Monday, September 6, 2010

"All Consuming"

Following are some works from the Chris Jordan Gallery (which I had seen and linked to some time ago - back before I learned how to post screen shots). Of course, I still recommend viewing them directly because there is so much more - plus, when you click on the photos from the "Running the Numbers" series, you can watch them zoom in from the huge composition to the intricate complexity of miniscule components, which is really cool.
Running the Numbers I and II are composites of tiny images intended to dramatize numerically the staggering amount of waste generated by humankind. This first example, "Gyre" is made up of 2.4 million pieces of plastic, the estimated number of pounds of plastic pollution that enters the oceans every hour.
"Tuna" is compiled from 19 watercolor paintings by Sarah Waller, and depicts 20,500 tuna...
the average number fished every 15 minutes.

In "Cans Seurat" there are 106,000 images of aluminum cans,
the number used in the US every 30 seconds.
This pleasingly neutral abstract, "Plastic Bags"
represents the 60,000 that are used in the US every five seconds.

I also admire the vivid color and unflinching detail to be found in his straight photography very much, such as this monumental heap of recycling.
A defiantly red door is all that remained standing in this shattered building after Katrina slammed into New Orleans.
The trees weren't spared, of course. I can see myself, for a brief time until the power is turned off completely, wandering around the wasteland in the not-too-distant future, photographing such viscerally shocking images of the abrupt collision of dreams and reality.
As long as I'm stealing from (complimenting?) another photographer, I've been wanting to upload more of the achingly somber series documenting the horrendous and unimaginable demise of Detroit, by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre (which I first saw at DesdemonaDespair). I'm going to intersperse some with links and thoughts from recent news. More can be seen at their website, where they wrote about their intentions:
"The ruins of Detroit

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the city of Detroit
developed rapidly thanks to the automobile industry.

Until the 50's, its population rose to almost 2 million people.
Detroit was the 4th most important city in the United States.

It was the dazzling symbol of the American Dream City with
its monumental skyscrapers and fancy neighborhoods.

Increasing segregation and deindustrialization caused violent riots in 1967.
The white middle-class exodus from the city accelerated and the suburbs grew.
Firms and factories began to close or move to lower-wage states.
Slowly, but inexorably downtown high-rise buildings emptied.

Since the 50's, "Motor City" lost more than half of its population.

Nowadays, its splendid decaying monuments are, no less than the Pyramids of Egypt, the Coliseum of Rome, or the Acropolis in Athens, remnants of the passing of a great civilization."

Seed magazine has an article, "All Consuming," that examines the following question:
"...are the world’s environmental ills really a result of the burgeoning number of humans on the planet—growing by more than 150 people a minute and predicted by the United Nations to reach at least 9 billion people by 2050? Or are they more due to the fact that, while human population doubled in the past 50 years, we increased our use of resources fourfold?"
answered thus:


Ultimately, the problem isn’t the number of people, necessarily. It’s what those people do. The average American (just one of 309 million) uses up some 194 pounds of stuff—food, water, plastics, metals and other things—per day, day in and day out. We consume a full 25 percent of the world’s energy despite representing just 5 percent of global population. And that consumerism is spreading, whether it be the adoption of cars as a lifestyle choice in China or gadget lust in the U.S...

"What’s needed is the wholesale junking of the disposable life," Assadourian says, “a world where machismo is not connected to the size of a car but the fact that you don’t have one at all.” That may not be all our fault. “We are not stupid, we’re not ignorant, we don’t even necessarily have bad values with respect to the environment,” says political scientist Michael Maniates of Allegheny College. “We’re trying to do our best within cultural systems that elevate unsustainable choices.”

The onslaught of human garbage, much of which is outsourced to third world countries or dumped in the oceans - where it is obscured from the view of those who create most of it - is becoming so vast we will evenutally all drown in its putrid ubiquity. I've been so perplexed and frustrated by the unwillingness of certain prominent climate change activists and educators to link the emissions of CO2 causing AGW with the equally if not more urgent danger posed by the "other" greenhouse gases that produce ozone - namely the increase in cancer, emphysema and, asthma and now from a new study - who knew? - diabetes! More important to me of course is that ozone is even more poisonous to vegetation...and since everybody needs to eat, and plants are at the bottom of the food chain - and trees are the foundation of the ecosystem - I have been at a loss as to why this is such a neglected, virtually taboo element in the discussion.
So in the middle of the night I had a little epiphany about WHY certain influential bloggers and scientists and environmental leaders refuse to consider incorporating this information. It occurred to me, perhaps it's because they don't understand that the CO2 argument for action ISN'T WORKING. These guys have enough of a following now - they are getting interviewed on Letterman and Olbermann and Jon Stewart. They're getting encouragement, probably even adulation (as they should) from assistants and followers and volunteers and interns. They're making money selling books! They may imagine they are making progress with the strategy they have chosen - to emphasize the effects of climate change mainly from CO2 (melting glaciers, rising seas, destabilized weather, acidification of the ocean) over the direct effects to the biosphere from shorter-lived, and lesser quantities, of pollution...pollution that is, however, far more virulent.
I fear that those who are fixated on the greenhouse effect don't understand, that strategy is NOT being effective...which is an irrefutable conclusion based on the empirical fact that Nothing has substantively changed. Having a slightly larger demonstration turnout, or another endorsement from a NYTimes columnist, or increased readership or book sales just isn't doing enough, soon enough, to save humanity from total destruction.
The only thing that could possibly turn this Titanic around is to scare people (and Congress) out of their wits with the fact that - among a barrage of other terrifying facts - their food supply is in imminent danger of shriveling up! Aaauuggghhh! Either the most influential members of the community that is alarmed about climate change are wrapped up in their self-reinforcing patterns, or else maybe they just think I'm crazy...never mind...

From an excellent interview with Robert Jensen that precisely reflects my own thoughts:

“To be fully alive today is to live with anguish, not for one’s own condition in the world but for the condition of the world, for a world that is in collapse...”

“There are no replacement fuels on the horizon that will allow a smooth transition. These ecological realities will play out in a world structured by a system of nation-states rooted in the grotesque inequality resulting from imperialism and capitalism, all of which is eroding what is left of our collective humanity.”

“I think not only leftists, but people in general, avoid these realities because reality is so grim. It seems overwhelming to most people, for good reason. So, rather than confront it, people find modes of evasion. One is to deny there’s a reason to worry, which is common throughout the culture. The most common evasive strategy I hear from people on the left is “technological fundamentalism”—the idea that because we want high-energy/high-tech solutions that will allow us to live in the style to which so many of us have become accustomed, those solutions will be found. That kind of magical thinking is appealing but unrealistic, for two reasons. First, while the human discoveries of the past few centuries are impressive, they have not been on the scale required to correct the course we’re on; we’ve created problems that have grown beyond our capacity to understand and manage. Second, those discoveries were subsidized by fossil-fuel energy that won’t be around much longer, which dramatically limits what we will be able to accomplish through energy-intensive advanced technology. As many people have pointed out, technology is not energy; you don’t replace energy with technology.”
There are wildfires burning homes in Colorado. Notice this reader photo has a tree in the foreground that is quite dead - and remember that insects run rampant when vegetation is exposed to ozone. Now wait...for the great fires to begin on the East Coast as well.
Lastly, a reader of Wit's End has been inspired to start his own blog, The Descent of Man. I'd like to thank him for his encouraging words to me, and welcome him to the world of blogging, and recommend his first posts, which are not only trenchant, and lucid - but contain quite unusual information and original thinking...keep it up, Martin!


  1. Radiohead: Fake plastic trees


  2. Thanks Gail... great thoughts. I really like your photo selections.

    The science is done. We are no longer questioning painful warming to come (maybe even doom), we are just wondering what we should do right now.


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