Book Review: Plastiki – Across The Pacific Ocean On Plastic

plastiki, graham hill, treehugger, pacific ocean A good friend of David de Rothschild’s, Treehugger founder Graham Hill takes the Plastiki helm

Theirs was one of 2010’s most talked-about, scoffed-about, and dreamed-about adventures: sailing across the Pacific Ocean in a boat made from plastic. Spontaneously envisioned to save our oceans from plastic pollution created by a now global society of waste, the Plastiki journey was rife with pitfalls. Delays. Storms. Politics. Graham Hill from Treehugger even lost the skin on his hands during part of the journey.

But in his new book Plastiki – Across The Pacific On Plastic: An Adventure to Save Our Oceans, David de Rothschild chronicles something even more important: the human spirit’s remarkable compass. Nine riveting chapters filled with anecdotes, diary entries from the crew, and op-eds from other eco-pioneers are imbued with the kind of tenacity that has plied oceans and crossed deserts for hundreds of years. David celebrates this. Indeed, his book is a kind of ouija board that evokes the best in humans, the qualities necessary to save the world.

plastiki, pacific ocean, plastic boat

One of the biggest challenges facing environmentalists, humanitarians, and scientists is this: how do we sound the numerous environmental and social alarms facing our civilization (and they are loud!) without boring people to tears, or without scaring them into apathy? Plastiki answers this question with adventure.
vertical garden, plastiki, david de rothschild

The word Plastiki is a marriage between Plastic and Kon-Tiki – the name of the raft used by Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl in his 1947 expedition across the Pacific Ocean. (Thor’s grandson was one of the Plastiki crewmen for part of the time.)

What David and Thor have in common is the willingness to dream the undreamable, to do the undoable, to take extraordinary risks and live to tell the tale. The idea is that these adventures will inspire everyday people to take similar risks in their lives, which will in turn lead to a re-thinking of how we design and use material things. And it works.

Run by the amazing Jo Royle, the crew demonstrates that our current consumption patterns – based on extraordinary waste – can be overcome. With quite a bit of spit, ingenuity, gumption, and yes, tenacity, we can build boats that do not harm the environment. We can grow food in the middle of the Pacific ocean. And we can even charge our ipods and rock out to God of Thunder during a storm – if we want to. The point is, and Plastiki makes this clear, anything is possible.

plastiki, jo royle, Singeli Agnew

That readers also walk away feeling informed without being beaten over the head may be the book’s most fundamental genius. All of the facts – which are more than dire – are presented with a “can do” attitude, with the sense that these are not insurmountable problems. David achieves this with the book’s colorful and playful visual presentation, and by making every chapter personal.

Our post-industrial consumption behavior has impacted our oceans in very destructive ways. Throughout the entire 8,000 mile ocean trek, the Plastiki crew saw only five marine mammals. Contrasted with the bountiful Kon-Tiki experience, this is as clear an indication of a sick ocean as we’ll ever get. It’s enough to sink anyone in despair.
boat made from plastic, plastiki

But David has braved these harsh realizations for us. In his book, he often reflects on his inner challenges. How people doubted him. The enormous technical task associated with making boats sustainably. His dreams. His dreads (such as returning to Los Angeles after spending several months out of the fray). At every turn, the Rothschild rebel child faces obstacles with courage and teamwork, all the while staying loyal to this fundamental premise: we can do better. And we will.

Plastiki comprises all the charm, wit, and good old-fashioned human grit necessary to move readers to take up the helm and steer our global civilization towards cleaner waters.

More Book Reviews on Green Prophet:
Book Review: A No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change
Book Review: Animals in Islamic Tradition and Muslim Culture
Book Review: Strategy for Sustainability by Adam Werbach

all images taken from the Plastiki flickr photostream

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