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Gyres of Pollution (April 17, 2018)


I recently read an article in Scientific Reports about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” (GPGP).  The GPGP is an area of ocean between Hawaii and North America about three times the size of France that collects vast quantities of plastic waste.  The waste is trapped in an immense oceanic “gyre” whose currents accumulate, circulate, and concentrate plastic trash.

To measure the contamination in the GPGP scientists sailed thirty ships in a line through it, dragging nets behind them. They also overflew the GPGP.  They discovered that the patch contains much more plastic garbage—4 to 16 times more!—than previously thought and that it is growing exponentially. There are five such oceanic gyres in the world, each accumulating and circulating plastic trash, though none is so polluted as the GPGP.  The good news is that much of the plastic trash is large enough to be captured mechanically and that organizations such as Ocean Cleanup are working on technologies for cleaning up these enormous oceanic pollution patches.

Reading the article about the GPGP reminded me of the apocalyptic opening lines of W. B. Yeats’s poem, “The Second Coming”: “Turning and turning in widening gyre,” he intones, “a blood-dimmed tide is loosed” on the world.  And of Mormon’s prophecy that the Book of Mormon “shall come in a day when there shall be great pollutions on the land” (Mor. 8:31).  The last days are indeed a time when great pollutions foul both land and sea. 

They are also a time of great moral pollution.  Vast cultural gyres of spiritual pollution circulate across the cultures of the world.  When the scriptures speak of pollution (and they speak of it often), they almost always refer to spiritual impurity. Even Mormon in the example above may have in mind spiritual pollution.  He goes on to describe the last days as polluted by pride, malice, envy, and “all manner of iniquities.” And he denounces those contaminated by the pervasive evils of the latter days as themselves pollutions: “O ye pollutions.”

Living in an age when gyres of filth swirl through contemporary culture no less than across the oceans, we must strive neither to pollute or be polluted.  Just as we can practice plogging and other forms of malama aina (care for the earth), we can and must work to keep our world and ourselves morally clean and pure. 

We can do this in many ways.  For example, we can resist the contaminating plague of pornography. We can refuse to pollute the Sabbath or profane the Lord’s name.  We can shun the polluting evils of pride, envy, and malice.  We can practice kindness in a world that is increasingly mean-spirited and foster civility in the face of incivility.  We can eschew what is crude, demeaning, degrading and hateful, and seek instead whatever is virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy, and of good report.

When President McKay dedicated the campus grounds, he urged Latter-day Saints in Laie to keep their yards beautiful and their streets clean.  He then admonished them to keep their lives clean: “above all, may the beauty of your town merely be a symbol of the beauty of your characters. This must be a moral town with no hatred, no backbiting, and no faultfinding.  May you love and live in peace,“ he said, adding that Laie should be a community radiating light and goodness commensurate with and comparable to that emanating from the temple, “standing out in beautiful white in the daytime and as an illuminated building at night.”

I challenge us all to strive to fulfill this vision of Zion.  Let us not only refuse to litter but also refuse to add to the moral contamination of the world and thus do our part to keep the currents of civilization clean and wholesome.