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Monday, 19 October 2009


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With apologies to Coleridge..."with my discarded plastic/I shot the albatross". This is an amazing set of photographs.

That's terrible!! I'm sickened.

The thing I find most disturbing about photos like these is that they fail to change our behavior. We will continue to arrogantly destroy the planet we live on. While I guess photographers need to publish this stuff, it will have no more effect than relentless photos of AIDS orphans in Africa.

nearly choked on my coffee...not used to social commentary this profound at such an early hour.
That series needs to be printed LARGE and displayed along interstates.
Best wake-up call EVER from TOP.

Argh. Collective guilt.
Something to think about the next time you buy bottled water rather than drinking from the tap with a glass. All those bottlecaps end up...somewhere. Sure, one or two are trivial on the scale of the earth. But multiply by 6 billion human beings, and pretty soon you're talking megatons of indigestible, indestructible trash that may outlast our species.

We are all to blame.

"Best wake-up call EVER from TOP."

I know you heard about it here, but TOP can take no credit. All credit is due of course to Chris Jordan, the photographer.


As a species, we don't really understand statistics. If it happens far away, to someone else, over time, it's not very relevant to our evolutionary brain.

But we do understand images, we do recognize death, and we are moved by infants.

Let the photos speak.

Strong stuff, hard to digest for everybody who does not look away.

What I fear is that a majority will prefer to deny it as staged installations, artistry that provokes for the provocation only, as otherwise it confronts us with consequences of our lifestyle that we do not recognize.

Are these possibly real???

The link between this post and yesterday's is clear, and it is not merely in the albatross subject matter. We must change our behaviour in a fundamental way to stop the destruction of the planet and the collapse of ecosystems, that, whether we like it or not, whether we see it or not, we all depend on to survive.

Cycle, don't drive.
Drink water, not plastic fizzy substitutes.
Don't buy plasti-tat, buy high quality, non disposable.
Change, please.

I do not feel innocent...

Great work again by Chris Jordan. We need to know, in terms we can understand, the consequences of our actions; Jordan moves us toward that understanding.

I'm not sure if this has anything to do with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a Texas-sized area of tiny plastic debris floating in the middle of the North Pacific, but it sure reminded me of it. (There was a recent NPR segment on the Garbage Patch, but here's Wikipedia's description.)

For those of you advocating change, I have to laugh... try and avoid plastics/petroleum byproducts in the modern world and you will fall flat on your face. Just go to your supermarket and buy stuff that hasn't come in contact with it or isn't packaged in the stuff and you are in for a bit of a shock.

Our society is completely based around oil. For those of you thinking you are making a difference riding your bike, you are mistaken... the entire governance of the world would have to change and oil companies would have to be banished for you to see a difference, and then, only transgenerationally. This is something none of us will live to see.

I don't really feel guilty. But then again. I will never, never throw garbage in nature. And I will punish others who do so - at least verbally!

yunfat, you say
"For those of you thinking you are making a difference riding your bike, you are mistaken... "

I understand the despair. However I beleive that societies behavior is the sum of the behaviors of all the individual people in that society. So change is impossible without individuals changing their behaviors. I see only benefit in starting immediately.

I also see benefit in persistently, relentlessly, directly linking cause to effect as these images do.

I'm shocked and saddened beyond words.

As a bird lover, I'm moved to tears, as well as filled with rage at the thousands of people who think nothing of dumping their junk wherever they might be. I'm also surprised to learn that those poor mother birds can't distinguish between something edible and something metal or plastic; have their instincts been damaged over time by toxic substances, perhaps?

Interesting that some of us think that the fault lies with "litterbugs"--most of the junk floating in the sea gets dumped there by garbage disposal contractors. Its origin is most probably not litter, but the kind of thing we responsibly throw away in our trash and the garbage truck hauls away every week.


Alistair: "However I beleive that societies behavior is the sum of the behaviors of all the individual people in that society. So change is impossible without individuals changing their behaviors. "

Logically true. But grassroots movements, such as you suggest, are very frail, feel-good gestures that rarely produce meaningful or lasting change against the winds of two far more powerful forces: profit and convenience. Yes, we may have choked on our morning coffee seeing these images but then we finished the beverage and threw away the plastic/paper cup, eh?

No, there's only one force that will curtail this horror, and many other horrors: oil prices. We'll change our ways only when it becomes unprofitable to leave a trail of plastic garbage.

Holy %#!*

I am utterly aghast. It's easy enough to "know" what we are doing to the world, but this photo series really REALLY brings the truth up for me to see.

How timely, Mike—just yesterday I was reading An Ocean of Plastic, an article in the latest issue of Rolling Stone Magazine (issue 1090, p. 54). They mention the albatrosses, among a number of birds being affected by plastics in their diets. Turtles also die from eating plastic bags, which they mistake for jellyfish.

What a scary World we're leaving our children.

Hey Mike, I was just kinda crediting TOP with bringing what I feel is significant photography to light...I feel like Chris Jordan's work is some of the best use of a photographer's talent and to a certain extent balances out the galaxy of "social" photographs we find in abundance purely because cameras are now cheap and easy to use. I cannot claim innocence...I did indeed shoot a frame of dog poop today...and emailed it to four people.

...oh, and Ken, I was drinking out of a ceramic mug I salvaged from my parents' cabinet. It was an orphaned piece of a larger set that probably dates to 1968. There aren't any paper or disposable plastic utensils of any kind in our cabinets and we mop up our spills with dish towels that get washed in cold water and Dr. Bronners organic castille soap (peppermint scent) and air-dried by the woodstove we use to heat our home.
Now if you'll excuse me I have to run out for a quart of milk in my '77 Suburban. =) =) =) =) !

Seriously, without scrolling to look for it, whoever said "we are all to blame" is right...but HOW do we stop???

Everyone should be sure to check out http://www.chrisjordan.com/, if you haven't already, and in particular, view his galleries "Intolerable Beauty" and then "Running the Numbers" I & II.

This article has placed a pall over my day, for the tragedy that it is, and the continuing tragedy that Ken has described. Sadly, until large amounts of human beings are directly affected by all of this plastic, little will be done about it.

This is somewhat old news, but perhaps hopeful news at the very least - plastic consuming bacteria.


It's not going to do much to help those birds or reach all of the plastic currently out there, but perhaps one day a saline-based life form will evolve that can feed off of this. Hopefully sooner than later.

I wonder what TINY fraction of the U.S. "Defense Budget" it would cost to mount an effective cleanup project for the North Pacific Garbage Gyre?

Such a fate is not limited to birds. This post reminded me of a grim talk recently given to the Emirates Natural History Group here in the UAE, about the effect of plastic litter on foraging camels and feral donkeys - evidently a very slow and painful death.

Hye Mike.
There is something very important about the environment and our actions agains or forth it.

That every single step is as important as big steps.

A minimum variation on big numbers tend to lead to catastrophical results: for instance, the price variation or oil production variation on the 73 oil crisis is ridiculous to what we thought.

Which is the reason why every single litre of oil or gas that you or I do not consume is a big step.

Plus, you´ll increase your health.

That is why it is very important to:
1-try to reduce the packaging you get your goods into as much as possible, and if so, try to consume locally as much as you can.
2-If you get your stuff in blisters or similar, destroy them and diminish their impact as much as you can: cut through the tetrapack [which is the worst eco packaging EVER, and should be avoided no matter what], cut the plastic rings of the beer cans or soda cans. Middle size litter is the worse litter you can have, or the environment can have, as it increases concentration, which is the key factor for poisons and environmental pollution.

Grind your litter as much as you can. And remember the corpses of this post.


Yunfat- Declining oil reserves guarantee that at least our children will see the end of petroleum's reign. And while the inevitable transition could no doubt be made more quickly and efficiently if responsibly handled from the top down, at least we little people are now laying down the groundwork for that inevitability.

Motorists may curse us cyclists on the road, but who do they yell at when they look for parking?

We take as many plastics as possible to the recycler - we're lucky enough to have a nearby facility that takes 1-7 plastics. And when possible we take canvas bags to the store, look for less packaging, etc.

It may not be enough to prevent this from happening, but at least I can be reasonably sure that none of those bottle caps are mine, and that has to be enough for me.

*Sigh* - that is very possibly the saddest thing I've seen in 20 years of animal conservation work.

Mike - is there a spot for donations, if someone is trying to mitigate this I'd like to mitigate my guilt.

I too find it hard to believe a mother bird cannot tell the difference between live catch for her young and flotsam and jetsam.
I have also learned not to believe everything I read or see or hear that has the slightest touch with media. These may be true images, they may not...(it's been done)
Furthermore, I would say that any animal that confuses non-edibles with edibles has an appointment with Darwin, regardless if what's confusing it is plastic, stone, glass, wood......

best wishes...

"Logically true. But grassroots movements, such as you suggest, are very frail, feel-good gestures that rarely produce meaningful or lasting change against the winds of two far more powerful forces: profit and convenience. Yes, we may have choked on our morning coffee seeing these images but then we finished the beverage and threw away the plastic/paper cup, eh?"

Ken, so true. But...

I urge you to see the "National Parks" on PBS. Aside from some astounding photographs you will find that it was in fact only one or two people who advocated for each of our different parks and fought back the railroad, timber, and farming industries, and State governments, to achieve that we which we hold so dear today.

"Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." ~Margaret Mead


The big question is why God continues to love us at all. A race of vandals.

To what extent grassroots movement can or cannot succeed is irrelevant; the fallacy is to not try because we feel powerless in the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition. History has examples of those forces being overcome, so it is possible.

To not try is to surrender before the fight begins.

watch "message in the waves", a great documentary which shows the natural beauty of hawaii juxtaposed with global plastic pollution. As horrible as it is the overall message is hopeful. You can change what you do.

Wonder how many plasticky camera parts are in there?

I hate to say it but the damage has been done. There is so much crap floating around the oceans of the world today that nothing short of a moon landing type of effort will fix it.

In my travels to islands all over the world the one constant thing is all the rubbish and plastic that covers the shore line. If you're in the "tourist bubble" you may not see it but where I go there is no $10/day worker to make things all pretty.

On one island in the Caribbean I walked along a deserted beach and there must have been several tons of sneakers washed up. To bad I couldn't find a matching pair!

There literally is a plastic island floating in the Pacific Ocean. They report it's a couple of miles in diameter. It's killing fish at an alarming rate.

I'm not a Goreite and have no agenda nor axe to grind but humankind is destined to choke on its own waste.

It's not about oil or profits, it's about stupidity and convenience and need. You go to the most thoroughly socialist regimes in the world, and you find trash all over the place -- the US, the biggest oil user in the world, is a relatively clean place, as are the EU states, which also use a lot of energy, and also have pretty strict rules governing the disposal of trash.

The basic problem has less to do with economic choices than with the simple fact that there are too many human beings. Fix that.


I laughed when I saw this.

What kind of stupid birds are these? If they can't get along in today's world, they deserve to die out. Survival of the fittest!

Chris Jordan's work is disturbing. Part of our species problem is our disconnection from the natural world.

"We must become the change we want to see in the world" - Mahatma Gandhi

Very disturbing. Besides all the plastic I noticed bones and whole clam shells as well. I'm wondering if the chicks are able to pass or digest those seemingly dangerous objects?

How can we shrug this one off look the other way and say it's just part of nature's rime.

"Furthermore, I would say that any animal that confuses non-edibles with edibles has an appointment with Darwin, regardless if what's confusing it is plastic, stone, glass, wood......"

Anybody ever check out what goes into a Twinkie- or any other processed "food." It has nothing to do with anything edible.

And I do agree with your conclusion, Greg.

These are very distressing, and very necessary-to-see images. We need bold solutions to the world's problems created by humankind. At the link below is the most bold, most comprehensive I know of. It requires a quantum leap of understanding and action in order to happen. The unfortunate/fortunate thing is that we MUST make a quantum leap of change of action as a species if the world as we know it is to survive: www.ispeace723.org/

What sickens me is that 20 years after I learned this crap we are more dependent on plastic than ever, and have found cleverer ways to insulate ourselves from the consequences of our actions that make the problem worse, not better. Every purchase today has a cost that we have externalized to the future, to other species, to our children's children. The knowledge of this should have changed us decades ago... hasn't.

This is very regrettable, but instead of feeling guilty about it, it would be more useful to encourage our government and that of other civilized nations to cease ocean dumping of solid waste. There is really no excuse for it except laziness. When properly landfilled, or properly incinerated, plastics do not represent a big environmental problem (and in the latter scenario, can yield some recoverable heat energy). If we get smart about this in a timely fashion, the ocean and most species should recover from our mistake.

To those who question how or why a seabird might feed its young inedible items, please consider for a moment how these animals forage. All foraging animals act on evolutionarily derived responses to auditory/olfactory/visual/etc stimuli (even humans, which is why the burgers look so tasty on commercials). While flying above the water, seabirds look for shiny and/or colorful items. Before widespread human dumping of trash into the oceans (i.e., all but the last few hundred years of the "life span" of these species) pretty much any item that fit that description was food.

The seriousness of the human infestation's determined effort to fill every corner of the planet with archival and even toxic garbage cannot be overemphasized much less ignored.

That however has nothing to do with the fact that these photographs just don't seem to ring true. It is unfortunate that some "environmentalists" don't seem to have any problem manufacturing evidence where they find little or none. I have absolutely no evidence whatsoever in this case, but the photographs just don't look 'right'.

Amazing images. And some amazing responses. Am I actually reading people saying that the stupid birds deserve to die off, appointment with Darwin, etc? What strikes me about these images is that they represent in a graphic way what is happening in all of our bodies, as we slowly absorb the chemicals involved in the creation and breakdown of the plastic-filled world we create. Those birds are us, and we are them, eventually.

The fate of these birds is unfortunate and disturbing, but the misanthropy expressed by some of the commenters here is more disturbing. As far as I know, humans are the only species that is capable of concern for other species, much less able to do something about it. Members of the oil-fueled, plastic-using society that some of us casually condemn are also wealthy enough and educated enough to promote the welfare of wild animals rather than see them primarily as food, raw materials or nuisances.

A very moving set of images. And that's a Heartless Republican Warmonger speaking. However, to play devil's advocate, I must wonder if this is an entirely new phenomenon. The oceans have been jammed with flotsam and jetsam for centuries. A hundred years ago would those photos have shown dead baby birds with bellies full of driftwood and cloth? I know those things eventually biodegrade, but that can take quite a while.

Everyone can get behind the old "Give a Hoot! Don't Pollute" message, but the only way out is forward. The reason we have the luxury of worrying about ocean trash and wildlife is because our less timid ancestors built a technological world that provides amazingly well for all our basic needs. Romantic notions aside the natural state of man is naked, cold, diseased, and dead, and there are far too many people still stuck there for us to stop the clock on progress. So fire up the nuclear reactors, please, I'm tired of artificial energy shortages.

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