The Plastic Island That Isn’t There: How Absences Matter for Science and the Ocean
The mainstream media consensus seems irrefutable: there is an island of plastic waste floating in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean. But despite agreement on its location and a proliferation of claims about its size, no one can find it; not on Google Earth, not after weeks at sea. Marine scientists dismiss the trash island as misleading and inaccurate, but they cannot explain why it endures in the public imagination. This talk draws on science and technology studies to move beyond questions of accuracy to explore how the trash island became and remains so powerful. In this talk, we will travel on a boat through the garbage patch, meet scientists, activists and even an architect, as the missing island variously appears as myth, plastic ‘soup’ and an island-to-be. I will argue that the physical form plastic pollution takes at sea is inextricably connected to whether and how people care about it. Even missing things are powerful actors that shape both knowledge of global environmental crises, and the kinds of action that become possible in return.