24 November 2010

the story of stuff

I wrote this post awhile ago and have been saving it until the right time.  With the season of holiday consumption ahead of us, and with it the automatic response of buying more cheaply and unsustainably produced goods just because we think we should, now seems like the right time.  Of course I'll be back here on Black Friday plugging alternative gift guides and artisans and handmade products, but as always there is another alternative:  be more thoughtful about what you buy, more thankful for what you already have and more satisfied with not having it all.

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I borrowed The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard from the library sometime in August, and then commenced a frenzied reading of it, defying Car Sickness Gods and bedtimes and personal hygiene to finish the book because it was on a 14-day new release loan with no option to renew.  Cruel library policy.  Anyway, it's a dense note-taking sort of book that should come with a study guide.  A write-in-the-margins-if-it-were-my-own-copy, take-your-time and-read-every-interesting-fact-out-loud-to-whoever-else-is-near-you sort of book. 
Watch this video if you haven't already (it's 20 minutes, so grab a cup of tea and set aside some time), learn more here and then read the book.  It's chock-full of information but also very readable so it doesn't feel like homework.  It's one of those books that we owe to the rest of society to read, because we owe it to each other to understand what we are doing to our planet, to our communities, to future generations and how we can become more informed, responsible and committed global citizens.  Ya dig?  It might just be a paradigm-shifter.  Plus, it has a killer endnotes section which, for people like me (mega-nerds), really seals the deal.

Actually, what really seals the deal is that although it's almost guaranteed that a sickening feeling of guilt will settle over you during many chapters, the author is careful to emphasize that this is not the fault of individuals and individual-level choices.  That reducing, reusing and recycling are important but they aren't the end goal and aren't even the most important things we can do.  The most important thing we can do is demand systemic change:  from government, from corporations and from top-level decision-makers.  Leonard argues that it's not enough to worry about waste once it's generated; we need to go upstream to stop the waste from ever being made.  So it's not a "ten simple things you can do to save the planet" piece (although there are plenty of those lists and it's a nice place to start) and it's not designed to make you paranoid about every product you buy, every company you support or every store you visit.  It's written to make you think, to question the status quo of consumption and waste, and to help change the current paradigm to one that will sustain our limited resources for us and for future generations.  Give it a read.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Have you read The Story of Stuff too?  We'll start a book club and compare margin notes over a short glass of apple jack and a platter of crudites.  Tell me about it in the comments or, as long as we're talking about book clubs, any recent recommendations you've got.

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