First lady Laura Bush is again speaking out on the marine debris issue, with a letter to the editor published in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. The letter has some pointed criticism of plastics, but I think it's safe to say that the Bush family isn't really anti-plastics, despite some of the things she wrote that might come across that way. Rather, I think readers should focus instead on what she has to say about marine debris, and take the criticism to heart. This is a very big issue, especially in California and Hawaii, which is something that people elsewhere in the country still might not realize. Since the WSJ's Web site is restricted to subscribers only, I can't share a link, but I will share the letter itself. She wrote it in response to a WSJ commentary that ran on Aug. 8 about thousands of plastic bathtub toys that were lost overboard in 1992 and continue to wash up on shore in various places around the world:
Curtis Ebbesmeyer's commentary "Rubber Ducky Frenzy" (editorial page, Aug. 8) about the thousands of bathtub toys lost overboard in 1992 highlights the persistent problem of marine debris in our oceans and along our coastlines. I witnessed the grim toll marine debris takes on wildlife during my visit to Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands last March. These islands are home to over 70% of the world's Laysan Albatrosses. My visit coincided with the Albatross nesting season when the chicks are dependent solely on the adults for food. Adult Albatrosses fly far from these islands in search of food and in the process of fishing they mistake floating plastic for fish to feed their chicks. I saw firsthand the unfortunate result: carcasses of Albatross chicks which upon examination had fragments of plastic, including toys, cigarette lighters, toothbrushes and bottle caps, in their stomachs. Many Laysan Albatrosses die each year as a result of ingesting plastic, and research shows that increasing accumulation of debris also entangles seals and turtles on the islands. Debris floating in the oceans and coastal waters enters from many sources: litter and illegal dumping on land, fishing gear lost at sea, and cargo lost overboard. Trash that is disposed of improperly along coastal areas is likely to wash out into the ocean. A significant portion of the waste consists of non-biodegradable plastic. The plastic may float in the ocean for years, entangle marine animals or be eaten by them, degrade habitats such as coral reefs, or end up on the shores in distant places -- like Midway Atoll. In June 2006 President Bush established the world's largest fully-protected marine conservation area, the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The monument designation ensures the protection of these islands, the coral reefs, the unique native species and cultural and historic resources. The monument is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the State of Hawaii. This partnership is working to restore the wildlife and habitat, remove marine debris from the coral reefs and islands, and promote greater public awareness of this unique part of the world. People everywhere have a responsibility to be good stewards of our environment. The trash we throw away can have harmful consequences on wildlife and the environment far from home. President Bush joins me in encouraging all Americans to reduce the amount of plastic we use in our daily lives; re-use the plastic we already have; and buy items made of recycled materials and those that can be recycled. Our efforts will help ensure a cleaner and healthier environment for future generations. Laura Bush The White House WashingtonIf Hillary Clinton had written a letter like this eight years ago, saying that she and Bill were encouraging Americans to use less plastic, do you think there would have been an outcry? I don't expect the same reaction from Bush's comments. Anyway, this isn't the first time Laura Bush has commented on plastic marine debris. I blogged about this back in March, and noted at the time that this was proof that marine debris is not a fringe issue. Now, with a signed letter to the editor of the most prestigous business newspaper in the United States, she is once again stressing the importance of this message.