tv Amanpour on PBS PBS April 20, 2018 6:00am-6:30am PDT
welcome to amanpour on pbs. tonight the plastic play. choking our seas, littering our beaches and entering our food chain. as britain leads the way with plans to ban plastic, the aim ocean og ra fers tell me what we must all do to help. plus, my conversation with one of the world's most celebrated novelists and feminists. the award winner joins me in the studio. ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ >> good evening, everyone and welcome to the program. i'm christiane amanpour in
london. the anti-plastic wave is at a tipping point, finally crashing onto the shores of public awareness. our single use throw away culture is so harming our seas and our planet that today here in the u.k. the government is proposed as a first step banning the sale of plastic straws. in new york, mayor bill de blasio recently tweeted, we need to ban plastic bags. the time for this debate is over. and in kenya, those found violating the world's toughest laws against plastic bags can receive fines of up to $38,000. of all the discarded plastic, only around 9% is being recycled. it is a stark reality that legendary ocean og rafr sylvia earl knows all too well. having spent a lifetime at the bottom of the sea and campaigning to save the waters which is as much the planet apg
lungs as our forests are. she joined me to talk about how we can turn back the clock despite the alarming statistics. sylvia earl, welcome to the program. >> thank you. >> it is wonderful to talk to you about this really important issue, plastics. and you have been diving -- let me just get the precise number of hours -- 7,000 hours under water over the 65 years you've been diving. it is incredible to think that. so, all of this exploration plus "the fan" task pictures plus as we know david, the blue planet, phenomenal, right? he has been credited with boost ag wearness of the dangers to our oceans, and particularly the plastics. would you say that plastics are the biggest danger right now? >> they're a great threat. there are actually two categories. what we're putting into the ocean is one of those categories, and it's excess carbon dioxide from burning
fossil fuels that is not only warming the planet, but it is causing the ocean to become more acidic. so, it's all the trash, all the toxins, the things that we allow to flow into the sea and the deliberate trash. and plastics. >> we' seen trash and the like over here. we know that cnn did a wonderful documentary at midway island, plastic island, which is just shocking to see. >> those poor alba trosses. >> something that really shocked me was the sperm whale that washed up on a beach in spain last week and had, listen to this, 64 pounds of plastic and waste in its stomach. i mean ropes also, pieces of net, other debris lodged in its stomach. i mean, this is the whale here. here we have all the stuff that the scientists have taken out. >> it just -- >> it's awful. >> it should cause people to just sit up and take notice and
realize there's no way on earth. especially when you think of the plastics. they don't go away. they sometimes break into smaller pieces, but they're very durable. micro plastics are now an increasing problem. >> so, tell me about that a little bit because i think people start to become aware when they see things like this, mountains and mountains of garbage and plastic. tell me the story of plastic. it's our disposable society, right? everybody has a cup -- >> marketing. it's marketing. human kind got along perfectly well without single-use plastics until we started to get into that habit. and it wasn't until the middle of the 20th century when i began diving, when i was problem. it's what we do with them and the way many plastics are created to be thrown away, use
it once, toss it, as if there is someplace tha it goes. it does, it goes into the ocean largely. >> this is the albatross we were talking about before. it really is just a tragic thing. >> it never got to fly. this looks like a young one. >> oh, my. how do they put this stuff in their mouths? it's huge. >> well, moms and dads come back thinking they are giving them sustenance and often they have fish eggs and other things growing on them. in all innocence they stuff their babies with these colorful pieces. there's another thing. there are fewer squid, fewer small fish in the ocean to feed their little ones. that's part of the problem, what we're taking out, we've taken on the order of 90% of the sharks, the big tunas. >> so, as of 2014, more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic,
collectively they weigh something like 269,000 tons, were floating in the world's oceans. as of 2010, 8 million metric tons of plastic entering the oceans annually. so, i mean, look, we are describing a catastrophic problem. am i correct, is it catastrophic? >> it is catastrophic, but it's not the only problem. it is matched by what we are taking out. it is matched by the changing chemistry of the ocean, but the worst problem of all -- i'm so glad we're having this conversation- ignorance. people either don't know the magnitude of what's going on or they don't know why they should care. so, we lose the whales. so, there's a lot of junk in the ocean. so what? people think -- or don't think about the real reason they should be concerned, and that is that the ocean drives climate and weather. the ocean is the basis of earth's life support. it's where most of the oxygen is
generated. trees and grass and ferns, all of that, photo synthesis helps, but the heavy lifting is done by the small creatures in the ocean. they're now getting clogged with all the bits of plastic in the ocean, too, and the creatures that feed on those micro organisms are n now feeding on e lot of plastic as well. so, if you look inside a little fish or a jelly fish that takes up some of these small bits, it's become part of the food chain in that way. when the big fish eat the little fish and the bigger fish eat them, it just goes right up the food chain, exuding toxins along the way. so, we can blame plastics because it's nice to point fingers at the problem. but we should point the fingers at ourselves. >> precisely, because plastics, we put them there, so we need to figure out how we, the people, can fix this. so, how do we do that in an
environment where many, many people would like to protect their environment, but many, many governments are hostile to that kind of environmental protection, including the biggest governments? >> more are coming around, though. >> yes, the united states of america has a bit of an issue when it comes to this, especially under this administration. or you're not worried about that? >> it's a new phenomenon because president obama established the largest marine protected area in history. and the first u.s. president to do something as magnificent as that was president george w. bush. it's just that obama quadrupled the size of it. actually, the idea of protecting the environment goes way back. every president since theodore roosevelt has taken action, mostly in the land. starting in the '70s, ideas about maybe this same idea of parks, blue parks can be extended into the sea.
>> of course, you have your own mission blue ngo, and you've created or you're trying to create what you call hope spots. >> yes. >> tell me about that. how is that going to change this dynamic? >> oh, well, it empowers people to identify places that they love, they care about, places that are either in great shape or those that it with care can be improved and reason for hope if we really use our power to embrace the wild, our life support system. there's a good chance to recover from the depletion of what we have witnessed, the poisoning, all of the things that are now problems. >> so, are you encouraged -- i mean, i couldn't believe it that this week, british scientists say they may hav identified a plastic-eating enzyme that could significantly degrade plastic bottles, for instance. >> well, that's cause for hope.
i don't really expect that will be the big solution to this problem. there's no free lunch. there's no magic wand. what we have to do is take personal responsibility for our actions, the choices we make, or don't. the awareness that together, if we look at what's happening to our life support system, our highest priority really has to be to keep the world safe. everything else depends on that. if you can't breathe, that's a real problem. >> i mean, you're not saying boycott plastics. you're saying we have to be responsible by how we use them and how we dispose of them. >> absolutely. and to challenge the whole concept of single use, whether it's a bottle in our bag or a fork or a plate. where did this idea come from? it looks convenient until you realize what do you do with it. >> i know, but generations have been brought up in this
disposable income, disposable environment. >> i come from the preplastic-ozoic age. i know we can dut witho much of the stuff that w generated that doesn't go away. mindful. >> you've been doing this, as i said in the beginning, for about 65 years. you've been diving. how was it for a woman to do the heavy lifting, you know, over these years? was it -- did you encounter sort of prejudice, sexism, or anything, even under water? >> well, it's still going on, of course. but it's better today than it was in terms of being accepted as a scientist or as a professional. i really have always felt that i'm doing what i'm doing because of what i love. it's exploration, research, caring for the world. >> that's a beautiful picture of you there.
>> yes, i took my children to meet that dolphin in the bahamas. out of school, we went to the big blue school. well, it was fascinating to come along at a time when it was unexpected for women -- you know -- to be doing certain things in certain places. and i, in 1964, as a scientist was invited to go on an expedition out of the country. first time i had been out of the united states, i went to the indian ocean for six weeks on a ship, and i was the only woman, and there were 70 men. >> 70 to 1. >> yeah, and the headline read sylvia sails away with 70 men, but she expects no problems. >> the new yorker in 1989 said at least once sylvia earl was denied a valued teaching assistantship. a woman will just get married and have babies.
of course, i was indignant of that attitude, but it wasn't unusual in those days. >> think of how things have been shifting. in colleges around the world there are sometimes more women than men coming on asthma rinne biologists, marine scientists, oceanographers. the day roberto sails away with 70 women but he expects no problem. >> that would be good. >> it's coming. at least be equally represented. >> you are in your 80s now. >> yeah. >> you don't look it. and you're still diving. >> last week in indonesia. it's great. as long as you're breathing, you can be diving. >> sylvia earl, thanks for being with us. words to live by, asong as you're breathing, you can still dive. sylvia earl has devoted her life to telling truths about the world's oceans as you just heard. my next guest has used her block
buster book and the platform they have given her to tell often deeply uncomfortable truths about race, gender and politics. she is one of the world's most celebrated authors and she joins me now here in our studio. great to have you with us. >> lovely to be here. >> you once resonated some of what sylvia was saying, must have resonated with you. >> yes. >> let me start by asking you, then, around the whole me, too, debate which you talked a lot about. you surprised quite a lot of your devotees and those who hang on every word with a speech you made in stockholm this week where you revealed for the first time at 17, you had been agressed, you had your own me too moment. tell me about it. >> there was a man in lagos who i thought would help me with my
first -- i published the book of poetry, terrible, terrible book i hope nobody reads. i was young and i thought it was a wonderful book. i thought everyone should know about it. i went too a book lunch, i went to this man's office. he was very nice, very helpful. i was sitting across his desk. he says he was so impressed because young people were not reading and i had written this book at 17. then he got up and came around and very casually slipped his hand under my shirt, under my bra and squeezed my breast. >> just like that? >> yes. >> did you even get a sense of foreboding when you got up? >> no, because nothing had prepared me for it. nothing had -- none of his behavior had suggested he was going to do anything like that. >> you were 17. >> yes. >> so, how did that shape you? how did that turn you into the feminist you are today? >> you know, i think i was a feminist before then. i've been a feminist for as long as i can remember. as a child i was very much aware the world did not treat men and
women the same way. >> just like we heard from sylvia earl. >> i didn't read any feminist texts. i didn't have a moment where i rose up and said i'm a feminist. actually i didn't know what the word feminist meant for a long time, but i was one. i was one. >> why did you decide to tell this story now given it's been six months or more since this whole revolution started? >> i think partly because i -- and i'm not interested in naming names because that's not what it is for me. it's simply to say this is happening. it happens to most women. it's not unusual. i don't think i'm remarkable. but i wanted to use it to talk about why we don't talk about it, like the thing about social conditioning that women go through that makes them not talk about these experiences. somebody else will say, why are you talking about it now? why didn't you do something? why didn't you push him or slap him? how socialization tells us to be
nice and kind to people who hurt us. >> you do describe an internal change that happened to you after this. i mean, you know, all the women are asked, why didn't you? why are you telling us now? why did you keep quiet? why weren't you, et cetera, as you just said. your whole body broke out, you described. >> i broke out in rashes shortly after that and all over my chest, my neck, my face. and i remember -- the only person who knew was my best friend. i remember her saying to me, your body is saying what your lips cannot say. sort of this loathing that you feel. i don't know if that's why i broke out. maybe i was just using the wrong moisturizer. but the point is that even if the rashes had nothing to do with it, my spirit had a visceral reaction to it. >> is this best friend the same one who told you that -- or was it another friend -- who told you that feminism is not part of
our culture? >> oh, no, no. my best friend is too reasonable. >> but it was a friend who said that to you? rt of any culture or not part at of any culture is ridiculous. i think my great grandmother was a feminist because she spoke her mind. wanted her own, to be her own, if that makes sense, and was known to be a troublemaker, which i think is a wonderful tag for a woman, which meant she was feminist. and for me, i don't really -- now being considered this feminist icon, which is something i feel ambivalent about, it was never the plan, but feminist discourse in the west, people talk about second way feminism, it doesn't really appeal to me. i don't really feel a connection to it because it's not my story, but i didn't become a feminist because i read about second wave feminism. i became a feminist because i grew up in nigeria and observed the world and saw what felt to me like an injustice that made no sense. why were women judged more
harshly? why were all the positions of real power occupied by men? why were the cultural practices that had prestige somehow only for men? those things just didn't seem to make any sense to me as a child. >> you recount in one of your ted talks an extraordinary story where you are with a male friend and you are in the car park or something and you want to give a tip to one of the workers there. and you give a tip and what happens? >> and this man to whom i gave the money, my money from my bag, he looks -- >> from your hard work. >> yes. >> he looks across me and says to my friend, the man, thank you, sir. but here's the -- it was a wonderful moment for my friend. because until then he had often said to me, i don't really understand what you mean when you say that there is a problem. i don't understand. he said to me, women are equal. there is no problem. women should stop complaining. in that moment he said to me, why did the man thank me? you gave him the money.
>> do you haveope thathis t actually on a tipping point? on a curve that can only go in the right direction? >> i think it could go either direction. >> yes. >> i hope it will go in the right direction. one of the reasons that i find me too hopeful, i think it's remarkable because it's the first time that women's stories are finally being believed. it's the first time that kind of the impulse, the sort of cultural impulse is to believe women, it has never happened. so that's why i'm hopeful. but i also know the history of women's movement. the history of really any justice movement is one in which there is always the possibility of -- >> exactly, we see that with civil rights in the united states. we all wonder whether this amazing never again movement by the young people in america will keep moving forward. >> yes. >> or will get marginalized. the same about race particularly
in the united states. black lives matter, and the seeming -- it just seems that that struggle never gets to the top of the mountain. >> yes. >> and i know that you're always asked about it and you've often said that you're tired sometimes of catering to white sensitivities and sensibilities about this issue. and sometimes you get yourself in trouble in various audiences because of that. but you obvious are saying something msively important. soere do u see the struggle over racism in your own environment, whether it's in the united states, even in africa if i can say so? >> it's hard for me to take about racism in africa because the context is so different. i don't think of myself as black when i'm home in nigeria because we have many problems, but race is not one of them. i think we have ethnicity and religion which i believe are the things that define us, i think. the u.s., which is a country that racism is sort of the genetic center of america.
and because of that, i think it's going to take a long time. it took, i don't know, 250 years of racism to create america and the civil rights movement which hasn't achieved what it was supposed to achieve. you look at the u.s. and you look at sit-ins, i came to the u.s. and i thought, why are the really terrible parts of the city so full of black people? and ostensibly it's because they don't work hard or they don't want to live -- but that's not true. you start to read the history and you realize there are government policies that excluded african americans. and i think what's happening, i do think black lives matter has done remarkable work. i think that if we can measure progress in terms of what we can now say, i think black lives matter has contributed a lot. there are many conversatio th black people had in prite that they are now having publicly in -- >> that is cause for hope.
50 years after martin luther king's assassination. >> yes. >> you mention the reports, we reported on one that had been done by stanford and a bunch of other scholarly areas where it's sadly said that black boys, even if they're born into a wealthy family and they get all the educational opportunities that their white neighbors may have, right after school they drop right off that precipice back into the pit of racism. i said you use your platform, your fame as an author to move these agendas along. where are you right now in your writerly life? you've done obviously americana was the last book. what's happening next? where do you feel this writing and activism is going for you? >> you know, i think they're two very different things. the person who writes fiction is different from the person who
ponti pontifficates. i think this is a gift from god, a gift from my ancestors. but talking about things that matter to me happen because i have this platform that came with my fiction writing. and there are many times i really just want to stay at home in my study and read poetry and write. that's what gives me the greatest joy. but then something happens and i can't help it because i get so angry about injustice and i feel like i need to say something. so right now i'm trying to read more poetry. i'm also trying not to have the social issue that i care about be the things that propel my fiction writing. i want to tell the stories that speak to me. i want to write about love, but again even love is political. >> it is indeed. it just leads me on because nigeria has this issue, kenya has this issue of criminalizing home o homosexuality. tomorrow i have an interview with someone in kenya, it will be viewed as quite controversial. there are kenyan things about this issue, which is this is not
an important issue for the people. is it, the idea of gay rights, of protection? >> i think it is very important. and the reason is to criminalize something that isn't criminal is immoral. and so we have gay nigerians who live in fear. we have gay nigerians who are threatened, who have violence committed against them. i know one in particular, for example, who says that he is sometimes blackmailed by his driver, his gate man because the driver and the gate man say to him, i'm going to go report and tell them that men come to your house, that you're gay. it matters. it matters because of the dignity of human beings. we need to uphold that. they are not doing anything criminal. people should be allowed to do be who they are. >> thank you so much. keep writing and keep agitating. thanks for joining us. so, as we were saying earlier, of course, plastics are a big subject around the world, and sylvia earl told me they are
a great threat to our oegsz. and sometimes it's hard to imagine the scale or how to cut down on the harmful side effects. so, we are leaving you with this advice from our digital team and that's it for our program tonight. thanks for watching amanpour on pbs and join us again tomorrow night. a here are five things you can do to use less plastic. cut out plastic straws. use stainless steel or cardboard. use a reusable bag instead of relying on plastic ones. pack meals in reusable containers. invest in reusable bottles for drinks instead of plastic bottles or take away cups. here's a surprising one. stop chewing gum. it's made of synthetic rubber which is a type of plastic. so, remember, your plastic pick can make a change.