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A Material World

Posted by on May 26, 2016

First published in The Beat an Independent News Source at Mont Kiara International School (May 2016)

You know that we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl.

– Madonna, 1985

Madonna said it back in 1985. We are living it today more than ever, at least in the sense that we are producing and consuming more things and a greater diversity of plastic materials than I care to remember.

trash on beachJust the other day I went to my local beach in Bali.  The rains had flushed out a truck load of garbage, mostly plastic from the nearby creeks and dumped it into the ocean.  The tides brought it onshore and a stream of rubbish slowly crept up to the beach.

I couldn’t get in the water. It was too disgusting. Too dirty. Too sad.


This is the Island of the Gods.  But I am not sure which gods prefer offerings of plastic, rubbish and refuse.

The ceremonies I see that are meant to honor Nature often leave a pile of trash behind that stains the landscape for days and weeks until its washed away to who knows where.

What used to be wrapped in banana leafs and totally biocompatible is now surrounded in an almost indestructible layer of plastic.  Banana leafs fall apart, decompose and nourish the soil.  Plastic sticks around, tumbles around and breaks down into tinier bits and pieces and infiltrates the guts of marine organisms and terrestrial critters alike.

This is not healthy for us or our wild neighbors.  The tradition remains though the materials have changed.

Don’t get me wrong.  The ceremonies are beautiful and magical.  But we have yet to update many of our ancient traditions to match our modern times.

Which brings me to the notion of Shifting Baselines.


I grew up in a world where we roamed around in packs outside until dark.  I don’t remember doing much homework.  We drank water from the tap and when we got thirsty we would pilfer water from a neighbor’s hose.

Music was played on cassette tapes.  No one I knew had a computer until high school or University and they were so slow you had to wait never ending minutes for the programs to load.  Phones had rotary dial and were attached to a wire in the wall.  TV had a few channels and movies came on a big VCR tape.

There wasn’t as much plastic, at least not such a great diversity with ubiquitous distribution.  I know this because I made money by collecting glass bottles and selling them for ten cents each and then used that money to buy Butterfinger candy bars in the Rexall drug store.

Rivers were mostly clear and I don’t remember so many malls.

That is my Baseline.

If someone had told me back then that in the future we would buy water in bottles and then throw the bottles away, that kids would spend most of their time indoors connected to small hand held wireless devices that could play music and movies and that most everyone would walk around staring at a tiny screen connected to some mysterious and amorphous thing called the Internet I quite literally would not have known what they meant.

Many rivers in Southeast Asia are brownPlastic is pretty much everywhere you go and most people spend their free time roaming around malls instead of cow pastures, creek banks and the woods.

That is the Baseline for many folks today.  The Baseline has Shifted.

Which means how we experience the world and our perception of how the world should be has also shifted.

If rivers running brown and beaches littered with plastic is our Baseline then the next generations will think that is how it has always been and how it should be.

If we don’t spend time outside exploring and playing the disconnect will grow.

That is dangerous.

The best solution I know is to get outside and look for those wild places that still exist.  Spend time wandering and wondering.  Connect with that which is inherently a part of you and who you are because we are all grown from the same stuff of the Universe and the dust and mud of The Earth.

Madonna was right.  We are living in a material world but we can choose which materials build that world and which materials make our memories.


My world and my memories are not made from plastic.


3 Responses to A Material World

  1. John Gray

    My count on plastic rubbish is 9;068 large rubbish bags. This does not include the rubbish collected by organized school group organized clean-ups. I am very happy to see your interest in plastic marine rubbish. I am 71 and may not make it to my lifwetime goal of 10,000 bags. I would write more but the typeface format of this reply box is absurdly small!

    • theearthmattersasia

      Hi Mr. Gray!

      THANKS for getting in touch… we’ve paddled together before with the students from Saudi Aramco & Mike… maybe you recall..

      I think you’ve viewed some of my Green Paddlers videos when we paddled around Phuket to collect trash and make documentary movies about marine issues in Thailand.

      We’ll make sure to stay in touch… and keep working on these and other issues!

      THANKS for inspiring us and hope we paddle again soon!

      take care,

      • John Gray

        Thanks Kenny (Mr. Gray is my father). My mobile is 084-844-1807. If you stay in Phuket, come by our Samkong office and let’s do some kayaking together

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