Does your life suck? Why not kick a duck to death? or: Why Balloon Releases are Dumb.

20 Feb

I have written and rewritten this post more times than I could count. I have compromised and compromised to avoid offence, until I realised I had become as guilty of this as the people this post criticises. I’m tired of compromise, so this is the first version that I wrote, I am unapologetic for this fact…

Okay, let’s play a game.

Let’s imagine every member of your family are inextricably struck down tomorrow. Would any of those loved ones have appreciated you honouring their memory by tipping a barrel of crude oil into the ocean? If so then each time one dies you should do exactly that, may as well, right? Of course none of us would do that, because it’s HARMFUL and DAMAGING to the ENVIRONMENT. I recently had to explain to a grown adult why the environment is important for our lives (People are hopelessly miopic, all hope is lost, we’re going to die here).

You with me so far? We’re agreed that we shouldn’t tip barrels of oil into the sea because it’s harmful and damaging to our environment and we need our environment to live? If you accept this argument, then you already know why releasing balloons is a terrible idea.

To be clear


Punching badgers = Dumb

Tipping oil in sea = Dumb


Balloon releases = Dumb

This is a post about Balloon releases and a man with the greatest beard that has ever been grown by man.

I’d followed Andy Mabbett for some time and got to know his work quite well, in encounters with him he was always friendly and courteous, so I was somewhat surprised to log on to Twitter before christmas and find him getting huge amounts of aggressive tweets from people, I was intrigued. It was more intrigueing as some of the abuse was coming from an official charity Twitter account.


I will not name this charity as I promised I wouldn’t (and I don’t want to give them the coverage).

Andy’s crime was suggesting that Balloon Releases were harmful to the environment and that the charity involved should cancel theirs. Andy was Zen-Like in his calm responses to abuse, fighting blind rage with reasoned logic and science. He was always polite even when attempts were made to goad him. This is the evidence that Balloon releases are terrible: Balloons are harmful to wildlife  

Andy was totally right. The abuse he was subjected to was horrific and ludicrous throughout, if you joined the discussion at a late stage you would be forgiven for assuming that Andy was personally responsible not just for the suffering of the people abusing him, but for all the evils of the world. I found it strange that no one one was saying anything in way of support of Andy, infact general consensus seemed to be that the charity was in the right because they had the trump card of grief. Balloon Releases are okay if you’re grieving or raising awareness of some disease. To be fair, many thought Andy was right, but should keep his mouth shut, because people have a right to their grief and to express it in the way they feel best, including releasing balloons, whatever the consequences. People are idiots.

I started trying to talk to some of the people who had been abusing Andy. Following his fine lead of being polite and logical I suggested that perhaps they were looking at the issue in the wrong way. I tried to explain that Andy was not trying to take away their right to grieve, that wasn’t the issue, he was simply asking them not to do something to express their grief and remember their loved ones that was so damaging to the environment as a whole. It didn’t take long before I was being accused of all kinds of weird and wonderful things…at one point someone suggested that when I had children they hoped one died so I would feel their pain *Face Palm* I got quite a few DMs of support from people on Twitter but, again, no one was too keen to speak openly in support; my attackers were grieving after all. This made me realise some things…

Balloon Releases are Dumb

Just as pouring oil into the ocean is dumb; releasing balloons, whatever the reason, is harmful and destructive to the environment and therefore should be banned. If you are aware of the reasons why balloons are harmful to wildlife, but still proceed with organising one, you’re a selfish idiot and the same goes for venues that allow releases to take place, you can stop them. We can stop them.

Releasing a balloon will not help your grief! Once that balloon has floated off to get lodged in the throat of a cormorant, your grief will still be there, it will still hurt just as much as it did and you will still feel empty. Releasing a balloon will also not bring about a cure for any of the currently incurable diseases known to medical science, research into the disease may indeed yield a cure, but that cure is unlikely to resemble a Puffin choking to death on rubber.

Sometimes challenging wrongs makes you unpopular

The world needs people like Andy Mabbett, The rest of us will most likely not challenge things, even if we feel strongly about them, when there is a risk we may cause offence to others but, sometimes, causing offence is unavoidable and essential if you want to create positive change. He doesn’t go out of his way to upset people, but he doesn’t keep his mouth shut to avoid it either, especially when it is something he believes in. I respect this and I’d rather be counted along with Andy and be potentially seen as unpopular or argumentative, than keep my mouth shut just to keep the peace.

Volunteer Surgeons

It’s unlikely you would want a volunteer surgeon, without any background in biomedical science, to operate on you, but a lot of the Charity’s that I have seen Andy go up against have their Public Relations activity managed by volunteers without the relevant skill set for the role. The majority of the unpleasantness that I have witnessed comes from a fundamental lack of understanding on how best to deal with a vocal activist opposed to your organisations planned activity. It does not naturally follow that having an knowledge of the subject involved makes you the best person to handle the PR side of things. If Your spokesperson is basically leading a cyber-lynch mob of grieving people in attacking people politely suggesting alternatives to your planned activity, it might be time to find another spokesperson.

Further Reading

Follow Andy Mabbett on Twitter

Find out about Andy’s ‘Big Society’ Award

Virtual Ranger’s Blog: Bereaved Parents hope environmentalist chokes to death

Paul Clarke – A time and a place for everything

…Now if you’ll all excuse me, I am off punch a penguin in the spleen. That’s okay, right? I’m grieving after all.


5 Responses to “Does your life suck? Why not kick a duck to death? or: Why Balloon Releases are Dumb.”

  1. Andy Mabbett February 20, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    Thank you, Paul for your kind comments, this all started when I asked the charity concerned, politely, to read my article on balloon releases:

    The results were just as you described them.


  2. wibblesplat March 2, 2012 at 7:41 am #

    Great post Paul, and important point well made. Balloon releases *are* totally dumb. Can I just briefly share your soapbox? (waits reasonable amount of time before typing next sentence) Releasing Chinese lanterns, that’s dumb too, and the environmentally friendly ones? Bollocks, basically, people are even dumber if they think they are “OK”. Off the soapbox, and off to share your post!



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