My summer in California

My name is Trevor Finney and I visited California this summer with the goal of documenting the level of plastic pollution along the coast from Los Angeles to Eureka. My theme is natural resources and I felt this would be a good opportunity to see first-hand how efforts to cleanup the pacific coast are going, and look into micro-plastic pollution in the area as well. I collected water samples from different locations that were notorious for having high concentrations of micro-plastics (e.g. the bay area) and look forward to getting those spectrometry results back from the lab.

One of the main things I learned from this trip was that most plastic pollution is not large items that you can see. Most plastic bits that have been in the ocean for a long period of time have broken down into minuscule pieces that float in the upper levels of sea water. This is just as true in California as it is in the middle of the pacific where the great garbage patch is located. The majority of the pieces of plastic that we can see no longer resemble the original item they came from, rather they are multicolored, pebble sized pieces that cover beaches.

One piece of good news is that local organizations have largely cleaned up the most polluted areas of California. Areas like Clam Beach north of Eureka and East Beach in Santa Barbara (pictured below) look a lot better than they used to. However this is only the tip of the iceberg as we cannot see that most the plastic is too small and hundreds of miles out from the shore.

I also now feel that in this situation, people are to blame but not entirely responsible as individuals. We are responsible for the 13.3 quadrillion fibers [1] that are released into the ocean every year from choosing to wear polyester, but it is the large corporations too that are to blame with 20 of them producing over half of all the plastic pollution globally [2]. The mismanagement of waste and our unwillingness to refuse plastic is a complex issue, but it doesn’t get resolved if we don’t talk about it, if we are not aware of its implications.

Boating introduces pollutants, stresses out wildlife, and decreases water quality. I came on this trip to see the effect of humans through waste and plastics but it is hard not to see the diverse ways we are causing environmental detriment in our everyday lives. The natural landscape of California’s coast before people has been mostly lost to development.
My friend told me to keep an eye out for masks littering the landscape and it wasn’t hard to do so. They have also been the culprit in getting wrapped around the necks of wildlife.

Plastic pollution in California often comes from inland sources, carried by rivers and streams. The eastern half of the great garbage patch between California and Hawaii is composed of mostly plastics no longer than 1 centimeter. Similar particles can be found along California’s coast from all across the pacific. This piece comments how the interconnectedness of plastic pollution due to the ocean gyres transporting materials across international waters. The consequences of our environmental neglect and mismanagement of waste having lasting effects as plastics take hundreds of years to degrade and can cause immense detriment to the wildlife in our seas.


Nottingham, England

Hi there, my name is Trevor Finney and I am currently a senior at the University of Montana!

I spent this past semester studying abroad in Nottingham, England with the goal of learning more about green business and sustainability within supply chains. I wanted to better understand how businesses can evolve in the face of climate change and operate more efficiently and environmentally friendly. I was able to take courses in logistics, business strategy, and China’s global economy, all of which had elements discussing the steps companies are taking to innovate in the name of sustainability. Furthermore, guest lecturers in my courses were able to provide insight on European trade

 I was also lucky enough to travel to several countries such as Denmark, France, and Ireland to explore all the wonders that Europe has to offer.

My experience abroad and engagement with the different cultures of students who lived in the residence hall with me has given me a new perspective on how culture shapes our relationship with the environment as well as the importance of learning from people outside one’s bubble. For example, there is more social pressure to be environmentally responsible in the U.K. and Sweden, it is a social contract like waiting in queue. A good example is how when you go grocery shopping in downtown Nottingham (or Dublin), most people bring reusable bags as it costs ten pence for each plastic one you have to buy. Furthermore, many people walk to the grocery store, so your bags have to be durable enough for the trek home. I really appreciated the bag tax as an economics major as it is a proven incentive to get people to engage in more socially and environmentally responsible behavior, and the shame of noncompliance does not hurt either.  

It is also easier to live greener in Europe as public transport is everywhere, affordable, and accessible. In Nottingham there is an electric tram that runs through all of town daily, connecting city to suburb. Talking with my fellow flat mates, I confirmed what I had suspected, most cities in Europe have incredible public transit whether it is HamburgHamburg or Copenhagen. I think Americans like myself can learn a lot from talking with people from diverse perspectives when it comes to sustainability as we clearly don’t need to reinvent the wheel, rather just look at what has been proven to be an effective solution. I also found that the students I met from Italy live greener lives, but it isn’t with great effort, it’s simply apart of their lifestyle and culture. For example, they spoke of how some apartments do not have clothes dryers, air conditioning, or limitless amounts of hot water and thus you live a more practical, energy conserving life. With smaller fridges and cars that get double the mileage of even the best hybrid, Italians carb footprints are much smaller than those of Americans, and even the Brits. When it comes to the Netherlands, my Dutch friend told me about how as a small country there is a lack of space for new landfills, implying the need to be conservative and efficient with waste management, instilling in the culture a sensibility when it comes to disposables like single use plastics, one that I find  we often lack in the U.S.

In terms of leadership skills, you might be shocked to know that absolutely no one participates in class discussions in the U.K. My American friend Cole and I would sit in a lecture hall of a hundred students and watch as everyone said nothing until we felt compelled to give the lecturer an answer just to break the silence. It may’ve just been my three courses, but I definitely had to get used to feeling weird for speaking up. Participation isn’t necessarily “leadership” but I also led group discussions and group projects. I did not mind it because it gave me a chance to ask questions about attending university in England and what it’s like to not have to pay hardly anything for school. I did develop in my ability to independently plan a trip and navigate French cities with only two semesters of classes.

One cultural difference that may be attributed to being in a city instead of a small town like Missoula is that every night of the week is a party night. Nottingham has a vibrant nightlife with dozens of clubs, and I’d always head home around midnight only to be awoken at three in the morning by the drunken chatter of inebriated lads. One of the best nights I had in the U.K. was a trip to Scotland where we went on a bar crawl, and for the sake of embracing the local culture, we drank a fair amount of local scotch. I also enjoyed Scotland for the beautiful architecture of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and the stunning landscape.

P.S: News flash to me, an American, Trevor is not a common English name; it is actually considered antiquated.