Thursday, May 7, 2015

Moby-Duck - Donovan Hohn

In January 1992 a container ship rocked in a violent storm in the sub-Arctic ocean and dumped 12 containers the size of 18 wheeler semi-trucks into the ocean.  At least one burst open and spilled thousands of yellow plastic ducks, intended for children's bath toys.  The author, intrigued by the story, set out to find out where the ducks ended up.  His journey and education on the ocean, shipping, and the people who study it is the story of this book.

It's a strange mixture of hard science, quirky character portrayals and a personal odyssey, introduced in each chapter with quotes from Moby Dick, Thoreau's writings and environmentalists.  I learned about the Pacific Garbage Patch, which isn't a huge concentrated dead zone of debris but an area of the Pacific where the currents swirl and idle, where plastics that make there way to the ocean may linger.
I learned to how complex the oceans are, more like a liquid atmosphere with its own climates and storms raging below the surface.  I learned about "The Tragedy of the Commons", a concept that "in a finite world of diminishing resources...the freedom of individuals will not lead hopefully to progress but fatalistically to destruction".  The environment, shared by all, will be exhausted by the rational pursuit of individual prosperity.  Only a decline in population or consumption can avert it.

The author shares detailed facts and his novice experiences while traveling with oceanographers, environmental clean up crews and commercial ship captains and becomes dabbles philosophically in the impact of the spill and its meaning in our world.  He reveals too an adventurous recklessness that takes him from his family for weeks at a time from shortly before his son's birth, making him seem sometimes as irresponsible as the polluters he's investigating.  In all a different read.

published:  2011  Genre: Non-fiction
ISBN: 780143120506

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