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Story Of Stuff
By Annie Leonard
Do you have one of these? I got a little obsessed with mine, in fact I got a little obsessed with all my stuff. Have you ever wondered where all the stuff we buy comes from and where it goes when we throw it out.? I couldn’t stop wondering about that. So I looked it up. And what the text books said is that our stuff simply moves along these stages: extraction to production to distribution to consump tion to disposal. All together, it’s called the materials economy.
Well, I looked into it a little bit more. In fact, I spent 10 years traveling the world tracking where our stuff comes from and where it goes. And you know what I found out? That is not the whole story. There’s a lot missing from this explanation.
For one thing, this system looks like it’s fine. No problem. But the truth is it’s a system in crisis. And the reason it is in crisis is that it is a linear system and we live on a finite planet and you can not run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely.
Every step along the way, this system is interacting with the real world. In real life it’s not happening on a blank white page. It’s interacting with societies, cultures, economies, the environment. And all along the way, it’s bumping up against limits. Limits we don’t see here because the diagram is incomplete. So let’s go back through, let’s fill in some of the blanks and see what’s missing.
Well, one of the most important things that is missing is people. Yes, people. People live and work all along this system. And some people in this system matter a little more than others; some have a little more say. Who are they?
Well, let’s start with the government. Now my friends tell me I should use a tank to symbolize the government and that’s true in many countries and increasingly in our own, afterall more than 50% of our federal tax money is now going to the military, but I’m using a person to symbolize the government because I hold true to the vision and values that governments should be of the people, by the people, for the people.
It’s the government’s job is to watch out for us, to take care of us. That’s their job.
Then along came the corporation. Now, the reason the corporation looks bigger than the government is that the corporation is bigger than the government. Of the 100 largest economies on earth now, 51 are corporations. As the corporations have grown in size and power, we’ve seen a little change in the government where they’re a little more concerned in making sure everything is working out for those guys than for us.
OK, so let’s see what else is missing from this picture
We’ll start with extraction which is a fancy word for natural resource exploitation which is a fancy word for trashing the planet. What this looks like is we chop down trees, we blow up mountains to get the metals inside, we use up all the water and we wipe out the animals.
So here we are running up against our first limit. We’re running out of resources.
We are using too much stuff. Now I know this can be hard to hear, but it’s the truth and we’ve gotta deal with it. In the past three decades alone, one-third of the planet’s natural resources base have been consumed. Gone.
We are cutting and mining and hauling and trashing the place so fast that we’re undermining the planet’s very ability for people to live here.
Where I live, in the United States, we have less than 4% of our original forests left. Forty percent of waterways have become undrinkable.