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2013 Group Reads > January 2013 Read: Annie Leonard's "The Story of Stuff"

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message 1: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 923 comments To get people excited about our January 2013 read - Annie Leonard's "The Story of Stuff" - I am posting the 20+ minute video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLBE5Q...


message 2: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 923 comments Even though this isn't directly related to Leonard's book, this excerpt from Carl Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot" demonstrates how earth is our one and only home:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pfwY2...

Plus, the visuals are good as well.


message 3: by Nathan (new)

Nathan Krueger | 2 comments Lynnm wrote: "To get people excited about our January 2013 read - Annie Leonard's "The Story of Stuff" - I am posting the 20+ minute video:

Thanks for posting the video, I'm looking forward to reading this book with everyone.


message 4: by Lynnm (last edited Dec 29, 2012 11:11AM) (new)

Lynnm | 923 comments Nathan - I'm really looking forward to the discussion. I started rereading the book a few days ago, and what I like about it most is that Leonard doesn't merely explain the issues but also gives solutions as well.


message 5: by 2tired2read (new)

2tired2read | 1 comments I'm really excited about reading this book and corresponding with you all as well!


message 6: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1582 comments Mod
I thought this interesting:

http://vimeo.com/52711779


message 7: by Nathan (new)

Nathan Krueger | 2 comments Jimmy wrote: "I thought this interesting:

http://vimeo.com/52711779"


Thanks for posting, looks like an amazing story!


message 8: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 923 comments Jimmy wrote: "I thought this interesting:

http://vimeo.com/52711779"


Thanks for posting.

I don't know what to think. In one way, it is wonderful to see inventive ways to recycle trash. On the other hand, so very sad to see people having to live right on top of a landfill.


message 9: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1582 comments Mod
I think the latter half of your comment is the correct one, Lynm. Too many have looked at this video and come away with an attitude that if you just "work hard" or "have faith" or whatever, you can overcome anything. Then they go their merry own way with all their stuff.


message 10: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 923 comments Jimmy wrote: "I think the latter half of your comment is the correct one, Lynm. Too many have looked at this video and come away with an attitude that if you just "work hard" or "have faith" or whatever, you can..."

I found it very sad. To me, it highlighted the differences between the Haves and Have-Nots. We have so much Stuff, and they have to make instruments out of garbage. And live near garbage.


message 11: by Lynnm (last edited Jan 01, 2013 05:06AM) (new)

Lynnm | 923 comments Okay, the “official” start of our discussion on Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff”!

Everyone can do their own “thing” in discussing the book, but for me personally, I’m going to approach the book by aiming on the six different sections (the Introduction and Chapter 1-5) over the course of the next two weeks, and then leave myself open to discussing the book overall in the last two weeks.

In the introduction, Annie Leonard sets out some of the ideas that she will be addressing in the book. “The Story of Stuff” is truly a story, not only of trash, but of overconsumption, economic growth, social justice, capitalism, and pollution.

- As Leonard says, the above topics are connected. Environmentalists generally set up their argument centered nature rather than how environmental issues are connected with capitalism and economic growth: “traditional environmentalists focus on that cuddly endangered bear or the majestic groves of redwoods or the nature preserves where they go to forget all about ugly things like the stock market.”

- Leonard also talks about the ethics of “stuff”: “the idea that seeing wrong-doing with our own eyes creates a moral responsibility to inform others and take action.”

- Leonard considers how people look to green technologies to “save” us from an environmental crisis. I know many people who think that way. But as she says, green technologies are only a small part of what needs to be done.

- Population – an issue that I’m very interested in. I’m glad that she raised it, but like many environmental writers, she focuses more on overconsumption and only gives a nod to population. Leonard claims that ‘historically, interventions aimed at stabilizing global population usually been driven by those in overconsuming regions of the world and have often ignored the fact of vastly unequal consumption patterns.” True. But just because the West overconsumes, doesn’t mean that we can continue to ignore population. Too many people, and even if the West stopped buying, we still have to deal with a population that has more than tripled in 90 years.

- Economic Growth – We are so focused on economic growth, but as Ed Abbey once said, “growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell.” Since we’ve solved the problem of meeting our necessities in life in the West, our growth now is focused on selling goods that most people don’t need (or want if they were honest with themselves). Leonard considers the way GDP is calculated vs. the way we should calculate economic growth – factoring in things such as pollution and cost to the earth’s resources and happiness. She also talks about how “we’re perilously close to the limits of our finite plant already.” (That reminds me of what Al Gore once said – the environmental movement started when they took the first pictures from the moon in 1968 – people could see how fragile the Earth really was).

- Capitalism – Leonard makes it clear that she isn’t anti-capitalist, but she does point out that the way we conduct capitalism in the West isn’t sustainable. Yes, the role of a corporation is to make a profit. But that doesn’t excuse corporations from engaging in destructive environmental practices.


message 12: by Ricardo (new)

Ricardo Mateus | 1 comments Dear All,

This is my first post in this group. So please be gentle... :-)

After hearing the first lines of the (audio)book and as a forest management researcher, I would like to add that Annie could have differentiated forest cuts that are lost to other uses (roads, factories, buildings, hospitals, schools, etc) from the ones that are not replaced and are left to another forest grow succession.

Ricardo Mateus


message 13: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 923 comments Ricardo wrote: "Dear All,

This is my first post in this group. So please be gentle... :-)

After hearing the first lines of the (audio)book and as a forest management researcher, I would like to add that Annie co..."


Hi Ricardo - we are always gentle. :-)

Good point. And I also thought that she could have spent more time on sound forestry practices (although she did mention them).

Also - and this isn't to criticize Leonard's book which is fantastic - I thought she could have made some stronger connections on other points. For example, she wrote about the negative impacts of producing paper including books and also talked about the negatives of computers and other technologies. It might have been interesting if she had compared which is better (or worse): reading books in hardcopy form vs. reading books on a ereader.


message 14: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1582 comments Mod
Environmental issues become so damn complicated. Computers and other technology require precious minerals. The waste generated is a problem. Simple solutions are hard to find.


message 15: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (buckywunder) | 10 comments [Timely additional book-related material.]

There was a Q&A with Annie Leonard yesterday at the Bill Moyers website where she underscores her contention that "citizens, not consumers, are the key to solving the climate crisis":

http://billmoyers.com/2013/01/04/citi...


message 16: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 923 comments Hugh wrote: "[Timely additional book-related material.]

There was a Q&A with Annie Leonard yesterday at the Bill Moyers website where she underscores her contention that "citizens, not consumers, are the key ..."


Thanks for posting, Hugh! Excellent article.


message 17: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 923 comments Some notes on Chapter 1 on “extraction.”

- Trees: Leonard explores why we need trees – allow us to breathe (very important!); “collect and filter our fresh water”; “maintain soil health”; and “our prescription drugs are derived from forests.” “Forests provide homes for about two-thirds of the species on earth.” “300 million people live in the forests, while about 60 million indigenous people are almost wholly dependent on them” Also, natural forests have more diversity than industrial tree plantations. Sadly, “we’ve been losing more than 7 million hectares a year, or 20,000 hectares – almost 50,000 acres – a day.” “Clear-cut areas don’t hold soil and don’t absorb water.” “Forests get cut down to make way for cattle ranches, soy fields, and other agricultural products.” Also, we cut down trees for “plant-based alternatives to fossil fuels” as well as for development. For books, we use about “30 million trees” in the U.S. alone. - WHAT WE CAN DO: Recycle, but better, don’t use as many paper products. Harvest trees in a more sustainable manner.

- Water: Leonard considers how we are disconnected to water. The main reason: “our water-based sewage systems do us a deep psychological disservice.” We “think of water as a waste receptacle and associate water with waste.” Even energy saving toilets harm the environment. We need water for “drinking and bathing, but for growing our food too.” “We use about “200 gallons of water per person, per day during the growing season …just to water lawns.” Water is also used to produce our stuff. For example, “growing the cotton for one T-shirt requires 256 gallons of water. To get your morning cup of coffee, 36 gallons of water are used to grown, produce, package, and ship the beans.” As water becomes more scarce, conflicts will emerge. WHAT WE CAN DO: Composting toilets; plant native plants instead of grass on our lawns; manage water in a more fair manner – public not private; reuse water – gray water; people have to begin to pay for the water that they use – to produce and to consume our stuff; regulations so industrial toxins don’t end up in the water supply.

- Rocks: mined and stripped on the surface. Leonard goes into the dangers both for under the ground mining and surface mining for workers, and the poor condition in developing nations for workers. “Gold is … used electronics; virtually every modern electronic device—cell phones, laptops, televisions, GPS systems, MP3 players—has a bit of gold in it.” “But the biggest use, dwarfing all the rest, is jewelry. Jewelry accounts for more than 75 percent of the total amount of gold consumed today.” WHAT WE CAN DO: This one for me has always been easy – just don’t buy jewelry. I’ve never understood why women – and some men – are so into jewelry. Could care less for gold and diamonds. Also, reuse the minerals that are found in digital devices.

- Petroleum: Oil is used in the production of our stuff. Also, can be found in “plastics, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizers…crayons, bubble gum, ink, dishwashing liquid, deodorant, tires, and ammonia.” “Drilling, processing, and burning oil is dirty and damaging to the health of people everywhere, not to mention the health of the planet.” According to Leonard, we are running out of oil. “If oil demand remains steady, the world would have to find the equivalent of four Saudi Arabias to main production and six Saudi Arabias if it is to keep up the expected increase in demand between now and 2030.” Also, human rights issues in the extraction of oil. WHAT WE CAN DO: Alternative energy sources: wind, solar. Replace oil with other materials in producing stuff.


message 18: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1582 comments Mod
Water is the item on this list that will be the biggest problem in the future. A CIA report several years ago predicted many new wars based on the issue of water, as well as the expected environmental disasters.


message 19: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 923 comments Jimmy wrote: "Water is the item on this list that will be the biggest problem in the future. A CIA report several years ago predicted many new wars based on the issue of water, as well as the expected environmen..."

I agree. And food as well. There have already been food riots as the price of food skyrockets.


message 20: by Lynnm (last edited Jan 08, 2013 11:55AM) (new)

Lynnm | 923 comments One thing that keeps coming back to me as I read this book - and Leonard says this at times as well - is that we don't have to extract/produce/etc. our "stuff" in such a toxic manner.

Where are the innovators to come up with clean alternatives? And a lot of the clean alternatives are far less expensive, even without making corporations clean up their messes.

Another reason to promote STEM education - get more people educated in science, technology, engineering, and math who can come up with solutions. Sadly, it doesn't seem like many people are even aware of the problems let alone working on solutions.

The other thing that I realize is that many corporations will never go for her suggestions because they like planned obsolescence and people trashing the whole product rather than being able to fix it - they want more sales, more money.


message 21: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1582 comments Mod
Part of Annie Leonard's idea about "Citizens, not Consumers" is that we will need political action, government intervention, laws, and citizen acceptance of this. That's a struggle in America.

And I agree that we need to make doing the right thing more profitable to encourage it.


message 22: by Hugh (last edited Jan 09, 2013 12:17PM) (new)

Hugh (buckywunder) | 10 comments The 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is running from yesterday to Friday.

http://www.cesweb.org/

In response, Annie Leonard made The Story of Electronics (2010) with an eye towards their design:

http://youtu.be/sW_7i6T_H78


message 23: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 923 comments Jimmy wrote: "Part of Annie Leonard's idea about "Citizens, not Consumers" is that we will need political action, government intervention, laws, and citizen acceptance of this. That's a struggle in America.

An..."


Agree - it has to be a combination of all parts of society.

At times it bothers me that we have to make it "profitable" for people to do the right thing. But if the bottom line for some people is money and that's the only way that they'll do things to help the environment, then so be it. It would be nice to live in a utopia, but not happening anytime soon. ;)


message 24: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 923 comments Some thoughts on Chapter 2-Production:

- The section on t-shirts was depressing. :-) I love t-shirts. As Annie said, they are definitely the most comfortable piece of clothing. But all that water to grow the cotton definitely makes them eco-unfriendly. And the dyes for the colors with all those chemicals - Yikes! (Bummed to see that even my colored t-shirts are bleached - did not know that). Also, did not know that there was formaldehyde in my t's to make them wrinkle resistant. Double yikes! And not to mention the workers who work in poor conditions and get paid next to nothing to make those t's. I like her ideas of wearing them until they are completely unwearable and then using them for rags, etc., but still feeling badly now about my favorite piece of clothing! I am going to look into the Patagonia t-shirts and organic and fair trade cotton t's.

- Books. I congratulate myself each Christmas that I buy books for everyone. Made in the U.S. so no large energy distribution costs, hopefully the workers are paid a livable wage in safe conditions. Like Annie, while I watch what I buy for most products, I don't do that for books. I figure that the knowledge coming from books outweights the negatives of production. But feeling guilty again. Deforestation. Limited recycling of paper products. The chemicals used to make paper, including chlorine - those living in Europe don't have to worry about this. And mercury. And petroleum to make the ink. There are alternatives - vegetable-based "biochemicals" and soy inks. I've been buying e-books or using the library, but that leads to...

- Computers - Like Annie, I'm not a tech junkie. Yes, I have a laptop, cell phone, and Nook, but don't get every new gadget, and certainly don't ungrade for every change. I keep them all until they don't work anymore. But still, according to Annie, "hazardous compounds" are used to make electronics. The fast obsolescence of tech gadgets. Also, the extraction of the minerals that make computers work.

- Aluminum cans - easy to eliminate from use - we need to use refillable bottles. Personally, I try not to drink most of the beverages that are found in aluminum cans. And if I do drink out of an aluminum can, I recyle it. I really was shocked at how much it takes to make aluminum. I liked her quote from the education film short where an alien comes to earth and sees the wasted aluminum cans: "No one would be so stupid, so irrational to use such a highly valuable, energy-intensive metal to hold a simple beverage!"

- Plastic - plastic is in everything now - difficult to avoid. But Annie does give good information about how to avoid it in "packaging, plastic bottles, and containers." And good to see that some countries in Europe - Sweden, Spain, and of course, Germany "have all restricted PVC in some location or uses."

Also, great information regarding environmental injustice in factories that produce our Stuff, including the incident in Bhopal.


message 25: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 923 comments Some thoughts on Chapter 3 - Distribution:

The entire chapter questions the movement of goods across the globe. In the past, you purchased "stuff" from local sources. Rarely did you get something that was made from great distances, and then, it was only the very wealthy.

Obviously, moving goods across the globe is bad for the environment...all the energy that it takes defies common sense. Also, we have human rights issues due to the treatment of workers in developing nations.

Annie does include some solutions, including GoodGuide. It does send a message to corporations.

However - and obvioiusly feel free to disagree - very difficult to do in this day and age. It would take so many more millions upon millions of people to demand that the system changes, and we just don't have enough people who really care enough or really want to change the system of distribution.

Negative, I know, but I think the truth.

But I did like her suggestion that we can make a difference in buying good quality products that don't wear out quickly. She talks about clothes, and I think that's a good example. Rather than buying clothes that are fads, buy quality classic styles. I know that I have sweaters that have lasted literally 10 years, and people still comment on how much they like them. They are shocked when I tell them how old they are, but again, they are classic styles, and I take good care of them.

Another good suggestion is a share. I would love to do that for products to do things around the home. Recently, I needed to put up new curtain rods, and I needed an electric screwdriver. I didn't want to buy one just to use once - I don't hang curtain rods everyday. Borrowing is better for the environment and my wallet.

Next, avoiding big box stores, including online big box stores. But again, will be hard to get people to buy into this one. One, hard to find the local stores anymore. Two, the big box stores make it seems so inexpensive.

Lastly, I loved her discussion on the WTO. If you don't read anything else in the chapter, read that section. I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Lori Wallach of Public Citizen speak when I lived in NYC. Wonderful speaker who truly does know everything there is to know about the WTO.


message 26: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1582 comments Mod
There's a new ad for the movie on the life of Steve Jobs where Jobs says something like, "How are consumers going to know what they need until we tell them that they need it." Artificial needs are created. But let's face it, that's how corporations make money. That's how their workers make money. So how can we get all of that to change. This is not a simple task.

Your friends would be even more shocked at how old MY clothes are. I never throw any away until they are destroyed.


message 27: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 923 comments Jimmy wrote: "There's a new ad for the movie on the life of Steve Jobs where Jobs says something like, "How are consumers going to know what they need until we tell them that they need it." Artificial needs are ..."

So arrogant what Jobs said, but sadly, it's true to a great extent.

We know that people are more followers than leaders. People always say that they don't pay attention to advertising, but it's not true.

Everyone wants the brand names that are "in," and they are "in" because the advertisements make the products seems so "cool" and "must have to be cool."

Apple is great at that. We're cool. Our products are cool. And if you have our products, you'll be cool too.

And glad to see that your clothes are old too! :-)


message 28: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1582 comments Mod
Here's some info on the composting toilet:

http://www.greenrvlife.com/2010/11/18...


message 29: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1582 comments Mod
I just got my copy of the book on interlibrary loan this weekend, so I'm a bit behind.

Looking at my comment on the composting toilet, it seems that here it is only for recreational vehicles. I doubt many people right now are going to install them in their homes in wealthy nations. I wonder if there's any info on that.

It could help out in poor countries at least for starters. I once saw a documentary on the problem of human beings finding places to go to the bathroom world wide. It was a shocker the number of humans who have no toilet. They showed fields where hundreds of people would be going out in the open.


message 30: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1582 comments Mod
On the bottom of page 10, she mentions how it takes about 36 gallons of water to make one cup of coffee.

I'd like to put in a strong plug here for Audubon bird-friendly coffee:

http://magblog.audubon.org/drink-more...

I urge any coffee drinkers out there to buy it. I never use any others any more. And I use this like all products in moderation.


message 31: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 923 comments Jimmy, I can't see people changing over to composting toilets either. Quite frankly, I would never change over to a composting toilet. Never. Ever. As much as I care for the environment and people living in poverty, there has to be better ways to help or a way to reconfigure our current toilets to better preserve water.


message 32: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 923 comments Jimmy wrote: "On the bottom of page 10, she mentions how it takes about 36 gallons of water to make one cup of coffee.

I'd like to put in a strong plug here for Audubon bird-friendly coffee:

http://magblog.a..."


Thanks for the tip.

I don't drink coffee. Maybe that can make up for my refusal to get a composting toilet? :-)


message 33: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1582 comments Mod
If you know people who drink coffee and won't stop, Audubon bird friendly coffee makes a great gift that makes a point.


message 34: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1582 comments Mod
Some of her comments about societal isolation were interesting. We need more neighborhood farming groups where we share and trade what we grow in our own yards. More secular groups for people to join, political and social. And without computers.


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