Melvin Alvarez is an environmental policy consultant at the United Nations Environment Program in Washington D.C.

ODP: What do you see as the most pressing issue facing our oceans today?

MA: The proliferation of plastic through all aspects of society—considering that more than half of all plastic ever created was produced in the last 15 years—has led to the growing issue of marine plastic pollution. Our ocean, their vast ecosystems, and wildlife are literally drowning in plastic: every year 8 to 13 million metric tonnes of plastic enter the ocean (that is roughly the equivalent of dumping one plastic-full garbage truck into the ocean every minute of every day for an entire year!). Marine plastic pollution is present in all ocean waters, from the Arctic to the Antarctic and from the surface to the deepest trench of the seafloor. Marine plastic pollution is not as complicated or politically polarizing as climate change; to address it, we don’t have to remake our society or our entire energy systems. We can change our production and consumption patterns to be more sustainable, and more urgently we can build the necessary institutions and systems to prevent plastic trash from going into the ocean.

ODP: What can your generation do specifically to address this and other threats facing the world’s oceans as Millennials become a bigger voting block and begin to hold more seats in public office?

MA: Millennials and younger generations need to consistently exercise our right to vote to elect officials that share our viewports on ocean conservation and other global issues. We also need to run for and occupy public offices. My Millennial and younger generations are diverse, highly educated, environmentally conscious consumers, and fearful activists for environmental action but our generations have yet to capitalize on our voting power. In the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, there was a record number of millennials candidates that ran and were elected to public office, yet in the current U.S. Congress, the average age of a lawmaker in the House is 58 and the Senate 62. We need to change this by voting and running for public office were our voice will have a bigger microphone—or a nice pen to write laws.  

ODP: What gives you hope that we can act to protect our oceans and leave them healthy for future generations?

MA: In the last couple of years, the issue of plastic pollution and marine litter have come to the attention of the broader society at a global scale—via powerful images, documentaries, or campaigns. The increase in awareness of the issues has translated into consumers demanding for better alternatives to plastic, industries pledging to reduce their plastic consumption, public-private investment in new technology, and bans on certain plastic products around the world. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle understand the magnitude of the issue and are willing to work together in order to address the growing concern of marine plastic pollution—e.g., the U.S. Senate passed the bipartisan Save Our Seas (S.O.S.) Act in 2018 and hopefully the S.O.S. 2.0 Act is enacted this year. Younger generations are amplifying their voice and actions, this gives me hope that we will continue to work towards protecting our oceans from plastic pollution and other pertinent hazards.

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