This month’s book selection is The Story of Stuff: The Impact of Overconsumption on the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health-And How We Can Make It Better by Annie Leonard. In this book, Leonard shares the results of her investigation into the entire consumer process: extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal.
As with many of the books I pick up, Leonard’s fascinating read, The Story of Stuff, was preaching to the choir. Of course lines like, “What I question is not consumption in the abstract but consumerism and overconsumption” (p. 145) resonate with a latter day hippie. Naturally talking about the terrible environmental and human tolls that come with our Stuff strikes a chord with someone like me.
What truly made this book different than others in the same genre, however, was the element of hope and the fact that realistic solutions were offered. Rather than focusing strictly on the negative aspects of Stuff (and trust me, the negative aspects of something as seemingly simple as a shirt are incredible), Leonard offered up examples of hope, as in the case of the increasingly scarce resource of water; she highlights an international coalition of activists, known as “water warriors” who are doing their best to ensure that water is recognized as a basic human right (p. 19).
Stuff also offers viable alternatives to current methods. For example: providing examples of various companies that have have implemented closed-loop factories, “which continuously recycle all the water they use” (p. 19).
All too frequently, books about environment and consumption harp on the negative, rather than providing actual solutions and reason to hope and persevere. The Story of Stuff gives the straight story, but also gives ways to solve these major issues, and reason to hope for our future.
We all know what “stuff” is. I have too much of it, and you probably do too. But where does it come from? Where does it go when we’re done with it?
Reading Story of Stuff was helpful for me to start a deeper consideration of the repercussions of my consumer actions. Of course, I knew that there were dark secrets hiding behind the shiny, plastic-wrapped items that I buy at big-box stores (and later throw away), but to be honest, I was okay with being ignorant.
I don’t want to be ignorant anymore.
One of my favorite parts of this book was when Leonard talks about the GDP. I’ve long been uncomfortable with using the GDP as a sign of the country’s economic health. That’s like judging my financial health by the number of times I swipe my credit card.
While I feel like I still have a long way to go in researching the life cycle of my stuff, Story of Stuff was a great place to start. I want to keep refining my consumption and disposal habits not only for my good, but the good of others.