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Cleaning up a remote beach where grizzly bears forage is hardly the answer to plastic pollution, it turns out. The shoreline will be well littered again in no time. And where does that leave the oceans, where our floating industrial waste stream often is aggregated by the currents into places with names like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? The oceans were once thought to be too vast for us to properly befoul – even Rachel Carson thought as much for a time. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is roughly the size of Texas and growing, and plastic has become as common as plankton in many places. Birds and fish mistake the smaller portions for food.

Hohn, who is now the features editor at GQ, writes with precision and passion about what he sees and learns on his various travels and about his discussions with scientists, mariners, do-gooders, and beachcombers. His writing is lively and literate, filled with vivid descriptions, telling context, and lightly seasoned with quotes from Melville and others. He knows a symbol when one bobs into his ken, and what to do with it: “Here, then, is one of the meanings of the duck. It represents this vision of childhood – the hygienic childhood, the safe childhood, the brightly colored childhood in which everything, even bathtub articles, have been designed to please the childish mind, much as the golden fruit in that most famous origin myth of paradise ‘was pleasant to the eyes’ of childish Eve.”

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