May 11, 2009

The Story of Stuff

I was reading the NY Times this morning, and I came across this article. It's about this woman named Annie Leonard, who created this video with support from different NGOs. The 20-minute video essentially goes through the human consumption cycle, following the creation of stuff from the extracting raw materials from the planet to the point where we dispose of these items.

Due to a lack of educational materials revolving around environmental impact and sustainability and a lack of clarity on how to teach the subject, the video has become extremely popular among educators across the world, who have started using it to segue into a discussion on the environment.

After reading the Times article, I decided to go to the Story of Stuff website and check out the video. 

According to the Times article, one of the parents who viewed this video claimed that the video was very anti-capitalistic and extremely one-sided. While I agree with this statement (after all, corporations are viewed as fat cats with top hats scheming with the government to set up an intricate system for US consumerism), I do believe that this video is an excellent tool to engage people to start thinking about things that are normally taken for granted and start questioning the way we currently do things.

There was a lot of talk in the video about the impact we have on developing nations, particularly how we tend to steal their resources and deprive their people of their future by forcing them into working in factories and providing us with resources. The video also mentioned that we throw away over 90% of the goods we buy, all of it driven by new models, new trends, etc., trapping us in a never-ending cycle of work, tv, and shopping. 

To rectify all of this, the video suggests at the end to start doing things in a sustainable way, using alternatives that involve clean energy and greener technologies with closed loop production processes that produce zero waste. There doesn't necessarily need to be a massive rehaul of the entire system as it stands now. A few adjustments here and there to rectify the outstanding issues and transform the system into a sustainable cycle will go a long way towards improving everyone's way of life.

I don't believe that mass production, mass consumerism, and globalism are necessarily bad like the video makes it out to be. After all, it allows a lot of people to get what they need quickly and cheaply, and it supports the economies of these developing countries as well as our own. But, I do agree that there is severe apathy and lack of understanding about how our products and goods are made and how they got to our store shelves.

What I think will especially help is educating consumers and making them more aware. Not only will this help alleviate the negative impacts of our current production cycle, it will help people gain a greater appreciation of the things they have, since they'll know how it was made, who it was made by, and where it will eventually end up if they throw it away. I also believe that greater awareness will increase support of greentech and cleantech companies and greater adoption of their products and technologies. 

I was happy to hear that students who watched the video have already taken it to heart, as the article mentioned a 9-year-old, who was considering the environmental impact of him buying a box of Legos, or an 18-year-old, who bought a water filter for her household and converted her family from bottled water drinkers to filtered water drinkers. There have also been other stories of kids becoming more environmentally conscious, so it's promising that the new generation of kids are taking these matters into consideration and are starting to influence their families.


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