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塑料垃圾:海洋不能承受之重
The problem with plastic: can our oceans survive?

来源:FT中文网    2018-02-13 06:46



        As Jennifer Lavers of the University of Tasmania began her talk at Berlin’s Falling Walls conference in November, operatives from the city’s garbage contractor dumped a hundred 60-litre sacks of plastic waste around the stage.        去年11月,当塔斯马尼亚大学(University of Tasmania)的詹尼弗•莱弗斯(Jennifer Lavers)在柏林“Falling Walls”会议上开始演讲时,柏林垃圾承包商的工作人员把100包每包容量为60升的塑料垃圾倾倒在讲台周围。
        Speaking from behind the barrier of trash, the Australian marine ecologist told the audience: “This rubbish is equivalent to just two days of consumption by the [750] individuals in this auditorium.” Then she showed shocking photos she had taken on uninhabited Henderson Island in the south Pacific, one of the most remote places on earth.        这位澳大利亚海洋生态学家站在这堆垃圾后面告诉观众:“这些垃圾仅相当于这个礼堂里的(750)人两天的消耗量。”接着,她展示了她在南太平洋无人居住的亨德森岛(Henderson Island)拍摄的令人震惊的照片,那里是地球上最偏远的地区之一。
        Beaches that were covered with pristine sand in the 1990s are today littered with plastic debris, washed up from countries around the Pacific Rim and beyond — an estimated 37 million pieces, weighing 18 tonnes.        上世纪90年代覆盖着原始沙砾的海滩如今遍布塑料垃圾,它们是被海浪从太平洋周边国家以及更远的地区冲刷过来的,据估计有3700万件,重达18吨。
        This is just the tiniest snapshot of our problem with plastics. Every year an estimated eight million tonnes of the material flow into the oceans. And, over the past few months, there has been a huge increase in public and political concern about this marine pollution, to a level where it is approaching climate change as an environmental issue.        这只是我们面临的塑料问题的冰山一角。据估计,每年有800万吨塑料流入海洋。近几个月来,公众和政界对海洋塑料污染问题的关注度急剧飙升,使之成为一个快与气候变化一样重要的环境问题。
        In the UK, Sir David Attenborough’s TV series Blue Planet II has made a big impact, drawing attention to the harm done to creatures that become entangled in plastic or eat fragments that they have mistaken for real food. In one heart-rending sequence, Lucy Quinn of the British Antarctic Survey shows the plastic bags regurgitated by a wandering albatross chick on South Georgia. That bird is still alive but Quinn, close to tears, then shows the decaying corpse of another young albatross.        在英国,戴维•阿滕伯勒爵士(Sir David Attenborough)的电视纪录片《蓝色星球2》(Blue Planet II)产生了巨大影响,促使人们关注塑料垃圾对生物的危害,它们或者被塑料制品缠绕住,或者吞下误以为是食物的塑料碎片。在一个镜头中,英国南极考察队(British Antarctic Survey)的露西•奎因(Lucy Quinn)向人们展示了一个令人心碎的场景:在南乔治亚岛上,一只神志虚弱的信天翁雏鸟试图吐出被它吃进去的塑料袋。这只小鸟还活着,但几乎要哭出来的奎因接着展示了另一只小信天翁正在腐烂的尸体。
        “Unfortunately there was a plastic toothpick that has gone through its stomach,” she says. “Something as small as that has managed to kill the bird. It’s really sad to see.”        “不幸的是,一根塑料牙签穿透了它的胃,”她表示,“那么小的一个东西就能杀死这只鸟。看到这一幕我真的很伤心。”
        While many people have only recently become aware of the global plastic pollution crisis, others have been wrestling with it for years. One such is Mandy Barker, the Leeds-based photographer whose images illustrate this article. “I grew up in Hull and spent a lot of time on Spurn Point nature reserve,” she says. “Returning each year, I was shocked to find the amount of rubbish building up there.”        很多人都是最近才认识到全球塑料污染危机,但还有一些人已为此斗争多年。英国利兹市(Leeds)的摄影师曼迪•巴克尔(Mandy Barker)就是其中之一,本文配图采用了她的照片。“我是在赫尔(Hull)长大的,在Spurn Point自然保护区度过很多时间,”她说,“每年回去,我都会因为看到那里堆积的垃圾数量之多而感到震惊。”
        Since emerging as a professional photographer in 2011, Barker has focused her work on plastic pollution, drawing material from beaches and harbours around the world and from a voyage to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — an ocean current that traps exceptionally large amounts of floating debris. Her approach is to reveal unexpected beauty in plastic pollutants, which she often photographs as if they were rare and precious sea creatures. “I want to stimulate an emotional response in the viewer, using the contradiction between an initial aesthetic attraction to the images and a subsequent awareness of the harm these objects are doing,” Barker says.        2011年成为专业摄影师以后,巴克尔把工作聚焦于塑料污染,她到全球各地的海滩和港口找素材,还专门去过一次“太平洋垃圾带”(Great Pacific Garbage Patch)——这个海洋环流滞留着数量特别巨大的漂浮垃圾。她的做法是展示塑料污染物的意外之美,她会精心拍摄它们,就好像它们是珍稀的海洋生物。巴克尔表示:“人们一开始被这些照片的美所吸引,随后他们意识到这些东西正在造成危害,我希望通过这种反差,激起观者的情感反应。”
        Richard Thompson, head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit at the University of Plymouth and a leading researcher into ocean plastics, was initially uncertain about Barker’s work. While he appreciated the “beautiful artistic representations of litter in the sea”, he was not sure what they added to the global plastic debate. But now he recognises their positive impact.        普利茅斯大学(University of Plymouth)国际海洋垃圾研究部(International Marine Litter Research Unit)的负责人理查德•汤普森(Richard Thompson)是海洋塑料方面的一个主要研究人员,他起初不能肯定巴克尔所做工作的意义。他理解这种“对海上垃圾之美的艺术表现”,但他不确定这会给全球塑料辩论带来什么。但如今,他意识到了它们的正面影响。
        While welcoming the new sense of urgency worldwide, Thompson is somewhat puzzled about why interest is surging now in an issue that has preoccupied him for so long. “There is a snowball effect, as media stories build on each other,” he reflects. “People who live far from the sea are beginning to realise that they share responsibility for marine litter.”        尽管汤普森对全球各地新近出现的紧迫感表示欣慰,但他多少也感到困惑,对于这个他潜心研究了多年的问题,人们为什么现在突然兴趣高涨?“这里存在一种雪球效应,众多的媒体报道像滚雪球一样,”他回忆道,“居住在内陆的人们开始意识到,他们对于海洋垃圾也有责任。”
        Malcolm David Hudson, a marine ecologist at Southampton University, adds: “I think it is becoming clear to scientists and, increasingly, to the public that we are getting close to various tipping points within natural systems, as a result of plastics in the oceans.” Tipping points are sudden, substantial and sometimes unstoppable changes — for instance in key marine food chains — that would result from the cumulative effect of more subtle changes. For Lavers, the key point is that “the problem is building up so quickly that people can no longer deny its existence. That’s why we are talking about it now.”        南安普敦大学(Southampton University)海洋生态学家马尔科姆•戴维•哈德森(Malcolm David Hudson)说:“我认为,科学家越来越清楚,公众也日益明白,由于海洋中的塑料的缘故,我们越来越接近自然体系中的各种转折点。”所谓转折点就是突然、重大、有时不可阻挡的变化——例如,在关键的海洋食物链中所发生的变化——这些重大变化可能由更为细微的变化不断累积而成。在莱弗斯看来,关键点在于“问题迅速变得严重起来,人们不可能再否认它的存在。这就是我们现在讨论它的原因。”
        While large pieces of plastic waste are all too visible on beaches and in the ocean, toxicologists are sounding an urgent alarm about the smaller fragments, known generally as microplastics, whose dimensions are measured in fractions of a millimetre. Many microplastics come from the disintegration of plastic debris but some are manufactured as “microbeads” to add a slightly abrasive character to health and beauty products, including toothpastes and exfoliating creams. “Nurdles” are another source; these are tiny pellets used to make plastic products, which find their way into the sea through spills and mishandling.        在海滩上和海洋中,大块塑料垃圾当然要显眼得多,但毒物学家对体积更小的塑料碎片即“微塑料”发出了紧急警告,这种微塑料的直径以毫米计算。许多微塑料是塑料垃圾破碎分裂而成的,还有些是人造的“塑料微珠”,被添加在包括牙膏、去角质霜在内的美容护理产品中,用于增加轻微的摩擦功效。“塑料球”是微塑料的另一个来源,这些小球被用于制造塑料制品,它们会因洒落和处理不当而进入海洋。
        Fish and birds eat microplastics, which often look like perfect bite-sized morsels of real food, by mistake. Inside the gut they act as poisons, both through their physical presence and because they release toxic chemicals — including internal molecules involved in the plastic manufacturing and external toxins such as DDT and PCBs — that they have absorbed in the sea.        鱼类和鸟类会误食这些大小看起来和真正食物没什么差别的微塑料。微塑料进入肠道后便成了毒物,不仅仅因为它们的存在,还因为它们会释放出在海洋中吸附的有毒化学物质(包括塑料制造过程中形成的微小颗粒以及滴滴涕(DDT)和多氯联苯(PCBs)等外部毒素)。
        Lavers carries out most of her research on Lord Howe Island, 600km east of the Australian mainland. She is particularly concerned about the flesh-footed shearwater, a seabird that forages for food on the surface of the Tasman Sea and inadvertently brings microplastics back to its chicks instead of the intended plankton.        莱弗斯的大部分研究都在澳大利亚大陆以东600公里的豪勋爵岛(Lord Howe Island)上进行。她尤其担心肉足鹱,在塔斯曼海上觅食的肉足鹱会无意间把微塑料当作浮游生物带回去喂给雏鸟。
        “When we started monitoring these birds more than a decade ago, the proportion containing plastic was already 70 per cent. Now it’s 100 per cent,” she says. “Every single bird on Lord Howe Island contains plastic.” Analysis shows that baby birds fed more plastic by their parents have shorter wings and poorer health.        “我们10多年前开始监测这些海鸟的时候,体内含塑料的海鸟比例已经达到了70%,现在是100%,”她说,“豪勋爵岛上的每一只海鸟体内都有塑料。”分析显示,雏鸟被父母喂食的塑料越多,翅膀长得越短,健康状况越差。
        Lavers found 225 pieces of plastic in the stomach of one three-month-old chick, weighing 10 per cent of its body mass. That would be equivalent to an average human carrying about 6kg-10kg of plastic. “Imagine having to take your first flight out to sea with all that in your stomach,” she says. “Around the world, seabirds are declining faster than any other bird group.”        莱弗斯在一只3个月大的雏鸟的胃里发现了225块塑料,占到其体重的10%。这相当于一个普通人身上携带着大约6到10公斤的塑料。“想象一下,当你第一次飞向大海时,胃里不得不携带着所有那些垃圾,”她说,“在世界范围内,海鸟数量减少得比其他任何鸟类种群都快。”
        The number of marine species — fish, mammals, birds and invertebrates – known to be adversely affected by plastic waste has risen from around 260 when the first assessment was carried out in 1995 to 690 species in 2015 and 1,450 now, according to Lavers.        莱弗斯表示,已知受到塑料垃圾不利影响的海洋物种——鱼类、哺乳动物、鸟类和无脊椎动物——的数量在1995年首次进行评估时约为260种,2015年上升到690种,现在是1450种。
        Scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh released research this month showing that the shores of Scapa Flow in the Orkneys contain as much microplastic pollution as the Clyde and Firth of Forth: about 1,000 tiny particles and fibres per kilo of sediment. “The fact that a relatively remote island has similar microplastic levels to some of the UK’s most industrialised waterways was unexpected – and points to the ubiquitous nature of microplastics in our water systems,” says Mark Hartl, the project leader.        爱丁堡赫瑞-瓦特大学(Heriot-Watt University)的科学家近期发布的一项研究报告显示,奥克尼群岛斯卡帕湾(Scapa Flow)的微塑料污染情况与克莱德河湾(Clyde)和福斯河湾(Firth of Forth)一样严重:每公斤沉积物中含有约1000个微小颗粒和纤维。该研究课题负责人马克•哈特尔(Mark Hartl)表示:“一座相对偏远的岛屿与英国一些工业化程度最高地区的河道拥有相似的微塑料污染水平,这一事实出乎意料——这意味着微塑料在我们的水体中已经无处不在。”
        Although there has been concern about eating seafood contaminated with microplastics, there is no evidence that consumption has reached levels likely to affect human health. Toxicologists remain more concerned about other harmful chemicals such as mercury in fish. “Microplastics are an insidious long-term problem,” Hudson says, “but we have to be careful not to promote scare stories.”        虽然人们一直担心食用被微塑料污染的海鲜的风险,但目前没有证据表明人类食用量已经达到了可能影响健康的程度。毒物学家仍然更为关心其他有害化学物质,比如鱼类体内的汞。“微塑料是一个长期隐患,”哈德森说,“但我们必须小心不能过度渲染,危言耸听。”
        Dealing with plastics could have two parts: cleaning up what is already in the oceans (an estimated five trillion pieces of plastic, according to Lavers) and stopping more from getting in. Marine scientists, however, say the overwhelming priority must be prevention: cutting quickly the flow of those eight million tonnes every year — as much as half of it carried by rivers.        清除塑料垃圾大致包括两部分工作:清理海洋中已经存在的塑料(莱弗斯说,据估计目前海洋中有5万亿块塑料),以及阻止更多塑料进入海洋。但海洋科学家表示,当务之急是阻止塑料进入海洋:迅速阻断每年流入海洋的800万吨塑料——其中多达一半由河流带入。
        Although there is a role for removing plastics, from low-tech beach clean-ups to a high-tech proposal to extract the plastic floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the pollution is dispersed too widely across the oceans for a large proportion to be removed in this way.        虽然清理塑料垃圾——从没多少技术含量的海滩清理工作,到捞取“太平洋垃圾带”上漂浮的塑料的高科技方法——可以发挥作用,但塑料污染物在各大洋中已是广泛存在,很大一部分塑料垃圾将无法通过这种方式清除。
        The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a leading anti-waste charity, estimates that international clean-ups could not deal with more than 0.5 per cent of plastics entering the seas. “Yes there are technological clean-up solutions, like big mechanical booms sweeping around in the middle of the ocean,” says Thompson, “but there is a danger of us being distracted from the priority of stopping plastics getting into the oceans.”        艾伦•麦克阿瑟基金会(Ellen MacArthur Foundation)是一个主要的反垃圾慈善机构,据其估计,国际清理工作处理的海洋塑料不会超过0.5%。汤普森说:“是的,有采用技术手段进行清理的做法,比如海洋中央轰鸣作响的大型机械。但现在的风险是,当务之急是阻止塑料进入海洋,而我们可能被分散了注意力。”
        That means changing both consumer behaviour and product design — to discourage non-essential use of plastics, particularly for packaging, and making it far easier to recycle the plastics that are used. “Plastics are not the enemy,” Thompson adds. “They are wonderful materials. What matters is what we choose to do with them. It is not about doing without plastics but doing things differently.”        这意味着要改变消费者行为和产品设计——以阻止非必要的塑料使用,特别是在包装方面——以及让废旧塑料更易于回收。汤普森补充说:“塑料不是敌人,它们是很好的材料。关键是我们选择怎么用它们。不是不用塑料,而是要转变做法。”
        A growing army of environmental campaign groups, such as London-based OneLess, is demanding government action on plastics. Suggestions include clamping down on single-use plastics, such as water bottles and coffee cups, and facilitating recycling. This month has seen political anti-waste initiatives such as one by Theresa May, who promised to tackle “one of the great environmental scourges of our time” with a programme to eliminate plastic waste by 2042, and another by the EU to ensure that every piece of packaging is reusable or recyclable by 2030. Environmentalists say far more urgency is needed.        越来越多的环保组织要求政府采取行动,比如总部位于伦敦的OneLess。相关建议包括限制使用一次性塑料制品,如水瓶和咖啡杯,并促进回收利用。最近政界也提出了一些反垃圾倡议:英国首相特里莎•梅(Theresa May)提出一项消除塑料废物的计划,承诺到2042年解决“我们这个时代一大环境灾难”;欧盟计划到2030年确保所有包装都可重复使用或回收。环保人士说,还需要采取更加迫切的行动。
        Thompson believes the biggest gains would come from compelling manufacturers to design recyclability into their products, transforming the traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) into a “circular economy”. Where packaging is essential, it should be simple and easily identifiable, so that recycling plants with automated sorting machinery do not face a perplexing plethora of different materials mixed or bonded together.        汤普森认为,最有效的做法是迫使制造商在产品中采用可回收设计,将传统的“线性经济”(制造、使用和扔掉)转变为“循环经济”。其中包装最为关键,它应该是简单而且容易识别的,从而让有自动分拣机械的回收工厂不用处理混杂或者粘合在一起的各种材料。
        While the personal-care industry is phasing out microbeads, concern is growing about another ubiquitous micropollutant: plastic fibres. Analysis shows these to be present in streams, rivers, lakes and seas worldwide, as well as household drinking water. Their main source seems to be clothing and textiles made from synthetic fibres, which become detached in washing machines and are not filtered out by water-treatment plants.        在个人护理行业逐步淘汰微珠的同时,人们日益担忧另一种几乎无处不在的微型污染物:塑料纤维。有分析显示,塑料纤维存在于世界各地的溪流、江河、湖泊和海洋以及居民饮用水中。它们的主要来源似乎是用合成纤维制成的衣服和纺织品,它们在洗衣机中被分离出来,而且不会被水处理厂过滤掉。
        Mandy Barker is so worried about plastic fibres that she is making them the focus of her next photographic project. Hudson, too, sees them as a greater threat than microbeads: “We have only recently realised that fibres from clothing might be important,” he says, “and there are other issues that are not really on the agenda yet, like plastics washing off roads from road markings and cars.” Even so, Hudson expresses optimism about the prospects for fighting plastic pollution. “Two years ago the whole issue was completely under the radar,” he says. “Now it is on the global agenda and everyone is talking about doing something about it.”        曼迪•巴克尔非常担心塑料纤维问题,并把它们作为下一个摄影项目的主题。哈德森同样认为塑料纤维比微珠的威胁更大,他说,“我们最近才意识到来自服装的纤维可能至关重要。还有其他一些问题迄今还没有真正列入议程,比如不要在道路标识和汽车中使用塑料”。即便如此,哈德森对解决塑料污染的前景依然表示乐观。他说:“两年前这个问题还不在人们的关注范围内,但现在它已经被列入全球议程,大家都在谈论要做些什么。”
        If Jennifer Lavers gives a follow-up talk several years from now, she may find a lower barrier of bags surrounding her on stage, as the war on plastic waste takes effect. But it will take decades before plastic debris stops defiling pristine beaches and poisoning marine wildlife. “When I go back to Henderson Island in a few years’ time, I’m afraid the pollution of its beaches will be even worse than today,” she says, “and the same will be true for all the world’s remote islands.”        如果詹尼弗•莱弗斯过几年再做一次演讲,她可能会发现,随着清除塑料垃圾的战争取得成效,堆放在讲台周围的塑料垃圾可能会少几袋。但是,让塑料垃圾不再污染原始海滩、不再毒害海洋生物可能需要花费数十年的时间。她说:“几年后我再回到亨德森岛的时候,我怕那里的海滩污染情况会比今天还严重。全世界所有偏远岛屿都会一样。”
        Clive Cookson is the FT’s science editor        克莱夫•库克森(Clive Cookson)是英国《金融时报》科学编辑
                
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