Stuff, stuff and more stuff

by Bev Krush

George Carlin’s classic stand-up routine on TV about the importance of ‘Stuff’ in our lives says it all. And he said it way back in 1986!

We clearly have a growing problem with Stuff. With just 6% of the world’s population, North America currently consumes 30% of the world’s resources and creates 30% of the world’s waste. If everyone consumed at U.S. rates, we would need three to five planets!

This alarming fact drove Annie Leonard to create the Internet film The Story of Stuff which has been viewed over 10 million times by people around the world. Leonard’s message is startlingly clear: we have too much stuff, and too much of it is toxic. Outlining the five stages of our consumption-driven economy, from extraction through production, distribution, consumption, and disposal, she emphasizes its frightening repercussions.

Visiting garbage dumps and factories around the world, Leonard reveals the true story behind our possessions – why it’s cheaper to replace a broken TV than to fix it; how the promotion of “perceived obsolescence” encourages us to toss out everything from shoes to cell phones while they’re still in perfect shape; and how factory workers in Haiti, mine workers in Congo, and everyone who lives and works within this system pays for our cheap goods with their health, safety, and quality of life.

Consumers are compromising their health and well-being, whether it’s from neurotoxins in pillows or lead leaching into our kids’ food from their lunchboxes. All this Stuff isn’t even making us happier! We work hard so we can buy Stuff that we quickly throw out, and then we want new Stuff so we work harder!

With staggering revelations about the economy, the environment, and cultures around the world, alongside stories from her own life and work, Leonard demonstrates that the drive for a “growth at all costs” economy fuels a cycle of production, consumption, and disposal that is killing us.

None of the famous economists of our world, from Friedman to Samuelson to Sen and beyond, have given us ways of effectively dealing with our mountains of Stuff. The fashion industry today creates 20% of the world’s pollution, yet clothing factories have to accept 25% of their production back and then burn these clothes for fuel. Incineration is a leading cause of atmospheric toxic pollution We simply do not need all the clothes being produced. Unending production to spur on economic growth is no longer solving problems, its creating them.

The philosophy of endless growth of GDP for a country to establish wealth relies upon an ever-increasing global population that needs what is produced. The flawed basic premise in this paradigm is that the Earth can somehow sustain a never-ending increased population to buy the never-ending production of goods. Built-in obsolescence is a ploy that Industry and manufacturing use to maintain sales of their never-ending factory production. The result is the size of our contaminating landfills being filled to dangerous proportions.

Our subsequent wealth as a consequence of this “Freedom Approach” has allowed us to become careless and wasteful with the world’s resources. This includes food. Industrialized food production, transport, sales, and restaurants are responsible for about a 25% overall loss in product. Consumers are also guilty of wasting food by letting it spoil in their affluent fridges.

Here in the already affluent western world, our wealth distribution will itself become a serious, possibly war-initiating factor as the 1% continues experiencing the most significant increase in affluence, and the 99% are not able to make similar advances in overall economic status. Countries which have seen spectacular success in economic advancement, such as Estonia, often cite attitude as an influential factor, but if countries are already burning 25% of the factory production demanded by the fashion industry, why would Industry keep hiring people to produce more waste? The jobs will not be there when production is at surplus levels.

Our parents’ generation promoted admiration of material acquisitions and financial wealth as a sign of personal worth, prestige, honour, respectability and success. Some resorted to crime and corruption to achieve those ends; they were still admired by some because they were “smart enough” to “work the System”. In TODAY’s world we need to seriously re-think what has genuine VALUE, and is actually LONG TERM sustainable. We need to think past the immediate benefits to today’s population and be concerned about what impact our increase in personal wealth will have on our great grandchildren seven generations down the line.

The continued extinction of life formerly prevalent on the earth (seriously – no more white or black rhinos?) really ought to warn us that the methods of our past have had serious negative consequences as well as those financially lucrative benefits. We are animals too, and just as dependent upon a healthy environment for our survival as all the other animals that are adversely affected by our ever increasing GDP and wealth.

When government-regulated industry is faced with negative research feedback of serious human impact consequences to their money-making ideas, they seldom do the honourable ( profit reducing) thing and research the negative consequences to find a solution. Instead, they stop funding the research so evidence against them ceases to grow. This is a direct consequence of the free-market attitude of progress at any price as long as the externalities can be ignored or set aside for future generations.

If our ONLY goal in life is financial profit, then FINE, this all works. But, if we have humanitarian concerns for ALL life on earth and the well being of people seven generations down the road, then these ideas need a whole new paradigm.

 

5 comments

  1. Hurrah! So well said, Bev and really drives home the seriousness of our selfish consumerism and the frightening consequences for all of us. Thank you for getting this out there.

  2. Yeah, Bev! Well said, thanks for the excellent summary and references. Pathways to solutions are there, and obvious, but we’re not taking them, at least in sufficient numbers to stem the tide; and leadership at the political and economic level is lacking, at least in most high places. All kinds of good things ARE happening, but on a small scale, locally. We need big shifts, fast!

  3. I enjoyed reading this, and agree with Jill. But before consumers take all the blame, let’s figure out what’s manipulating our brains to want more…more. An obvious one is ads. Maybe we need a warning label like “buying this product may damage your planet”? :).

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