Monday, March 22, 2010

"The Story of Stuff"

I saw an interview with the author of "The Story of Stuff" on the Colbert Report a couple weeks ago. The interview was ~5 minutes long, but the author (Annie Leonard) did such a good job summarizing the fix we are all in, that I ran out and bought the book.

Apparently Leonard made a 20 minute film (including line drawn animation) and released it on the web a couple years ago leading to ~10 million viewings, and some controversy (as reported last year (5/11/09) in the New York Times). The video even has its own wikipedia page.

I am really glad Leonard wrote the book. "The Story of Stuff" lays out in clear and simple terms just how unsustainable the current US culture of consumption is.

She picks everyday examples of consumption and describes exactly how the materials in our stuff are extracted, produced, distributed, consumed, and disposed. She illustrates by numbers (and copious footnotes) and vignettes from her life exactly how harmful each of these steps actually is, and how little of the true cost of these processes actually show up in the price we pay at the register. Yes--to the last free market fundamentalist out there--there are "costs" that do not show up in the "price" we pay (a.k.a. externalities). The book has several very scary "sidebars" that should cause everyone to think twice before their next purchase of virtually anything from shampoo to anything with PVC (polyvinyl chloride)--Leonard really has it in for PVC.

But more than being about "the stuff" the story of stuff is really about a flawed system that hurts the health and/or well being of almost everyone involved at any stage in the current process of making, using or disposing of stuff. For all our modern progress and global trade volumes, logistics and financially "efficient" markets, the things we make and use today, don't last as long as they did even a generation ago. Leonard takes care to note serious efforts to fix things all along the "consumption supply chain" and how people can get involved. But the bottom line is that we need change on a major scale..."a shift in the paradigm". We need to fundamentally change how we think about "stuff" if we have any hope of surviving (let along thriving) as a society.

As Annie Leonard herself admits "a lot of this information was already out there"--she has simply put it together into a compelling narrative that will hopefully make us all more mindful of everything we make/buy/discard.


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