment/uae-bans-non-biodegradable-plastic-products-1.1153432