How I Met Your Mother gets into the environment. It's gonna be legen- wait for it...
When your friends create a hit sitcom, you learn very quickly to be careful how much detail about your life you share with them – let slip something embarrassing and it’s likely to end up on TV.
Awkward first date? Into the script. Unusual personal hang-up? Get ready for several million people to laugh at it. Traumatizing, life-altering experience? Repurposed for comedy. It can result in a lot of conversations along the lines of “you’re not going to believe what happened to me last ni… I mean, nothing. Nothing happened to me last night. Especially not involving a donkey eating my pants. At all.” But then there are times when you’re happy to bury your friends in information, such as when they’re asking about important environmental issues they can highlight.
In last night’s episode of “How I Met Your Mother,” Marshall Eriksen finally quit his corporate law job at the (fake) Goliath National Bank, to volunteer with the (very real) Natural Resources Defense Council. Declaring, “I need to do better things with my life,” Marshall is excited by the opportunity to work with NRDC. “I’d be saving the oceans, saving endangered species,” he says. Or, “saving chicken bones and an old boot to make hobo soup” retorts his friend Barney. Except that as Marshall noticed in a previous episode, those chicken bones and the old boot are unfortunately floating out to sea and dirtying our oceans.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (or as Marshall puts it, “Garbage Island”) is a swirling mess of bottles, bags, toys, packaging and plastic trash from all corners of the Earth forming an enormous plastic whirlpool in the North Pacific. As my colleague Kate Slusark has described previously, “Discarded water bottles from Iowa, takeout containers from New York City, flip-flops from California and plastic debris from the world over make their way from land into storm drains, streams, rivers and other waterways.” The plastic is carried out to sea, where it gets trapped by a vortex of currents to form a giant, floating trash dump. Seabirds, turtles, and other marine mammals mistake the floating plastic for food and ingest it, filling their stomachs with bottle caps, cigarette butts and fishing lures instead of food, ultimately causing them to starve. Scientists estimate that around the world, up to one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die each year from eating plastic.
This problem plagues our oceans even before we consider the devastating impacts of oil disasters or the effects of global warming, which is turning our oceans to acid and destroying, or more accurately, melting, habitat for threatened species like polar bears. Not to mention that global warming has serious consequences for us, including worsened air quality, more frequent heat waves, flooding, and droughts, and increased risk of water shortages for our farms and cities. Marshall will definitely have his hands full, but thankfully there is still time for him, and all of us, to make a difference. We can recycle plastic and use reusable shopping bags instead of disposable plastic ones to reduce the amount of plastic trash we generate. We can ensure that our trash ends up in a trash can and not on the street where it can be carried by the wind into our lakes, streams, and oceans. We can create smarter cars, use cleaner fuels, and build more energy efficient homes and communities to help fight global warming. We can save our oceans, and ourselves in the process.
Through six seasons of “How I met Your Mother,” Marshall keeps returning to his passion for the environment and the show keeps bringing him back to NRDC. Even though he’s still figuring out where to go next in his legal career, I hope this story continues, that Marshall gets that full time job saving the oceans and endangered species, and that my friends keep asking about the environment and mentioning it on their show. And if I ever end up getting my pants eaten by an endangered species, I hope it at least gets good ratings.
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