Plastic Bag (2009)

short film by Ramin Bahrani

Plastic bag film posterThe Maker is a Lady, a beautiful young shopper who is a responsible and even persistent re-cycler of one ratty grocery bag. In this short film the Maker gives the protagonist his first breath, and the Plastic Bag never forgets. The filmmaker, Ramin Bahrani, seduces the viewer to accept the self-conscious bag using the voice of Werner Herzog. Bahrani captures beautiful moments of floating, flying, and swirling landscapes that reveal the plastic bag’s worldview, a life both lonely and disturbing.

You can almost forgive the absurd romanticism in the story since the filmmaker compensates with moody visual delights, setting you free to enjoy this angst-ridden journey, a futuristic tale of one grateful, moving, translucent plastic bag that glistens in the sky and muses upon itself, after seeing his shadow on the earth.

The film reveals little of the real horrors of the oceanic plastic vortex, but may spur  people towards one obvious solution for stemming the growth of the floating Pacific Garbage Patch.  Myself, for the record, I want to know more about the Bag Lady, the Maker, who looks more like me.

FUTURESTATES is a series of groundbreaking digital shorts. Each episode presents a different filmmaker’s vision of American society in the not-too-distant future, fusing an exploration of social issues with elements of speculative and science fiction.

Carli Thought Bubble

Word Cloud from Don Carli Interview

Do you wonder how future citizens will get their news? Are you confused by the competing claims coming from marketers of each new digital communication device? Is the internet a more sustainable platform for media than print? No one speaking today, has more brilliant answers to these and other publishing industry questions than leading researcher and author, Don Carli, Executive VP of SustainCommWorld.

In a recent interview with Don Carli, written by Robert Ivan of, he raises many important points about the media platforms delivering the news, the convergence of print and digital technologies, and the need to create more sustainable business models and supply chain business ecologies, not just more cool new products.

My biggest concern about the dramatic loss of newspapers around the country is the impact this will have on democracy. As reported in The Nation, a recent Princeton University study found a decline in voter turn out after the closing of the Cincinnati newspaper. This statement only hints at the serious consequences for democracy if we unsuccessfully address these media industry problems. As Mr. Carli states:

The first tenet of sustainability is having a political system that secures effective participation of its citizens in decision making. That is the role served by journalists and the media channels that deliver and store their content.

Even if you are unconcerned with the loss of local newspapers, see no benefit of having the Fourth Estate, and think all citizens are well-served by the inexhaustible supply of news and information on the Internet then consider this: how sustainable is it for 6.7 billion people of the world to get their news from an electronic device? Mr. Carli sees the issues clearly when he points out:

We need to recognize that our current digital media supply chains and media types are unsustainable before we kick print media to the curb and entrust our future to an ephemeral and uncertain digital media monoculture.

Today’s print vs. digital media debates are a zero sum game. Regardless of which media wins the war of words we all lose. The fact is we will need both print and digital media for many years to come and we need them to both become far more sustainable than they are today.

I signed up to follow Don Carli on Twitter. He seems like someone capable of leading the way?

Upper Yosemite Falls

Upper Yosemite Falls

LAST WEEKEND I went with my friend, Bill, to Yosemite National Park. The awesome beauty and grandeur of this natural wonder in the Sierras is so astounding that it almost hurts. It wasn’t the first visit for either of us, but like everyone else who has traveled here more than once knows, each visit produces its own astonishment.

I love to take photographs here, as is true of nearly all visitors since Ansel Adams and this weekend in early March was especially generous to those of us who made the trek into the wilderness.

Standing awe-struck at the edge of Mirror Lake I heard the sounds of three more photographers beginning to set up behind us. They hoisted tripods with heavy cameras and long lens, along with bulging bags of more equipment on their shoulders as they hiked up the trail to this scenic point.

Rock in Mirror Lake

Rock in Mirror Lake

I had just snapped a few shots of my own with my Canon A80, a 5 year old digital point and shoot, so it was with great humility that I spoke with a straight face to these determined outdoors men.

“Hey guys, don’t worry. I already got a great picture of that rock.”

I waited a moment for a laugh, or a smile even. Alas, my dry humor, lost apparently, in the serious undertaking that is photography at Yosemite.

Later, on Sunday afternoon as we reluctantly headed home we drove around a corner and saw a small crowd at the pull out, the last scenic view of the valley before the exit. Of course we jumped out too, and soon realized the photographer’s dream that we had stumbled upon.

I lamented only for a moment the fact that I was ill-equipped for the scene. The full moon rising, perfectly aligned over the Bridalveil Fall, was a glorious accent to the sun’s last stoke of light, glowing on the wall of granite above us. As I steadied my so-called camera the best I could, I took my picture and felt again the ache of ephemeral beauty.

Full Moon over Bridalveil Falls

Full Moon over the 620 foot Bridalveil Fall

Follow this link for more “great pictures” of Yosemite on my Flickr page.

Sufficient: of a quantity that can fulfill a need or requirement but without being abundant; “sufficient food“. [WordNet – Princeton University]

AS I EXPLORE the concept of sustainability I find myself wondering what does it mean to live within sufficient means? Sufficiency is an elusive concept. We talk a great deal about moving towards carbon neutrality, of setting cap and trade emission standards, and reducing the ecological footprint of industries, but these concepts demand very complex calculations of human behavior and our use of natural resources and energy consumption. It requires a sophisticated understanding  to even guess at what is sufficient to fulfill everyone’s basic needs.

Sufficiency requires determining what constitutes a fair share. When I answer the questions put to me on the carbon footprint calculators that pepper the Internet, it is clear that just by living in the Untied States, I consume more than my fair share. In other words, there is no way that the world’s population can live as I do. To be fair, or to share the resources of the planet equitably, we need to clarify the idea of what is sufficient.

I am committed to reduce, reuse and recycle but the global solutions we seek must go further. It means Americans will have to go way beyond what is comfortable and easy and learn to accept a much deeper cut into our idea of sufficient. As painful as the current global crisis is now to so many, it is bound to get even more difficult. This is a balancing act, and part of the healing necessary to shed the excessive consumption in our way of living. It is the price we pay for a more equitable world.

In thinking about the move toward sufficiency I share the ideas of two courageous women who help me appreciate the challenges that lay ahead and accept the bold changes necessary to weather these trying times.

THE STORY OF STUFF with Annie Leonard
Sponsored by Tides Foundation & Funders Workgroup for Sustainable Production and Consumption

PAYBACK: Debt the Shadow Side of Wealth, by Margaret Atwood

THERE IS A MOMENT when you suddenly realize there is no turning back, when you realize conditions on the planet are such that to forestall dire environmental consequences, you and everyone you know, must make significant and immediate changes in how you live.

I call that singular flash of consciousness the Polar Bear Moment. For many, that first glance of the polar bear floating on ice, had an emotional impact that seemed at once to foretell the fate of the whole species and then command we take action. Consequences for us humans will follow as the once powerful bear stares out, helpless in the face of the human factors we know are responsible for their disappearing habitat, now only tiny islands floating towards extinction.

The Polar Bear Moment may have struck when seeing this iconic image or hearing an astounding fact or some other environmental calamity shaking you to your core with the sheer magnitude of the global predicament.

What was your Polar Bear Moment?

For me, that flash of consciousness came when I read about the largest garbage dump on the planet, which happens not to be on land, but in the Pacific Ocean. Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation has documented a floating island of discarded plastic waste that has been accumulating for over 50 years in the currents of the central Pacific gyre. This estimated 3.5 million tons of toxic flotsam that oceanographers refer to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not a patch after all, but the size of a continent. There are no obvious or easy solutions to this environmental dilemma that is poisoning the food chain and strangling ocean life.

What is heartbreaking in the moments that follow the shock is our own responsibility. The unbridled human activity on our over-populated planet along with our propensity for distraction and our disconnection with nature has hastened the end for the polar bear, and by extension, perhaps our own.

What I hope can be sustained from this flash of consciousness is the determination to change how we live, identify what we deem important to conserve, and to strongly commit to combine our efforts with others to save our threatened habitat.

What was your Polar Bear Moment? How has it motivated you to change?