Statistics, art, and the environment

I spent my afternoon at the Pacific Science Center today. I went there for the “Animation” exhibit, which I enjoyed very much. However, I was mostly taken and pleasantly surprised by Chris Jordan‘s photography exhibition.

Chris is a Seattle artist (photography) who, after a long career as a lawyer, gave up his job and became an artist. Through his work (at least the collection I saw), he’s trying to bring awareness to our impact on the environment. His “Running the Number” collection is about portraying statistics through visual means. This is not about scientifically visualizing the numbers but about creating images that tell a story about our way of life, an allegory of our impact on the environment, a powerful depiction of what the numbers tell us but we, still, don’t listen.

The (digital, in some cases) photography is great. Chris does his own research on numbers and cross-references them from different publicly-available sources (e.g. government data). He uses the most conservative result from his findings, which is still enough to shake us. Here are few examples I noted down…

  • 106,000 cans (e.g. soft drinks) are used a day in the US.
  • 100 million trees are used each year to make paper for JUNK mail!
  • 380,000 KW of energy is wasted in the US every minute of the day!
  • 2 million plastic bottles are used every five minutes in the US.
  • 200,000 Americans die from cigarettes every 6 months!!!
  • 28,000 barrels with 42 gallons of oil are burned in the US every two mins!
  • 1 million plastic cups are used in airline flights in the US every 6 hours!
  • There were 29,569 handgun-related deaths in the US in 2004 :-(
  • 426,000 cell phones are retired in the US every day! This is just crazy.
  • $12.5 million is spent on the war in Iraq per hour!

One of Chris Jordan’s quotes that I liked:

“The pervasiveness of our consumerism holds a seductive kind of mentality. Collectively we are committing a vast and unsustainable act of taking, but as individuals we each are anonymous and no one is in charge or accountable for the consequences. I fear that in this process we are doing irreparable harm to our planet, our culture, and our individual spirits.” (Chris Jordan, from his “Running the Numbers” exhibition at the Pacific Science Center).

I say that we should all rise to the occasion and stop being anonymous, become accountable, and spread the word about the unsustainable way in which we treat our environment.