Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Billions and Billions...

I remember as a child watching Carl Sagan on PBS as he talked about "billions and billions" of stars or miles or whatever the topic was for that show. Those big numbers were hard to grasp as a child - and even still as an adult today.

So much of what we hear about the Earth these days is in statistics - how many tons our carbon footprint is, how many plastic bags we consume in a year, how many acres of forest are lost every day... It's hard to truly understand the magnitude of it all, regardless of whether the numbers are in the thousands, millions, or billions.
A recent visit to the Chris Jordan: Running the Numbers exhibit at The Pacific Science Center in Seattle offered an amazing visual representation of all those numbers. Chris Jordan is a photographer from Seattle who depicts the vastness of our consumerism in striking images. When we walked into the exhibit, we encountered what initially looked like one of Georges Seurat's famous paintings with his signature pointillism technique. Upon closer examination, we realized it was actually a compilation of miniature pictures of 106,000 aluminum cans - equivalent to the number we use in the US every 30 minutes. The exhibit poster shows the picture below, but you need to see it in person to really grasp the magnitude.
The art of the photography really gets you to take a second look because most of the pictures look very different from afar and up close. What appears to be a beautiful image of Denali, the highest mountain in North America, morphs into 24,000 logos of the Denali SUV that were sold during a six month period.
Other interesting things represented in the photographs:
* The 426,000 cellphones we discard each day.
* The 2 million plastic beverage bottles we use every 5 minutes
* The 1.14 million brown paper supermarket bags used every hour (this was 2007, hopefully this number is going down)
* The one million plastic cups we use every six hours on flights
* The 380,000 kilowatt hours of electricity we waste every minute through inefficient energy use
The exhibit will be at The Pacific Science Center until January 3rd, 2010 and it's just upstairs from the Cartoon Network Animation exhibit, which was another big draw for my kids. The show is also currently in Boston and will travel to Haverford, PA; Austin, TX; Santa Cruz, CA; Charleston, SC; Eugene, OR; and Bellingham, WA in 2010-11.


  1. I love Chris Jordan's work! Very apt Blog post that is a really sobering reminder of just how much we continue to consume and discard.

  2. Absolutely. I first saw his work in The Seattle Times last year and was really happy to be able to see it in its large scale.