Last night I was scrolling on Instagram when I came across a post from The Slow Factory stating that there are now more microplastics in the ocean than there are stars in the galaxy. My 12 year old son was sitting next to me so I shared that stat with him. He put his headphones down and stared at me blankly. “Are you okay?”, I asked. After another moment he replied, shaking his head, “People are stupid”. I sighed and put down my phone. “It’s not people so much as the systems they live in. There are a few people calling the shots that are motivated by money that make bad choices, but that’s really systems too. You and I are a part of the problem as much as anyone else”. He looked depleted.

I haven’t had a lot of these heavy conversations with my kids beyond the standard “save the planet” bits they’d be hearing everywhere else. I don’t want to weight them down at such a young age. But in that moment of silence, I could tell that my son understood what a monumental problem plastic pollution is. I read him more of the caption on the post that microplastics are actually embedded on the ocean floor and kill more than 100,000 marine animals every year.

We sat back and had moment. “This is why we grow food, and raise chickens, and buy second hand stuff.” I said, hoping to inspire him a bit more. “So that we don’t have to be part of the systems that are causing problems like microplastics.” We talked about how capitalism fuels pollution like this, and how it became kind of a run away problem that no one expected, about how hard it is to stop now. I told him that in the last few years, though, it seems as though people are finally starting to understand the scope of these problems, so hopefully that’s a good step to making changes to fix the problems, but really it’s a few years too late.

But the solutions are there. The changes we need to make are right in front of us. We just need more people to actually make those changes and it would help if industry could put on their big kid pants and make changes on their end too. As a culture, we need to stop being fueled by financial gain: a hard sell but it’s all right there. It was nice for me to be able to give my son that glimmer of hope, no matter how faint.