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“Why should we all be skeptical of doomsday claims about global warming? Well, there are a lot of reasons. But from now on, I can sum it all up in one simple phrase: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

This was an environmentalist scare that became a bit of a trend from the late 1990s through the mid-2000s. The idea was that there is a giant floating raft of consumer trash in the middle of the Pacific where ocean currents created a kind of dead spot and all the flotsam and jetsam of the ocean gathered together. It was supposed to be a vast floating indictment—twice the size of Texas! the size of a continent!—of our wicked, wasteful lifestyles.

The problem is that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch never existed.

The picture at the top of this article, shared across the Internet as the iconic image of the garbage patch, is actually from Manila Harbor. The actual supposed location of the “Garbage Patch” would not be nearly as interesting to photograph.

Sure, there are areas of the ocean known as “gyres” that are like stagnant regions within the currents of the oceans where waste and debris and flotsam and jetsam tend to gather. Even if that seems weird or alarming, it’s actually a normal and natural phenomenon, sort of like how those human feet keep washing up in British Columbia because prevailing currents just happen to carry them there.

But scientists have known for a long time that there is nothing like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch reported in the media.