Plastic pollution could last forever if we don’t change our habits

Jackson Browne writes a song about plastic

What you can do to help prevent plastic pollution:
• Avoid excessive packaging when making purchases.
• Use paper bags, milk and juice in cardboard or glass, and cloth diapers.
• Educate others about plastic pollution and about alternatives to plastics.
• If you must use plastics, recycle.
Watch Jackson Browne perform his new song "If I Could Be Anywhere" at
Learn more about the problem of plastics in our oceans at
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno. His column, Greenlight, appears weekly in this space.

March 2 was Jackson Browne Day in Sacramento. I have admired Jackson Browne for decades. So even though I already had tickets to see him at the Community Center Theater, I jumped at the chance to hear him speak at a meeting Mayor Kevin Johnson sponsored at the Crocker Art Museum.

For those of you who were not on the planet during the ’70s and ’80s, Jackson Browne is an incredibly insightful and poetic songwriter. While many artists can move me, he is one of the few artists that somehow expand my horizons and make me see things more deeply.

The mayor invited all of us who are working on his art, schools and environmental projects to attend. Great! First, we heard progress reports on the various projects. And then the songwriter arrived. As opposed to the previous speakers, who had their presentations down pat, Browne seemed surprised by the audience and the need for a speech. Since he was going to sing that evening, he couldn’t just do the easiest thing, which would have been to sing a few songs. So he rambled on for a moment about his environmental work. And then he told us about his new song, “If I Could Be Anywhere”: a song about plastic.

“Searching for the future among the things we’ve thrown away
Trying to see the world through the junk we produce every day
They say nothing lasts forever, but all the plastic ever made is still here
No amount of closing our eyes will make it disappear”

He wrote this song while he was hanging out with oceanographers as they studied the damage that plastic does to the ocean. Plastic food bags, bottles, caps and lids take a very, very long time to break up. Ocean currents push this debris into huge, rotating whirlpools called “gyres.” The North Pacific Gyre is almost twice the size of the United States. This plastic debris will last for decades, and as it breaks down into smaller pieces, they are often swallowed by fish and other sea life with disastrous consequences.

Browne no longer takes bottled water on his tours. When he eats fast food, his group provides their own containers. We could reduce our use of plastics, too. Just by using fewer plastic bags and not drinking from plastic bottles, we could make a difference.

The conclusion to the plastic song summed it up for me.

“And the world can’t take it, that you can see
If the oceans don’t make it, neither will we
The world is gonna shake itself all the way free somehow

If I could be anywhere
If I could be anywhere in time
If I could be anywhere and change the outcome, it would have to be now.”