— Boyan Slat (@BoyanSlat) May 15, 2017
A young Dutch man by the name of Boyan Slat was diving in Greece at 16 when he realized that there were more bags floating around in the ocean than fish.
Instead of cursing the name of capitalism or scoffing at modern civilization out of resentment and millennial angst, he embarked on a series of projects to rid the ocean of plastic, which eventually led to his company, The Ocean Cleanup.
Through research and crowdfunding, Boyan has turned his wishful thinking of cleaning up the ocean into a tangible reality, making him into a bad*ss spiritual warrior. His noble efforts should be something all young people look to for inspiration as we endeavor to change the world in our own way (whether big or small).
Boyan is a great example of someone who recognized a problem, identified how it might be solved, became an expert in the subject, and went about the trouble of solving it—with all of the 80-hour work weeks and ramen noodle dinners that it might entail.
This goes completely against the sort of post-modern millennial ethos of cynically professing broad generalizations and vague abstractions in response to the sorrows of the world. There is a place for collectivist ideas, don’t get me wrong, but there is also a place for individual responsibility for the problems of the world and this quality is profoundly lacking in our culture.
Boyan was on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast recently, where he discussed his outlook on the world among other things.
“Instead of having a more reactionary feel to all of this, ‘look at all of these problems that have been created by business and technology—we should stay as far away from those things as possible!’ I think that’s sort of stupid. I think the progress we have made really just shows how these are powerful ways of getting things done. A much more effective way would be to take what has worked in other areas and apply that to the environment.”
Technology and business are not oppressive instruments in themselves, rather they have just been used in some oppressive ways out of our ignorance and selfishness. We should use what we have developed up to this point in human history to begin to tackle bigger problems that we have neglected in the past. This looks like environmental entrepreneurship, raising money for just causes, and getting involved in community projects—the list goes on and on.
“What I really hope is that The Ocean Cleanup can become a symbol of how we should use technology to solve the problems of our time. A lot of it comes down to the idea that we shouldn’t protest what we don’t agree with as much as building a future that we do agree with. When we look at the past couple hundred years of modernity, what we see is dramatic positive trends in health, wealth, education, and violence. That all comes down to our ability to imagine things that don’t exist yet, technology and innovation, and work together in an effective way to make those things happen. We should learn to take those trends and apply them to the areas outside of our own species and the rest of the environment.”
What I notice with my generation is that we too often focus on larger systemic issues, most of which we can’t directly affect, while neglecting the role of the individual in creating a better world. We look at the ways in which capitalism and industrialization have failed us, while ignoring some of the more positive trends that have occurred. For example, the United Nations set to eradicate global poverty by 2030, and has done so by 50 percent since the year 2000.
When we ignore personal responsibility, it becomes difficult to capitalize (no pun intended) on the things Western civilization has been successful at by applying them to other problems. On top of that, it’s just extremely annoying to see young people complaining about capitalism while on their iPhones (performative contradiction), but not actually doing much about the problems they see in the world.
This is why Boyan Slat is such an important figure right now. He’s a shining example of how we should all be thinking about and dealing with the many problems of our world. We have our work cut out for us—that much is clear—but I really don’t believe we can improve things just by arguing with people we disagree with on Facebook or by shouting down opposing viewpoints.
Let’s be the change we want to see in the world and lead by example.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Boyan Slat/Twitter
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman