Hello everyone, Jim the Editor here – don’t worry, nothing has happened to Chris, he’s just busying himself with the Ultra Beast reviews, answering all your questions and, well, his attempts to contribute to the real-world academic community, so we thought it might be worth me taking the lead to point wildly at an upcoming Pokémon-related event which is close to my own heart. For the second year running Niantic – the creators of Pokémon Go – are teaming up with Playmob to support a worldwide ‘clean-up’ initiative based around ‘Earth Day’ on April 22nd.
According to Niantic’s own data, 68 ‘Clean-Up’ events last year drew in over 4,500 participants across 19 countries and removed a little over 6.6 tons of rubbish from the environment, focussing mainly on the removal of plastics from waterways. Not too shabby, but in 2019 they’re looking to go bigger…
This year between April 13th and 28th, Niantic are helping to host and advertise even more of these worldwide ‘Clean-Up’ events – there are over 100 currently listed with more still to be added. If helping to clean your local environment wasn’t enough incentive, Niantic are also offering Pokémon Go (as well as Ingress) related rewards based on participation numbers. These ‘Clean-Up’ events are just the first step in a wider ecological strategy supported by Niantic which aims to rehabilitate local environments under threat from human activities.
These kinds of clean-up campaigns have come under a fair amount of scrutiny and criticism in recent times (you should have seen the draft of this post which Chris proposed…) given the current proliferation of single-use plastics; one critic likened it to addressing an overflowing sink by mopping the floor before turning off the tap. This pessimistic view has a place. The 6.6 tons of rubbish which was collected as part of Niantic’s events last year represents a depressingly minuscule fraction of the plastics entering the world’s oceans every year. It is true that unless we find a solution to the cause of plastic pollution and begin to change our consumer habits on a global (and commercial) scale, events like these are unlikely to make a significant dent in plastic pollution.
However, there is a flip-side to this and to my mind, the benefits of these and similar events are two-fold. Firstly, it is important to note that lower-scale activities such as organised or even individual ‘Clean-Ups’ can be highly effective on a local-level – and not simply because every piece of trash you remove is one less piece in the environment. In 2015, Afroz Shah and Harbansh Mathur began the clean up of Versova beach in Mumbai. What began as just the two of them collecting rubbish by hand at the weekend quickly attracted more and more volunteers, sparking the largest beach clean-up project in history, as volunteers removed an estimated 5,300 tons of waste in 21 months (see below). All this hard work was rewarded when in 2018 Olive Ridley turtles – a species not seen at Versova in decades – began to use the beach once more as a hatching-ground. Versova is an extreme example. However, it does demonstrate the long-term impacts which clean up events can have on local environments.
The second, and perhaps more important aspect of clean up events, is the ability of these events to educate. Participation can change individual mindsets and attitudes towards the problem of plastic pollution. Engaging with local clean up events gives people a sense of the scale of the issue being faced – even if what they are seeing is only a fraction of the real picture. Although any changes to individual practices are not going to solve this global crisis (though every little change does help), granting people with first-hand experience of the problems which the environment faces could result in a greater awareness of the need for action on a larger scale. With any luck, this may serve to drive and/or inform governmental (or even global) policies in the near-future. For me, this is the main benefit of these and similar events.
The world is in trouble. We, the human race, are destroying the environment at an astonishing rate. None of you reading this are directly responsible for that fact (unless we have any CEOs of giant corporations in the audience, but if that is the case, why aren’t you supporting us on Patreon?!)…
But it is a fact nonetheless.
Will participating in these events save the planet?
In the long-term, no… or at least not directly.
Do these events have the potential to rehabilitate local environments and ecosystems?
Does anybody still play Pokémon Go?
I mean, neither Chris nor I have in a while, but I’d still be keen to turn out in solidarity for those of you who do if there were an event anywhere near me.
I’d like to end with a suggestion. If there are no clean up events nearby but you still want to get involved, I want you to go out in a local park, beach, lake or stream – anywhere you think needs a bit of a tidy – collect as much trash as you can and then tweet a picture of the rubbish you collect to Chris (@pokemaniacal) – he’ll love it.
Anyway, that’s enough out of me. I’ll go back to editing and throwing out the occasional comment.