Aesthetic Encounters with Petro-Capitalism
This is the introduction to a forthcoming article by myself and Jan Dickey for a volume on Climate Change in Hawaii and the Pacific.
In 2014 artist Kelly Jazvac, along with scientists Patricia Corcoran and Charles Moore, identified some curious stone formations on Kamilo Beach, located on the southeast tip of Hawaii Island. They appeared to be rock conglomerates; stones composed of lava rock, coral, organic materials, sand, and––what is most striking––colorful plastic debris. Jazvac and her collaborators dubbed this discovery “plastiglomerate,” writing an article together for the Geological Society of America’s news magazine GSA Today. They argued that this new stone could be understood as a visual and material indicator of large-scale anthropogenic impact on the planet. The theory put forth in GSA Today is that beach bonfires heat up the plastic flotsam, allowing it to glom onto other natural and unnatural substances. The result is a curious human-oceanographic-geologic collaboration involving distribution, sedimentation, and metamorphosis.
The plastic found on Hawaii’s beaches is just a fraction of the ocean trash currently concentrated in the middle of the North Pacific currents. The Hawaiian archipelago, forming a huge arc in the middle of this convergence zone, acts as a giant dragnet or trap for the plastic. The floating debris often traps turtles, monk seals, dolphins, and whales. As the material breaks down in the ocean and along the islands’ shores, bits of it become part of the regular but indigestible diet of birds, endangering entire species. Once it breaks down even further, it attracts toxins. These micro-plastics are digestible for plankton, crabs and fish, introducing poisons into the food chain.