Plastic Pollution Or Climate Change? Which Is Worse?

Plastic Pollution Or Climate Change? Which Is Worse?

There are already two colossal environmental problems we are facing now, and both are crucial. The problems we are talking about are climate change and plastic pollution. We know that both of them have already been global concerns.

Many people are sure trying to tackle both of those problems. However, even though both of them need immediate response, but most people seem like they only put their concerns toward one problem. Most of us only choose either tackling the ‘plastic problem’ or ‘climate change’.

Sure, both of them need to be fixed. But some people consider talking one at a time is a more effective way. This is what we are going to talk about. If somehow we have to choose only one of those problems to tackle first, which one that we should choose?

In worst case scenario where we need to choose only one problem at a time to be fixed, we need a good consideration to choose which one to be fixed first. Here we give you a quick brief before you choose which one requires more immediate response.

Dangerous Duo

plastic art

Plastic waste is littering our ocean. Marine creatures are constantly being tortured by the presence plastic in the ocean, either from entanglement or ingestion. Let alone how it disperses into tiny particles called microplastic, which is able to enter their bodies.

About 70% of our earth is covered by water. And since the problem happens in our ocean, it means that plastic waste is threatening the biggest part of this planet. Let alone the fact that plastic is reaching the land from the ocean by water cycle and our marine creature consumption.

While climate change brings so many disasters to both the creatures on the land and in the ocean. The damages are given both directly and indirectly. The rise of global temperature and worse storms are the two direct damages it can cause.

Indirectly, there are so many disasters to be listed. In example, global drought and melting icebergs that climate change causes may result in many species’ inability to cope with the changes. Species extinction is the result of this inability, and it can also affect human too.

Both of them are disastrous, but just like what we said earlier, we are playing ‘what if’ in this article. If we should choose one of those catastrophes to be fixed first, which one that we should pick? Climate change or plastic waste?

The Two Stands

plsatic lids (Wikimedia Commons)

Even though both are environmental problems, but actually they require different approach to solve. It means that we cannot solve both of them in the same time with only one method. Can you imagine how we are facing both of them in the same time nowadays?

Our time is running out, and most of us don’t know a thing about it. Our existence in this planet is being threatened by our mistakes in taking care of the environment. Both pollution and resources overconsumption really take their tolls on our future if we don’t do something.

Thus, if you think that you are the only one to ever compare those two problems to choose which one is worse, you are actually not. Even researchers are conducting researches to find out which one needs more immediate actions.

In this case, the researchers are divided into two groups: the ones who believe plastic is more harming and those who believe climate change needs more immediate actions. Both of them have strong arguments and data to back their view up.

The Debate

Ice melt (NPS Photo)
Ice melt (NPS Photo)

Let’s look on each side’s point of view here for consideration. Rick Stafford, Professor of Marine Biology and Conservation, Bournemouth University wrote in The Conversation that global plastic pollution is indeed a huge problem.

However, he said that plastic is just a distraction for us from bigger problem, which is climate change. He based his view on the concept of planetary boundaries which was introduced in 2009. The concept is to indicate safe operating limits of                                          several environment threats.

While plastic pollution is not specifically included in the concept, the picture shows that we actually have some other huge threats. Three of the biggest threats mentioned in planetary boundaries are climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and nitrogen cycle.

On the other hand, Neil Seldman, a waste recycling expert and president of the Institute for Local Self Reliance considered that plastic is more threatening nowadays than climate change. Its power to disperse into microplastic allows it to enter our food chain.

Researchers have found out that in some parts of the ocean, there is five times more microplastic particles than zooplankton. In addition, plastic can also be found in the planktons’ body. It means there is almost nothing we can do to prevent microplastic entering our body from both water and marine creature consumption. That’s the level of pollution we are dealing with.

The Worst One

La Nada climate change pattern (NASA)
La Nada climate change pattern (NASA)

Choosing one might be hard, since each side has its own scientific back up. However, it is actually all connected to each other in a way that most of us might have never imagined. What if plastic is worsening climate change, while plastic itself is the byproduct of what causes climate change?

Yes, recent study from a team of researchers from University of Hawaii found out that plastic, when exposed to the elements, releases greenhouse gases.

“Greenhouse gases were shown to emit from the seven most commonly used plastics. Solar radiation is what initiates this process, but once exposed to solar radiation, this off-gassing continues in the dark,” said Dr. Sarah-Jeanne Royer, the lead author of the study.

The problem is, most plastic is actually produced from fossil fuel distillation. The distillation of fossil fuel produces various groups of components, and one of them is called naphtha. Naphtha is the crucial compound for the production of plastics.

But people don’t drill the earth for plastic. They do it for the oil, and plastic is a kind of byproduct from it. Long story short, doesn’t it mean that our fossil fuel consumption is the main reason we also find so many plastics nowadays.

One is connected to the other, and the root of the problem is actually our fossil fuel consumption. Thus, if you ask which one that we need to tackle first, whether plastic pollution or climate change, the answer is our fossil fuel consumption.


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