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Moby-Duck Makes a Splash at Solvang Library, Spurs Conversation about Plastic Waste

Local libraries promote Reads Program as a communitywide book club

Who knew a rubber duck could link so many ideas? Pollution, private quests, wilderness, and why we buy so much cheap stuff were just a few of the issues discussed at the Solvang Library on Feb. 15 as part of the annual Santa Barbara Reads and UCSB Reads programs.

'Beach Plastic Duck,' created by local artist Holly Mackay and on display in the UCSB Library, is made from found beach plastic. The sculpture was commissioned by the UCSB Associated Students Coastal Fund to coincide with the UCSB Reads Program.
“Beach Plastic Duck,” created by local artist Holly Mackay and on display in the UCSB Library, is made from found beach plastic. The sculpture was commissioned by the UCSB Associated Students Coastal Fund to coincide with the UCSB Reads Program. (Chryss Yost photo)

While reading is usually a solitary act, the Reads Program is something like a communitywide book club. Reads Community Conversations are held at UCSB and public libraries to give readers an opportunity to interact.

This year’s Reads selection is Donovan Hohn’s Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them.

The featured speakers were SBCC history professor Joe Martorana, publisher Marjorie Popper and UCSB environmental studies professor Josh Schimel. Although some people had not finished (or, in some cases, started), the audience quickly joined in.

Popper, editor and publisher of Cachuma Press, seemed surprised to find herself involved in global trade, but the savings from printing overseas are too big to ignore.

“It costs 10 cents to ship a book 16,612 nautical miles from the Port of Singapore to the Port of Los Angeles,” she explained. “Then it costs 14 cents to get it from L.A. to Solvang. How can that be?”

A passionate environmentalist, Popper said she wished there were alternatives. She makes personal choices whenever possible to reduce her use of plastic, especially plastic bags. She brought two examples of lightweight bags to be used as substitutes for plastic bags in the produce section.

“These things are wonderful,” she paused, “when you remember to bring them.”

Schimel, a soil scientist, was particularly struck by the attention the author gave to portraying scientists as human beings, rather than caricatures.

“What you usually see,” Schimel observed,” is either the mad scientist plotting to take over the world, or an out-of-touch nerd. I liked that Hohn allowed the scientists to be actual people, with interests, who genuinely care.”

Schimel had personal experience working at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, arriving there just before the 1989 wreck of the Exxon Valdez. He has traveled the length of the trans-Alaska pipeline many times. He used that project as an example where “we won,” balancing the needs of the environment with human pressures. While the oil companies wanted to build the pipeline as quickly and inexpensively as possible, pushing a sense of urgency based on the oil crisis of the 1970s, “we didn’t get pushed into it.”

“Oil companies were forced to take the time to protect the permafrost and animal migration patterns, and they built it well,” Schimel said. “Our pipeline doesn’t break.”

Arriving from a public policy perspective, Martorana brought up the issue of “the commons” — shared resources in a community — and the ways of balancing individual drive and public good. What does that mean for the ocean? Overfishing? International accountability?

Attending college at Humboldt State University, Martorana was friends with many forestry majors, and saw what could happen when our shared resources were mismanaged.

“We saw how that system broke,” he said. “After decades of being a model of sustainability, Pacific Lumber was bought out in 1985 by a company whose goal was quarterly profits. That’s not the way sustainability works.”

As during a lively dinner party, each topic raised seemed to generate more ideas, more questions and more opinions. There will be three more evening Community Conversations in the coming weeks at public library branches in Carpinteria, 5141 Carpinteria Ave., on Feb. 21; Goleta, 500 N. Fairview Ave., on Feb. 28; and Santa Barbara, 40 E. Anapamu St., on Feb. 29. There will also be two noontime panels at the UCSB Library on Feb. 22 and March 1. Each event will have different featured speakers, including representatives from the Community Environmental Council, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and Surfrider Foundation.

On March 5, Moby-Duck author Donovan Hohn will be giving a free lecture at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. Click here or click for more details about these events, or call 805.564.5604.

The Reads program is sponsored by the Santa Barbara Public Library, UCSB Library and SBCC.

— Chryss Yost represents UCSB Library Outreach.

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