Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Are we stuffed?

For my third blog post I had been preparing a lengthy polemic on life as a sudden parent (don't worry, family, no nasty surprises to come). That will have to wait. Today I was introduced to a compelling sustainability initiative - The Story of Stuff Project - which I had to give voice to.

Founded two years ago by Californian environmental author Annie Leonard, the project set out to draw attention to a runaway hit web movie The Story of Stuff, in which Leonard - much like Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth - presents a video treatise on the consequences of our (and especially America's) love of consumerism.

Now I would hardly consider myself to be an environmental evangelist - with my carbon footprint I'd be planting trees from now until forever before I could atone for my consumption.

I also work for a large corporation which runs factories that make stuff, distributes stuff, and trousers the proceeds from selling it. I drive a car, shop at supermarkets using my car, and consume electricity via the rainforestload to power all the things that make modern life fun. Including the computer I'm writing this on.

Where Leonard's film and subsequent awareness project really scores is in its intelligent and well thought-through examination of just how sustainability projects really only scrape the surface of the efforts that are really required to rescue the planet from irreversible exhaustion of its natural resources. From the extraction of raw materials through to the disposal of finished goods, The Story of Stuff spans the entire consumption chain with admirable depth, presenting some alarming facts about the human consequences of mass consumerism amongst the very nations that can least afford them.

We may all be good Earth citizens in separating our paper and our plastics into separate waste bins but, says Leonard in the movie, "it doesn't get to the core of the problem": for every bin we leave for the dustmen every two weeks, 70 bins of waste would have been generated 'upstream' just to make the stuff that one dustbin outside our house contains. Something seems out of balance.

Since Leonard and chums launched the project, additional components have been added, including a new animated film on 'cap and trade' - the energy-trading solution devised by Enron of all people. Most recently the project has launched The Story of Bottled Water, a equally rich examination of our love - and mine - of drinking earth's next resource to go to war over from a bottle ("Bottled water costs about 2000 times more than tap water. Can you imagine paying 2000 times the price of anything else? How about a $10,000 sandwich?").

Anyway, I'll let you make up your own mind: watch the video below and check out the link on this page to see the whole Story of Stuff project, its downloads and other resources. Just don't throw them away.

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