Since the Plastic Purge
It had been a while since Izzy and Kaiko went fishing for technofossils in the dead zone of the Pacific. Sunday was usually their day, but the strong winter currents had made the seas too turbulent. Conditions seemed better, now that spring had arrived. They prepared their ocean scraper and deep-sea diving suits, packed some homegrown seaweed and triple-filtered water. A soft breeze blew through Izzy's wavy hair and for a moment she looked up, at the horizon.
800 sun turns had occurred since the plastic purge. The moment around 2020, when humans realized that their accumulative plastic production would suffice to wrap the entire planet in cling film(1) was, in hindsight, a catalyst. Despite major clean-up efforts that successfully eradicated most micro and macro particles from the oceanic surface, fossilized fragments of polyethylene, as well as acrylic and polyester fibers, could still be found in submarine canyons, where they'd slowly woven their way into sedimentary layers of Earth.(2)(3) The area underneath what was once the Eastern Pacific Garbage patch, marked one of the major dead zones, where a layer of sunken plastic debris ensured that life as we knew it, just wouldn't return. It made a great spot for fossil hunting.
Izzy and Kaiko were born on the island, to a family of wandering shamans. Since childhood they'd been aware of the deadly forces surrounding Kamilo Beach. The geographical location of Hawaii, within the subtropical gyre of the North Pacific had always made this beach a natural garbage bin, attracting marine debris of many sorts and sizes.(4) Where in previous times, Hawaiians would come here to find and mourn the bodies of fishermen lost at sea, the era of the Anthropocene had marked a different wash-up.(5) Now Izzy and Kaiko came here to scout for breathing rocks, conglomerates of synthetic debris and gene clusters, when they visited Kamilo Beach on technofossil days.
The Anthropocene, the geological age in which humans acted as the main determinant of the environment, exerting geological agency(6), had lasted until 101 sun turns ago. Its ending was marked by the Big Waves, and with them the realization that certain forces undeniably exceeded the agency of humans. It awakened a newfound humility, and a new generation that practised material sobriety and inter-species care.(7) Agency was now generally perceived to be a matter of interdependence. Theories on the vibrancy and vitality of matter, as well as more ancient notions of animism, had aided the process of sense-making.(8) It was now more commonly accepted that, as the shamans always knew, everything is connected, and that, for example, all creatures with bones, owe their ability to move to the multi-species process of mineralization.(9)
Kaiko jumped on the deck to check the lines and attached the foot of the sail to the boom, before starting to push the scraper to the shoreline. The plasticrust(10) on the surrounding rocks was shimmering in the sunrise, and while they moved along the beach, they felt the plastiglomerate(11) pebbles move beneath their feet. It wasn’t too hot yet, so they weren’t too sticky. These objects had now largely replaced organic, ancient rocks. Pure crystals had become extremely rare and precious.
When out at sea, it was CD’s and MiniDiscs they preferred finding the most. Post-Anthropocene, these silver-like relics generated enormous value, as a nostalgia for physical music carriers had surged, and the last surviving collectors on far-flung islands enjoyed showing off rare pieces of ancient rock, metal and rave, preferably fossilized. Izzy and Kaiko had over time established themselves as dealers. It was enjoyable and relatively lucrative. A Sunday pastime providing some variety. Sometimes, they stumbled across hidden gems, like Venice Walking Tour HD (2020), which they decided to keep.
As they reached the water, a red-necked phalarope(12) crossed their path. A good sign, Izzy thought, as it had returned safely from its stay offshore in winter. She knelt down to pick up a breathing rock for the road; they often helped with directions. Izzy and Kaiko boarded the scraper, and as they pushed themselves away from the shore, Izzy whispered to the wind, the sea, and the rocks of all kinds below them: 'A'ohe pau ka 'ike i ka halau ho’okahi - meaning that - all knowledge is not taught in the same school.(13)
(1) Zalasiewicz, J, Colin N. Watersb, Juliana A. Ivar do Sulc, Patricia L. Corcorand, Anthony D. Barnoskye, Alejandro Cearretaf, Matt Edgeworthg, Agnieszka Gałuszkah, Catherine Jeandeli, Reinhold Leinfelderj, J.R. McNeillk, Will Steffenl, Colin Summerhayesm, Michael Wagreichn, Mark Williamsa, Alexander P. Wolfeo, Yasmin Yonana. The geological cycle of plastics and their use as a stratigraphic indicator of the Anthropocene, Anthropocene, 2016.
(3) Zalasiewicz, J, Colin N. Watersb, Juliana A. Ivar do Sulc, Patricia L. Corcorand, Anthony D. Barnoskye, Alejandro Cearretaf, Matt Edgeworthg, Agnieszka Gałuszkah, Catherine Jeandeli, Reinhold Leinfelderj, J.R. McNeillk, Will Steffenl, Colin Summerhayesm, Michael Wagreichn, Mark Williamsa, Alexander P. Wolfeo, Yasmin Yonana. The geological cycle of plastics and their use as a stratigraphic indicator of the Anthropocene, Anthropocene, 2016.
(4) Corcoran, P.L., Moore, C.J., Jazvac, K., An anthropogenic marker horizon in the rock record. Geol. Soc. Am. Today 24 (6), 4–8. 2014
(6) Chakrabarty, Dipesh, The Climate of History: Four Theses, The University of Chicago Press, 2009 and Crutzen, P.J., and Stoermer, E.F., The “Anthropocene”: Global Change Newsletter, 2000, v. 41, p. 17–18.
(7) For more on care: Puig de la Bellacasa, María, Matters of care: speculative ethics in more than human worlds, Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 2017
(8) Bennett, Jane, Vibrant Matter, a political ecology of things, Duke University Press Durham and London, 2010
(9) De Landa, M. A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, MIT University Press, 2000
(10) Gestoso, Ignacio ; Cacabelos, Eva ; Ramalhosa, Patrício ; Canning-Clode, João. Plasticrusts: A new potential threat in the Anthropocene's rocky shores, Science of the Total Environment, Vol.687, pp.413-415, 2019
(11) Conglomerates made from mixtures of molten plastic and organic matter like basalt, coral and wood, https://www.e-flux.com/journal/78/82878/plastiglomerate/
(13) King, Serge Kahili, Urban shaman, A handbook for personal and planetary transformation based on the Hawaiian way of the adventurer, 1990