Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff” review and analysis



Question:

My friend Mark sent me this video link – if you have 20 minutes, check it out….and Andy, I’m especially curious to know what you think about it….

Answer:

Yikes. That’s like handing someone “War and Peace”, and then saying, “tell me what you think of it”.

Where would one begin?

The link points to “The Story of Stuff”, a video by Annie Leonard. This article contains my thoughts and a short review of “The Story of Stuff”. It’ll be most helpful if you’ve seen The Story of Stuff before reading this review.

Overall impressions: I strongly agreed with some points, strongly disagreed with others. It seemed to me that Annie Leonard and The Story of Stuff primarily is a warning against consumerism and global corporations.

This is bad and good at the same time. It’s good because there were some valid points. It’s bad because some parts sounded like extremism, and some were, I believe, simply incorrect.

Here are my impressions on each aspect in The Story of Stuff:

EXTRACTION

“We’re running out of resources.”

True. We do need to focus more on renewable energy, and the political will just isn’t there.

“The USA is 5% of global population, but uses 30% of resources.”

…The USA also produces 27% of the world’s GDP. 30% of resources, 27% of GDP: this seems to be a good measure of our efficiency, not waste. Any economists out there who can explain to me why this is bad?

PRODUCTION

“Toxics, toxics, toxics.” It’s more repetitious than a “HeadOn” commercial. I felt like I was being manipulated through this section because of the focus on telling you that any big company’s PRODUCTION produces TOXICS with zero benefit.

Now, for those who’ve noticed (particularly those with small children), there have been tons of recalls lately about lead-infused children’s toys. This is a justifiable concern – these things are way above acceptable toxicity levels.

Then Annie Leonard raised the freak-out level: We dip our pillows in BFR (brominated flame retardants), a horribly toxic man-made chemical, and we sleep on them!

Not knowing anything about BFRs, I did some research on this. I found two things:

One, BFRs are used primarily in electronics and electronics plastics. Things like computer circuit boards, the plastic casing around a TV set, around the rubber sheaths encasing wires in a computer, that kind of thing. And the BFRs are chemically bonded to those components. That means they’re not flying into the air, we’re not breathing them in.

Two, I was unable to find any evidence of companies dipping pillows or pillowcases in BFRs before selling them. I find this quote interesting:

“There is no federal standard requiring flame resistance of bed clothes, such as sheets, comforters, mattress pads and pillows. Additionally, the industry tends to avoid use of flame retardant chemicals on sheets, pillowcases and blankets because they have direct contact with skin, according to Gordon Damant.”

Here’s another article on BFRs. An important point it keeps making is that studies of the effects and exposure methods of BFRs are conflicting. We just don’t have enough information yet:

“These concentrations are low, but because HBCD has the potential to bioaccumulate and persist in the environment, there is cause for concern. Overall, the available literature on HBCD is incomplete and conflicting, emphasizing the need for more information on developmental effects, endocrine disruption, and longer term effects, including carcinogenesis.”

Now, The Story of Stuff said that women in the USA (and Canada, which the video didn’t mention) have the highest amounts of BFAs in their breast milk, compared to other countries. This, from what I can tell, is true. But remember: We also have lead in our bodies. And arsenic. And a whole bunch of other nasty things we pick up from our environment. This constant collection of toxic bits in our body even has a name: “Body burden“. We all have it. The question is, at what point does it become dangerous? Just because we have detectable amounts of arsenic in our body, for example, does not mean we’re in danger of dying from arsenic poisoning.

I’m not necessarily disagreeing with Annie Leonard here, but I do think more research and facts are needed before I can completely agree with what she’s saying.

DISTRIBUTION

A $4.99 radio – how is it so cheap? So many parts and processes to make the radio MUST cost much more than $4.99! What are the true costs of production?

Answer: Mass-production and out-of-country factories. I don’t discount everything she says about the hidden costs of the production itself, but come on now – if all production was in the USA, or if that radio’s components weren’t stamped out on a robotic assembly line with unskilled laborers snapping them together at dozens per minute, that $4.99 radio would be exponentially more expensive.

I think The Story of Stuff didn’t address this aspect because it would draw attention away from the point about hidden costs. I’m not saying I like how everything we buy is the stereotypical “Made in China”, but I certainly think it affects this portion of Annie Leonard’s statement.

A sidenote here, since at this point in the video, we were treated to the Big Fat Corporate Guy with a Dollar Sign on his Chest further abusing the world for his own selfish gains.

That’s true. That’s capitalism. But it’s kept in check, ideally, by market competition and consumer demand (like what this video recommends). One thing that always frustrates me is that some people hate corporations, while still using their benefits. They hate big, nationwide or global-sized businesses. They want everything to be localized down to the mom-and-pop store level. Then they get in their car, use their computer or cellphone and send an email.

Those last things would either not be possible or affordable without big business. Without a corporation paying zillions for research and development, without mass-production, without a large production and distribution infrastructure, we arguably wouldn’t have the Internet. Or affordable cars with easily-repairable parts. Or computers and email. Or forget those “consumer” products, and focus just on healthcare: Who do you think developed that flu shot and other disease inoculations? Or the heart stent procedure that probably saved the lives of multiple people in my family? AIDS and cancer research, the almost-worldwide eradication of polio, or (to use a specific example from someone I know) advances in knee implants, providing knee pain relief, faster recovery and less physical therapy, a wonderful alternative to total knee replacement?

You can’t have it both ways, denouncing a company while using its products to improve your life. I’m not saying corporate evils aren’t there – they are – but I think people miss that big business does a lot of good, too.

The video mentioned planned obsolescence and percieved obsolescence.

Fine. I understand the concepts, and can name ways I see this myself.

But then she started talking about computers. Careful now, that’s my turf.

You know when you’re watching a movie, and when you see the movie, some plot point deals with something you’re experienced at? Computers, science, psychology, medical issues, whatever – and the movie screws it up, either getting the point completely wrong, or dumbing it down into a non-sequitor mess? Well, that’s what happened here.

Computer technology does change fast. And in some cases, yes, this is planned obsolescence. But not in the way Annie Leonard described it:

The “piece that changes” in a computer (the piece the video said triggers the obsolescence) is presumably the CPU. And it’s just a “small corner piece”. Well… no. If you want detail, let me know, and I’m happy to go into it. [As it happens, a reader did ask for detail. Here's my response.] But for now, I’ll just say, wrong:

1) A CPU replacement is not the way to effectively upgrade your computer performance.

2) There are valid reasons why one CPU can’t simply be exchanged for a faster one.

Then the video brings up the flat screen monitor versus the big, “ugly” CRT monitor issue. Again, she missed some major advantages of the flat screen:

A flat screen monitor is smaller (takes a lot less space on the desk)

It’s lighter (makes my job easier when installing or moving)

And, wait for it – A flat screen monitor USES LESS ENERGY than a CRT. I’m surprised how someone would still think the big CRT is just part of a planned obsolescence program, when the flat screen has so many advantages.

Neither of these issues – the CPU or the monitor – is planned obsolescence. At worst, call this unplanned obsolescence due to technological advances. Perhaps a more understandable comparison would be a car: Annie Leonard is saying that because my car from ten years ago doesn’t have the same performance as a modern car, it must be the fault of planned obsolescence on the part of the car company! I disagree.

She did talk about fashion, about how media ads make us unhappy with what we have, and try to get us to buy, buy, buy. I do have some nitpicks about some of the details (contextual advertising is helpful, in my opinion), but for the most part I agree with what she said.

A couple of other points she made that forced me to raise my eyebrow:

“National happiness is declining”

…Need more info, please. I looked for stats on this after the video ended. Didn’t find them. I have a hard time believing this statement, since we have less disease, people are living longer, et cetera.

“The average house size has doubled since 1970″

I live in a house that was built in 1960. It’s a good size (1250 square feet). But I really doubt the average house size these days is 2500 square feet. It depends on what market and income levels you look at, of course. I’m guessing you can pretty much make the “average” house size be anything you want.

DISPOSAL

Incineration is really bad. I agree.

Recycling helps by reducing disposal costs… Really? Over the cost of a landfill? From a straight money-savings equation, I would think that landfills would be the way to go. I agree that some recycling (aluminum and some metals) is good. But not all.

CONCLUSION

We have, according to The Story of Stuff, a “system in crisis”. Our planet, and what we’re doing to it, sucks. We’re in big trouble.

I know I was rough on my review of The Story of Stuff. But I agree on some points – people are abused in our current system. Waste (of time, resources and money) is encouraged. But the system we have in place – with its horrible problems – also brings with it a lot of good stuff, too.

In my opinion, The Story of Stuff seemed to be to be too biased – ignoring some issues or misrepresenting others. While I think it would be great to have “a system that doesn’t waste resources or people… sustainability, equity, renewable, local living economy…” I think we’d have to give up a lot of things to make that happen. Things that make our life better.

Instead of ditching our current system, here’s an idea: why can’t we try instead to modify our system and improve it, make it more closer to the ideals which most people agree upon?

Annie Leonard said some naysayers would call her ideas “unrealistic, idealistic, they can’t happen”. I wonder if those same people – or Annie Leonard herself – would say the same about mine?

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82 Comments

  1. David Murphy:

    The bit about computer upgrading hit me the same way. The CPU may at one point have been the biggest determinant in the performance of a system (and at that time wasn’t singularly upgradeable), but that’s not really true anymore. If it was, some chip manufacturer would have been glad to fill the gap and provide compatible drop-in upgrades (sort of like how AMD and others started providing cheaper alternatives for Intel’s chips so many years ago perhaps?). Ah, capitalism.

    Anyway, I agree that this was a bad example of “planned obsolescence”, and would argue that it might better fit under “perceived obsolescence”, as computer manufacturers and retailers would like you to *believe* that your 2-year-old PC is no longer up to task, when it’s likely doing a fine job (or could be with a little love and care). Ironically, the comments in this video seem to further that perception.

    I didn’t read her second point (regarding the monitors) the same way, though. I don’t really think she meant to imply that her CRT monitor was in any way better than a new LCD, but that it performed just as well without any extra consumption (in the form of production of the product, not including power to actually run it). Though I’ll be the first to extoll the virtues of the LCD monitor (being a business workstation tech who has to occasionally lug monitors between buildings), I think her point was well-enough made.

    Overall, I agree that it’s certainly a problem that we have a finite amount of resources, but after this video I wasn’t left with much of an impression of what she was suggesting that we do about it. Furthermore, I’m still not convinced it’s a “system in crisis”, although when people use such extreme phrases it tends to wake up the skeptic in me anyway.

  2. Brittany:

    Andy,

    I’m Carla’s friend, Brittany, from college who lives in Minneapolis.

    Thanks for looking into the details on this. What Annie Leonard does is make you question a system that can seem invisible, while causing lots of tangible problems in our world. The idea is to think and question, and the fact that you’ve taken it further and challenged her would be her point. She’s taken it to the extreme to push people to action, and critical thought.

    My criticism is that she uses fear in a way that seems manipulative (extreme) and depressing. My biggest problem with the environmental movement is a tendency toward apocalyptic scenarios, which may be true, but can make people feel paralyzed to make change. It is my opinion that we should always focus more on what we can DO about a problem, action items, than dwelling on the problem itself (beyond necessary reflection).

    Thanks,
    Brittany

  3. Jim Burnett:

    I agree with the points that Annie has made and also with the counterargument. I have traveled to other countries. While in Shanghai, you could not help but notice the level of polution. Nobody there drinks the water. I have watched videos of India and what they perceive as holy (The Ganges), I perceive as extremely polluted. The resources are being used up. Trees, rain forests, oil, coal will be gone when my grandchildren are my age. When I was young, all of our goods came from Japan and the quality was horrible. The goods will come from whoever has the lowest cost labor and least interference from others. It is good to think about solutions for living. Obesity is certainly one. What we eat is what will kill us.
    Jim

  4. Chris Gahan:

    There is definitely a vacuum of education about what the hell is going on in the world, as evidenced both by Annie’s piece and by this analysis.

    Many areas of knowledge are required to properly summarize something as complex as “the primary goal of our society, the basic mechanism, and its interactions with the rest of the world”.

    In the “10 years” that Annie was working on this, you think she would’ve talked to some experts. :)

    I mean, a lot of very important points were brought up in the video, as well as in your analysis, but it’s all just nitpicking and going in circles.

    I mean, this video doesn’t even talk about the genetic programming that drives humans! We’re wired to compete with each other for status in society — individually, and as large groups (cliques, subcultures, organizations, religions, nations, etc.) (You can check out the film “Status Anxiety”, or the book “The Lucifer Principle” for more on that.)

    I mean, there’s a lot of other things that drive us, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll say status is the primary one. Therefore, what we associate with “high status” is what everybody will work hard to achieve.

    I don’t think that there’s any question that our society is driven by material wealth. Everybody wants to make more money, and the most prestigious people in our society are the wealthiest.

    Throughout history, we’ve had a lot of different kinds of societies. War-like societies attributed high status to “the ability to kill people”. Farming societies have connected status to “how big a feast you can put on for your village”.

    What we need is not a more sustainable model — what we need is a new GOAL AS A SOCIETY. Consuming is really stupid, because it’ll end up with the entire planet turned into a barren trash-heap.

    My vote is to connect status to enlightenment, knowledge, and understanding. But you know most people won’t be intereseted in that. :)

  5. Chris Gahan:

    I was thinking a bit more about this while I was making myself food, and another interesting point struck me.

    Our society is MONSTEROUSLY COMPLEX compared to the kind we had 10,000 or even 1000 years ago. And I’ve got a strong feeling that our brains have not evolved as quickly as the complexity of our societies have. :)

    Specialization has allowed us as a species to manage the massive amount of information that has to be processed, but no single (normal) human can capture the entire system in their mind. (Buckminster Fuller gave me confidence that he understood most of it, and actually had the ability to do mental experiments with new kinds of systems, but I don’t think he ever solved our problems.)

    Being a computer guy, my instinct is to radically simplify our societies — modular components with loose coupling. This way, every member of each society would completely understand everything that’s going on. We could all specialize!

    I’m sure it’s been tried before, but I’m just throwing it out there. Also, I think my food is burning. TTYL!

  6. K.:

    “I don’t think that there’s any question that our society is driven by material wealth. Everybody wants to make more money, and the most prestigious people in our society are the wealthiest.”

    Chris, I don’t disagree with this, but I’m not sure you’re tracing things back necessarily far enough, or following things out to their roots; isn’t it rather likely that drive to status/material wealth is largely prompted by desire for “convenience” (since it’s easier to obtain “conveniences” if you have the money to spend on it)?

    This bears just as much on the example of CRT vs LCD monitors (who wants to lug a 30+lb monitor when you can pick up one that’s a small percentage of that weight? Do we measure economy also based on, say, repetitive lifting costs on healthcare costs (just something to think about)? How much of what we do is based on convenience and how much is based on true *need*? If you have a computer monitor at home, are you basing your purchase decisions on “good enough” or “must be the best”? If you’ll be moving it maybe once or twice a year, is weight *really* the factor? This reminds me of a friend who sought out advice on picking out a new computer, not because imho she NEEDED one but because she *perceived* she needed one because she lacked the knowledge to configure her system correctly, and she was convinced that she should be able to run a hundred applications on her system. Did she *need* it, *want* it, or just perceive that she *deserved* it? CONVENIENCE! She wanted to be able to keep everything open, even when she wasn’t using it.

    In biological circles, of course, this concept is basically about conservation of energy — which is built into our genetics, but which, in my opinion, has gotten out of hand in a society that is largely automated (such would not have been the case a century or two ago, putting aside computers specifically and looking at technology vs average activity levels).

    Another example would be the proliferation of unnatural vs natural foodstuffs in the food supply (this could be a matter of economy of scale, sure, since it’s statistically far cheaper to feed a family than it is to feed a single person, on a per-person basis) — and again the convenience factor comes into play.

    I think there are, then, at *least* three major factors, here: (1) the matter of obsolescence (real or perceived) (2) the matter of drive for status (3) the matter of drive for convenience. And because the brain is very good at helping ourselves deceive ourselves, it seems logical that we’d choose to not think about (3) amidst the more heady choices.

  7. Monica:

    I thought her general intentions of the piece were good – to encourage people to be aware of what they’re buying, why they’re buying it, how we get the stuff we get, and where it goes. ….to try to be knowledgeable about our place in the world and our impact on the environment and society. BUT I thought she presented herself as being very one-sided….which is why I was interested to hear your take on it. I figured you would have some opinion on the “other side”.

    I thought her piece on the history of consumerism was interesting and worth exploring more…not that I think the government and big corporations are always intentionally trying to “trick” us to buy, buy, buy, but it was interesting to think about how our society got to where is it compared to our grandparents who grew up during the depression. Things always seem to go in cycles – from penny-pinching to feed one’s family to racking up huge credit card debt for shoes you don’t need. That doesn’t mean we should just let ourselves be carried along mindlessly though.

    Lately, I have been trying to be mindful of two things in my daily life – waste and food. A good example of waste would be clothes….I bought a couple more expensive shirts for my wardrobe lately. I’m ok with that becasue 1) I really like them so I’ll wear them a lot, 2) They are good quality, so they will last. To me, this is better than buying multiple cheap shirts that I don’t like, won’t wear, and will look bad sooner….because I will then be quickly taking them to Goodwill and will have also wasted my money…and probably more of my money because I will have to buy more of them.

    Food – I’m tyring to be aware of what is in my food and where it comes from. I don’t believe that anything that has “organic” slapped on the package is automatically more healthy (I would have to learn more about the organic industrial farming process, and organic farming, in general)), but I like to look at the ingredients and see how many chemicals and processed ingredients are in it. To me, it seems like the less processing that goes on and the more “natural” food I eat is better for me. She kindof touched on the idea of toxic chemicals in our environment, but I think this was one area that she failed to be impressive by making drastic claims without backing them up.

    So yeah, good for people to think about and even apply to their life, but a bit one-sided.

  8. K.:

    (a quick addendum: it seems crucial to me that we as a society need to learn to differentiate between laziness, convenience, and need)

  9. abkaiser:

    “a quick addendum: it seems crucial to me that we as a society need to learn to differentiate between laziness, convenience, and need)”

    Sure, but we’ll never get around to it.

    :)

  10. K.:

    The larger any society or organization, the harder it is to evince change — so I think you’re probably right (even though you were making a (good! ;) ) joke)… A lot of this has to do with an inability to reach consensus or create movement. All hail inertia. :(

  11. abkaiser:

    Chris,

    I mean, this video doesn’t even talk about the genetic programming that drives humans!

    Good point. Though I think that one of the reasons it wasn’t mentioned was because it’s against the thrust of “The Story of Stuff”.

    Being a computer guy, my instinct is to radically simplify our societies — modular components with loose coupling. This way, every member of each society would completely understand everything that’s going on. We could all specialize!

    …Can you elaborate on this? Also a computer guy, I understand the modularization, but not the end result of “every member of each society would completely understand everything that’s going on”. Unless we get more computing power hybridized with our brains, I don’t ever see that happening, and can’t understand how it could. There’s simply too much to know and learn in the <100 year lifespan of a human.

  12. Jon:

    It’s natural for people to defend and protect their chosen way of life… and it takes bravery to admit we’ve got a problem, and even more bravery to actually take steps to deal with the problem. You wanna follow your instinct and be competitive? Then see how much impact you can make in saving the planet, and just try to do more than me. I dare ya.

  13. Paul in Mpls:

    Hello. I’m Paul, a friend of Carla’s. Thanks for this discussion!

    The annotated script for the film includes many citations, which provide more background on her claims (though many of the sources are secondary, or otherwise of low quality). Here’s the link:

    http://www.storyofstuff.com/pdfs/annie_leonard_footnoted_script.pdf

    I’ve written some miscellaneous thoughts below, mostly in response to Andy’s essay. Chris will probably be exasperated, because I’m nitpicking. :-)

    I don’t see a claim that “recycling helps by reducing disposal costs” in the script.

    Perhaps there is nothing wrong with the 5% – 30% figure from a classic economics model, in which greater production and wealth are good in and of themselves. However, much of our production (and waste) has negative external effects. I won’t argue that we should decrease our consumption to the global average. Reducing our consumption and waste to a 5% share would essentially require that we become a much “poorer” country. But I do think the fact(?) that our per capita resource consumption is six times the global average illustrates that the choices we make in this country have an outsize effect on the rest of the world, and on many environmental problems.

    I agree that “corporations” are too often scapegoated by the Left, and denied credit for the good that they do. However, large companies are not the only organizations capable of paying zillions for research, or for investing in infrastructure. I don’t know the details, but the standard story is that the technology for the Internet originated at DARPA. A key component of the “distribution infrastructure” here in the US is (for better or for worse) the Interstate highway system, a government project.

    Health care has benefited massively from public support, including many of the examples in Andy’s essay. The NIH’s early and continuing efforts on AIDS (in particular) have been very productive; its current AIDS research budget is nearly $3 billion (1). In 2004, the US spent $500 million on AIDS vaccine research, vs. less than $100 million by the private sector, worldwide (2). The flu vaccine was developed by Drs. Francis and Salk as part of a US Army program, while they were working at a public university. The polio eradication effort was established and continues under WHO, UNICEF, the CDC, and Rotary; the big funding push now is coming from the Gates Foundation. So, I don’t think it’s fair to say that the “who” behind these particular projects has been the corporate community.

    I don’t know how one would go about defining and measuring “national happiness,” or comparing results from different years in a meaningful way, or (most difficult) proving a causative link between that metric and any other particular change. But I could believe that we might be less happy now than in the past. At the same time that our health care has improved and our lives become so much more comfortable (convenient?), we’ve also seen growing “dislocation,” a decline in the size and strength of family communities, an increasing rate of change and complexity in daily life, an increasingly built environment, longer work hours, and lower job security.

    It’s interesting that we’re so drawn to extreme visions of the future–not only in the environmental movement, but in religion, in geopolitics, and, of course, in fiction. It’s exciting and makes us feel important, I guess, to think that we are living at a crucial moment in history. I read an essay recently that began (paraphrasing), “everyone knows that ALL of our institutions, from education to health care, are currently in crisis.” :-) But, as Brittany said, framing everything in extreme terms can make it easy to feel overwhelmed and to give up. I wonder about this when I hear pronouncements that we must take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the next X years, or else. In fact, we really ought to take action within the next MINUS 30-odd years, so the choice of X must be mostly arbitrary. But perhaps the point of assigning a number X is to make the situation seem more concrete and approachable.

    Cheers,
    -Paul

    1 http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/expectmore/detail/10001050.2003.html
    2 http://www.iavi.org/viewfile.cfm?fid=30892

  14. Chris:

    I had to buy another printer b/c the cable wouldn’t fit in the back of the new computer. Much of what worked on the old computer didn’t work on the new one. I wish that I could have easily gotten the old computer repaired. The new one has cost more in lost time and money in simply getting back to where I was when the old one broke. They could at least try to use the casings and familiar connectors. We don’t need to go back to the stone age but all this waste really is stupid. Don’t even get me started on bottled water and non-refillable “no maintenance” car batteries!

  15. abkaiser:

    Chris,

    They could at least try to use the casings and familiar connectors.

    To defend your new computer, I have to say that the setup and differences between multiple connector types were even worse in the old days. And these days, yes, connectors are still changing, BUT 1) there are many converters you can get to allow older connectors to work in newer PCs with different connectors, and 2) many connector types are evolving and slowly but surely consolidating (hello, USB plug!).

    Don’t even get me started on bottled water and non-refillable “no maintenance” car batteries!

    I’m with you there. The existance of bottled water in particular has baffled me to no end.

  16. bell:

    Hi,

    Reading this counter argument to the video made me think about the movie “why smoking is good for you”.

    Yes you can find something to say about every sentence to dilute the message. But when you look at the big picture, it’s all TRUE. if you don’t like an example, there are hundreds of others to choose from. Pesticides are illegal and as a good citizen, you don’t use them. But your neighbor uses then at night (out of sight) because he/she wants the greener grass. Your kids end up having cancer at a very young age because of that. I don’t blame the neighbor because those products should not be on the shelf if they are illegal!!!
    I can go on all day arguing about your comments, and I would run out of time before I get to say it all…

    Consumers will always be made responsible as corporations have no moral responsibility, they can get away with a lot of things that would put you in jail. Global warming issues and corrective measures are a good example. They want me and you to solve the problem instead of, governments and corporations giving us no choice but take corrective measures, through “green” products and programs. But money talks, and always will…

    I don’t waste my critical thinking on details and stick to the big picture. We elect governments so they look after us, not the corporations and lobbyists. Until we start voting for (now weak) parties that would make a positive change and take care of the whole community, things will get worse before they get better.

    Thanks

  17. Cherenkov:

    My main bone to pick with virtually everyone’s take on this movie, and the movie itself, is the lack of awareness about peak oil. While what she says is true overall, there is no doubt that one could nitpick and thus try to claim the movie must be dismissed. But, one could do that with virtually any subject. Look at global climate change. There are still people out there who are saying things like, “Well, it was plenty cold in Cletus, Missouri this winter,” believing that somehow that negates the whole horrible truth of global climate change. What Annie says is fundamentally correct. We live in an extremely poisonous, wasteful, entropically doomed system that is demeaning and generally problematic for the vast majority of the planet’s poor. For the handful of rich people who can afford all the techno-trinkets, you get a bunch of arguments that rely upon the magic of “economics.”

    What everyone here needs to know, needs to realize at its most fundamental level is that all of this techno-garbage is the result of cheap energy and that cheap energy is going away. It will result in all manner of catastrophe, expected and unexpected.

    We are reaching the end of the cheap energy fiesta. All of the nitpicking and quibbling about her film will not save techno-worshippers. The entire edifice is coming down and within the next five years.

    For more info about this, go to http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/Index.html, or http://www.energybulletin.net/primer.php.

    The Department of Energy produced a study on this called the “Hirsch Report.” You can google it or go to http://bartlett.house.gov/Issues/Issue/?IssueID=2057 where you can find the full report along with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers report and other information.

    This issue is perhaps the great sleeper issue of our age. When the peak comes, it will be the most important event in history. Why? Because it may cause the deaths of 5 billion people.

    Oh, by the way, many believe that we peaked in 2006. For the nitpickers who will immediately point out that 5 billion did not die since 2006, I can only shake my head at your Junior High School debate skills. Study the subject. Google around. No matter how you feel about the subject, whether you dismiss me out of hand and never do your own research, or find one of the several nay-sayers who are part of the anti-global climate change crowd, physics will prevail. You can either be informed and thus prepared, or you can be one of the sheeple standing around wondering why there are no groceries to be had at any price.

    Nature always bats last.

  18. Todd:

    I completely agree that the video was bias and extreme, its the same complaint I would agree with regarding any documentary which challenges the accepted societal norms. Some mainstream examples I will use are Michael Moore and Al Gore, my comment is this, these mainstream documentaries, or internet videos are only an attempt to bring thought to the public. This type of discourse is lacking in our society. I would recommend anyone who thinks this video is too bias and not reading Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs. The issue is people don’t make videos or write books and papers on subjects unless they have a point to make. Sure the video could have been less bias, back up with more sources and included more issues. But the issue with raising public awareness is… who can you get to listen? Seriously its 20 minutes long – short and sweet and attempting to get to the point… its alarming and frightening in an attempt to wake people up… as jacobs suggests in her book we live with mass amnesia… free market economy… sadly the customer seems to dictate the market very little these days. The shopping center described in the video was a mirror of wal-mart… sure pick the big bad guy… but the thing is… how many people buy things at wal-mart? Their prices are cheap… as customers we’ve become tricked by a desire to get the best deal. Who can tell me they have never bought something they did not plan to buy, just because it was a good deal? It’s frightening… I have friend who study marketing I perceive the “study” of marketing very similar to the ‘study’ of brainwashing. I didn’t think computers were the best example but try to look at it this way. 7 years I ago I had a computer with two GB hard drive now I have one with 30 GB hard drive…. my computer isn’t top of the line now that its three years old but personally I hardly know what to do with 30 GB (although it is 2/3 full) I used to be able to survive with 2 GB do I need 30 GB? I don’t know what you do with your computers, but the only thing I can accept as a need to have a Gig of RAM is maybe a computer to make videos, multimedia, record music…. something productive, otherwise (obviously I am extremely guilty of this sad fact!) we all spend a great deal of time socializing on the internet or some other means of computer escapism….. is the absence of lessening of social interaction good? I sure don’t think so, when I hear about people developing relationships over the interact its a frightening thought… I think we all need more than a world wide web social life and it seems that as community involvement declines, individuals escape… onto the internet, into video games, movies or television. I’m an atheist but I respect the church community because sadly its the only community some people have these days….

  19. Michel:

    I deffinately agree that “the story of stuff” uses some hidden emotional cues that aren’t exactly on point and it sometimes frustrates me that we always have to go to one extreme or the other to make a point. This usually ends up pushing away the people who’s viewpoints really do need to change by giving them valid reasons to argue the honesty of such points. I will say, however, that the heart of the argument being made in this video was dead on. We want stuff in order to make our lives better, but the question is, are we living better now than we were in the past? The argument is made that without big corporations, we wouldn’t have things such as cell phones and the internet. I know this is a harsh point to make and many people will be up in arms, but I distinctly remember being just as happy before the internet and before cell phones were introduced into my life.

    The basic point is, why are we rushing to make everything, better, bigger, faster, stronger, when mostly, these things aren’t serving US, they are serving the THINGS that we own and the lifestyle that we have built around these things. Meanwhile, we spend so much time with these THINGS that serve other things, that we overlook the real things that serve us. How much less time do we spend with our family, enjoying a sunny day in the park, going fishing, hanging out with good friends, learning to craft useful objects out of nature, relaxing, because we need to go get our new car repaired, get a new washer and drier, a new phone etc.

    I just hope that the point of this video isnt lost, because, while the numbers may not add up correctly on every count, the basic truth of each of these points was dead on.

  20. 5cents:

    CPU advances are certainly part of a planned obsolescence system by the manufacturers which leads to perceived obsolescence via marketing and word of mouth.

    I tend to agree the system is in crisis. It’s most evident if you are well-traveled and have seen first hand the global industry that supports the consumer lifestyle. Consumerism is rampant in the States, Canada and Europe and is certainly not the ideal lifestyle.

    And I think that as I type on my new Macbook and glance at my new iPod touch, both of which replaced machines that had been functioning adequately. One of the fundamental states of the vid is accurate I think; we tend to think material wealth is happiness when, of course, it’s not.

  21. Andy:

    I just want to comment on one part of your review/comments and Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff. I think choosing the flat screen monitor was a poor example, since as you note it is more space and energy efficient. I’ve even read of some health advantages in less eye strain. I think however, she was attempting to tie the planned obselescence to the look of the monitor – and that the employee had a space-ship like setting to do her work. I say this, because in the same segment she touches on fashion in the changing heel style of women’s shoes. I think this is the stronger example of obselescence due to aesthetics – which is a huge problem. How often do we throw out perfectly good items, because they look dated, or un-stylish. I think she was trying for a more universal example than fashion (most guys are happy to wear a pair of shoes for more than one season – suppress your gasps!). Just my 2 cents. Thanks for the review.

  22. kady:

    well i think that this is total true. My teacher show it to my class and yes it was boring but interesting! so if any of you would like to leave a coment about my comment then be free to !
    thanks
    kady!<3

  23. kady:

    wow you all are so mean!

  24. kady:

    i gess that it all comes down to someones opinion

  25. Andy Kaiser:

    Kady, what is your opinion?

  26. fred:

    i thought that the movie was good but some of the info i thought could be questionable.

  27. Bryce Bryner:

    I think that the story was true though there were some opinions from it that seemed untrue. The movie was pretty good and fluent too.

  28. Jarod White:

    I thought the points that she made were very intresting. However I am not so sure about the dipping the pillows in the non flammable stuff. That does not seem like it would be true. I know that this is supposed to be a persuasive video. But, she could of explained good things that we are doing instead of talking about so many bad things. Thats just my oppinion.

  29. Jeremy Peterson:

    I am with Bryce, but I have to say that, like what Andy explained, there are many opinion-based facts from the movie and Annie could use a little bit of help from other experts to give herself a better idea about the non-flammable retardants, computers, and others. But like always, you can not believe everything you see or hear about.

  30. Chris:

    i belive that most of the information from the video was valid,pof course there is going to be some bias,but that is expected. not everything you hear is true but when you think if the consumor’s market, you have to understand that ms leonard[the lady in the video] didnt just pull these stats out of a hat. while some things may be a bit exagerated or strecthed,something of that sort,i think that it is perfectly reasonable to asume that the information provided ies true.especially when you think about the things that you, yourself have bought, gotten tired of and thrown away only a month later. we all often say we want to help the environment, but here we are[including myslef] wasting the resources of other people/nations. whether or not you are willing to change is up to you.[and yes katy,mrskalkman made the video exciting]

  31. Amy:

    I think this video was very good, but she may have exaggerated a bit to make people more motivated. She is, apparently, right about most of the facts listed on there. Yeah, Mrs. Kalkman totally made the video more exciting. Even though she may exaggerated a bit, I think that she still did the research on how things work, like the trees being cut down, and the fashion with the shoes, and I’m not so sure about the pillows being dipped into toxic that kills your brain because it is very inflammable, because according to Andy he couldn’t find any companies that do that. This is just my opinion though, but you could really tell that Mrs. Leonard put some real thought into this video.

  32. Stf:

    Many of you all are saying that’s Annie is being manipulative and raising fear through her clip. So how else is someone supposed to raise awareness without going to the extreme? Would anyone listen? I think not. “She exaggerated..blah blah, ” okay…so? That got your attention right? Wait, of course, maybe she did it on purpose? Wait, she just doesn’t know what’s she’s talking about. She’s going to the extreme to cause fear to have an effect of change.

    “Toxins Toxins Toxins…its repetitious, what toxins exactly?” do you think the average person would pay attention if it went over every single detail?

    I do think it was generalized but if it went into specifics, quoted every person she got her info from, stated where she got her stats etc. and how, NO ONE WOULD LISTEN LONG ENOUGH.

    I kind of agree about the BFR and the proof about how it’s being dipped in pillows but oh yeah..she probably made that up too.

    You know what…she just made up the whole thing and is definitely not legitamate. Despite her research traveling for 10+ years. Wait, but your 10 minutes of internet research is valid. Because everything on the internet is true. I’m not saying that some criticisms are wrong, but it’s kind of ridiculous to attack it. Stop justifying what she’s trying to make aware and do something. Change your life a little no matter if you agree with everything she says or not.

    Because the whole idea of her bit, stop polluting this one earth we have. :)

  33. Andy Kaiser:

    A couple people here have mentioned “Mrs. Kalkman”. I assume this is a teacher at a school who has either linked to my review of The Story of Stuff, or you’ve found this page from a bit of Googling. If someone could please ask Mrs. Kalkman email me at digitalbits@andybrain.com, I’d appreciate it.

    Thanks,

    Andy

  34. ethan:

    In the US we tend to have our blameless heads in the sand, even when compared to other industrialized nations. Global warming aside, ecosystems are collapsing world-wide due in larger part to US consumer demand and rising demand wherever others strive to compete with our dollar-wealth power and influence.

    Risk is unequally distributed based on privilege (class, skin color, gender). It takes a lot of privilege to create the pretense and ideological predisposition to be “skeptical” just because we (laypersons, no less) personally haven’t seen statistics, data and/or fail to be convinced. We are a decreasing global minority of people disproportionately shielded from the effects of our wrongdoing.

    The foxes don’t see a problem with them guarding the hen house until all the food is gone. Unfortunately, there is no more “frontier” for our expansionist appetites to devour. We are already at the global level. Some people are holding out for space colonies, which is just ridiculous in itself and also considering how it ignores the more fundamental issue of dealing with what we’ve got in a fair, responsible and respectful manner.

  35. COF:

    We all speculate the fate of our planet; some ignoring the obvious flaws and problems currently/potentially facing this earth, others exaggerate the information using the fear factor to deliver their message. Many of Annie Leonard’s main points were exaggerated and expressed in a biased, one-sided manner; however the key message of how we it is imperative that we adjust the planet’s economical process/consumption spoke loud and clear. She often indicated the evils of our entire approach in this world driven by the economy and how the overall happiness has rapidly decreased. I agree with the point made in other comments; there is no true way of measuring world-wide happiness (it is far too incalculable). However, I understand where Leonard is coming from: today, people are often over-worked, divorce rates have peaked (married couples are now a U.S. minority), and quality time with the family has rapidly been replaced by television, computers, cell phones, and other material items. Not everything mentioned in “the Story of Stuff” is evil, but too much of anything is bad. I think we can all agree that as the consumers we have far surpassed this “too much”. What really needs to be done is to strive for balance to production and consumer in take; buy and use in moderation(wisely use energy, eat smaller portions, watch less TV, use the computer less, SHOP less; no one really needs 20+ pairs of shoes). By modifying how much we buy and consume, setting limits and getting what we need, we can slowly decrease our dependence on the major corporations and decrease the rate of destruction to our planet.

  36. david courard-hauri:

    I wanted to quickly respond to Andy’s comment about happiness. As it turns out, Annie is right—there has been a ton of research in this area over the last 20 years. Keywords that you might look up are “positive psychology” “hedonistic psychology” and “subjective well-being”. These will bring you pretty quickly to a wealth of resources that will answer your questions on how you measure that sort of thing. One thing you can do is….wait for it….ask people how happy they are. Now, I realize that this sounds crazy and unscientific, but it turns out that people are fairly good judges of their own happiness. How do we know this? Well, you can ask people’s friends—people who say they’re happy also appear to be happy to other people. You can scan their brains and find activity in “happiness centers”, and so on. It is actually pretty surprising (to me) to see how much very good psychological research has gone into determining that asking people how happy they are is a pretty good way to find out. It’s not perfect. Researchers who dropped a quarter on the ground in front of the laboratory where subjects could find it found that those who found a free quarter reported being happier with their lives than those who didn’t. There are all kinds of tests like this as well. It turns out that a “happiness test” is about as accurate, with about the same amount of day-to-day fluctuation, as a blood pressure test, which we all understand can tell us useful information about a person’s health even if it isn’t perfect.

    The major finding of happiness research with respect to consumption is that our happiness from goods is essentially relative, once you pass a threshold of about $10,000 per year (if you’re so poor that you have trouble buying food, then a little bit more money really does make you a lot happier). Over time, happiness in the US and many other wealthy nations has declined or remained steady, even though our GDP has tripled in the last 60 years (give or take). If you compare countries with per capita GDPs over $10,000, there is not a correlation between income and happiness. However, within any given country there is a slight correlation. This appears to be because we compare ourselves to others. However, notice that this is a zero-sum-game—there is no way for government policy to make people happier on average through increased consumption, because it is all relative. If one person becomes wealthier, she gets happy but someone else gets less happy. Also, we get used to our consumer goods very quickly, which is not the case with things like social interactions, volunteering, and that sort of thing (which research shows do add to our level of happiness long-term). This is called the “hedonic treadmill” and is another good phrase to Google.

    As I said, there is a ton of good work out there, and also a lot of new books, most published since 2000. I would strongly recommend Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Happiness Hypothesis” as it does a great job of saying what we really know about happiness right now. Another one more related to this thread is Lane’s “The Decline of Happiness in Market Democracies”. A little more academic, but still quite accessible. Other researchers you might look up are Easterlin (who was the first to notice the disconnect between happiness and income, and has continued to contribute to the field) and Kahneman (who won the nobel in economics a few years back—this is not fringe science). You will find that Annie’s statement is a consensus view in the field, with debate around the edges about the “whys” and “how muches”. I hope that helps!

  37. Hobo Mama:

    Thanks for the review. It sort of reminds me of Michael Moore — makes me think, makes me mad…but makes me wonder about the facts and rhetoric.

    Re: house sizes. I think it’s (at least mostly) true. Check out these links:
    http://72.14.253.104/search?q=cache:1nd09TewlokJ:www.census.gov/const/C25Ann/sftotalmedavgsqft.pdf+average+square+footage+house+united+states&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us&client=firefox-a
    (That’s an html version of a pdf from census.gov showing a chart from 1973-2006 in various regions.)
    http://www.infoplease.com/askeds/us-home-size.html

    It might not be a straight doubling (data from the 1960s aren’t there), but house sizes unarguably have mushroomed. My SIL told me, when contemplating a move to an expensive city, that she couldn’t imagine ever going back to 2,000 sq ft — that’s twice the size of our place, which feels quite roomy to us. We each have 3-people families. And our place was built in the 1920s, so presumably it was a mansion then! :)

    I often wonder how long I could live on just the stuff I have accumulated, without shopping for anything more. Unworn-out clothes, uneaten food, unread books — I bet I could last awhile, if I ever could convince myself to try.

  38. Dan O:

    I didn’t like that cute pictures and an almost cheery voice is used to “sell” these ideas. The presentation is great in that it makes us think, discuss, and act at some level. Unfortunately, it is a little off in some areas and that (for me, and probably a few others) takes away from its credibility. The cuteness was a little too numbing…

    I will continue to do what I can to help our world, and I thank you for posting your honest, thought out opinions and Annie for taking the time to do this work, but I am left with just one question…

    Who the heck is Carla?

  39. Ben:

    I’m surprised no one has commented on Prof. Lebow’s quotes and the segment on the 1950′s design changes. What amazes me is that designers and economists were so open about the need to convince people to buy things that they really don’t need. Just look at news reports about the economy–they’re all about consumption. Why are toys, tools, etc. not designed or made to last 10 years are more? Whatever happened to quality being defined by how well something you bought could hold up so you WOULDN’T have to replace it?

    This is INTENTIONAL. We have been convinced by corporations and the government (via the media) that we as a society benefit from our consumerism, and in some ways we do–we have a generally strong economy and that helps everyone in the US. But at what cost? We work more, relax less, spend less time with our families, have higher stress levels…and the gap between wealthy and poor Americans is growing, and growing, and growing…Why do the salaries of CEO’s climb so much faster than those of the people who work for them? Couldn’t their salaries rise, say, at the SAME rate? Or even a little slower, since they make so much more?

    As some others have pointed out, there may be some bones to pick with the video. I was similarly struck by the BFR’s piece as well as the emphasis on toxics. But overall, I think Annie’s point is right on and the more we look at the big picture–which is that we’re digging ourselves a really deep hole and we ought to start thinking about how to get out before it collapses–the more accurate it seems.

  40. Christopher:

    Hey man,

    I just read your response and I can relate to a lot of what you are saying, except I wanted to respond with something I disagreed with. You say that
    “Instead of ditching our current system, here’s an idea: why can’t we try instead to modify our system and improve it, make it closer to the ideals which most people agree upon?”

    I think she agrees with your statement. She wants to keep capitalism and maintain most of its benefits for those who invest billions of dollars into research and development that improve our lives. However, she just wants to make it more equitable across space and sustainable across time. She’s not calling on anti-capitalist activism, but rather on tweaking the system. I recently read an article by a Alexandra Hughes (a lecturer in the School of Geography, Politics, and Sociology at Newcastle University), and she suggests that companies come to consider a “triple bottom line”. Whereas traditionally, companies only consider the bottom line (profit), there are growing pressures for them to also consider social equality (paying workers a living wage regardless of nationality), environmental sustainability (usage of green energy and research in development into more green energy), and profit. This is the sort of thing Annie is trying to convey. I believe this to be a strength of the video as opposed to the often extremist anti-capitalist maneuvers of green peace or the sorts demonstrated in the WTO protests in Seattle.

    -Christopher

  41. jasmin:

    I am not sure if anyone has mentioned this already, but to answer your question in the review about US using 30% of the resource and produces world’s 27% GDP–GDP (Gross Domestic Product)is the total market value of final goods and service produced in a given country–though the term emphases on “prodution”, it’s measured by the yearly “consumption” + “gross investment”+ “government spending” + “export”- “import”, in which “consumtion” definitely plays the biggest part. IN other words, products produced in a given year, but not purchased within that year, does NOT count into the year’s GDP.

    It’s true that 27% GDP shows that people in the US have strong market power, yet at the same time, it also illustrates the problem of over-consumption, whereas it really supports very little about the efficiency argument.

  42. jasmin:

    I am sorry, but I also think that Annie has a very valid point here about the 4.99 radio — we usually dont see how manufacturers externalize their cost onto the society,(i.e private cost< social cost) but that’s an easy way to make mass production possible — in the US or other developed countries there is already taxing system to prevent negative externality, however third world countries obviously dont have that, and they have to bear the lose of natural/human resources, while manufacturers gain from minimizing their priavte costs.

  43. juanita ellen:

    I ordered this DVD on 3/20 and still haven’t received it. I was given no conf. number to reference. Today is 5/2. I emailed the address given and have seen no reply. I caution others; this may be a scam.

  44. durdy:

    Sorry andy, my dad’s an architect. The residential work he does has a floor plan with around 3,000 sq. feet. The house size has doubled in the past years. I hate to say annie is right, and i love how you contradict her. I’m doing a project about this and your may be my primary resource. Thanks for the info.

  45. COF:

    Today at lunch, several of us got into a conversation about global warming and its effects. As we progressed in the conversation, I heard someone comment that “why should they have to change? It won’t be effecting our generation anyways.” Sadly, LOTS of people share the same point of view. Even if our generation won’t be effected (unlikely), do we really want to pass the burrden on to our children and grandchildren?

  46. Don Berg:

    Just wanted to give you head’s up on this annotated script in which she cites the sources for her facts:

    http://www.storyofstuff.com/pdfs/annie_leonard_footnoted_script.pdf

    Thanks for raising your concerns, I hope you will check out her sources and critique them in a follow-up to this post.

    Enjoy,

    Don Berg

    Site: http://www.Teach-Kids-Attitude-1st.com
    Blog: http://blog.Attitutor.com

  47. Don Berg:

    Found that someone else had previously presented the link, sorry.

    So, what got me to look for more information was your mention of not finding information to support her claim about BFR’s on pillows. In my visits to the sources she cited I could not find any reference to the use of that specific flame retardant in pillows. There was one document that mentioned that pillows are a possible product on which some kind of flame retardant might be used, but they could not confirm what kind.

    Looks like the factoid was a stretch, though it is within the realm of possibility.

    I also read an interview with her and it’s clear that while she has done a ton of research she was simply trying to make her overall point in a way that could reach a broad audience. Consider that she is an activist, not a journalist, so you have to expect that she is going to place a higher value on making an emotional connection than getting everything technically correct. She’s got a message and this video was a good vehicle for it.

    Enjoy,

    Don Berg

    Site: http://www.Teach-Kids-Attitude-1st.com
    Blog: blog.Attitutor.com

  48. yarko:

    I would echo and add to Jasmines observation about your GDP analysis – it’s a circular argument, saying (if you step back) that “sure we use 1/3 of the resources but we’re not just harvesting and directly incinerating; we’re actually doing that consumer-menagerie thingy in the middle with it all, so what’s wrong with that?” — and Annie’s argument is precisely missing the closed loop nature of the system, the planet we populate— we’re reaching finiteness limits. I have a similar thought about the breath of view in your argument on the $4.99 radio… let’s say it _is_ efficiently (as defined by the cost of running the linear model as she describes it), but her entire point is that’s NOT the correct systems model, she’s challenging our accounting system – the “simplicity” of telling you the store clerk is “giving something up, perhaps in healthcare” – is just that, a nice simplification to get us all thinking and talking more around this. The more significant thing: If radio production is SO efficient that you use NO workers, and pay NO employees in the line, just some energy, material, and water costs – your radio will be CHEAP, CHEAP, CHEAP… but simple water (or fill in any number of things essential to life and the sustinence of it long term) becomes expensive to the extreme, and your “efficient” radio has been a local opitmum of no systemic importance. You might have heard the story of the guys at Bell Labs in the 80′s (I think that’s when the story was) – trying to optimize the Unix Kernel, so one has to be careful what one is measuring… Annie is saying “I think we’re not seeing forest from the trees here, folks” — and that’s a good thing.

  49. refute:

    “I am not sure if anyone has mentioned this already, but to answer your question in the review about US using 30% of the resource and produces world’s 27% GDP–GDP (Gross Domestic Product)is the total market value of final goods and service produced in a given country–though the term emphases on “prodution”, it’s measured by the yearly “consumption” + “gross investment”+ “government spending” + “export”- “import”, in which “consumtion” definitely plays the biggest part. IN other words, products produced in a given year, but not purchased within that year, does NOT count into the year’s GDP.

    It’s true that 27% GDP shows that people in the US have strong market power, yet at the same time, it also illustrates the problem of over-consumption, whereas it really supports very little about the efficiency argument.”

    ARGUMENT BELOW:

    GOODS AND SERVICES = Hotels, teachers, government officials, retailers, labor, and physical products exported from companies, businesses that also allocate resources from both FOREIGN and DOMESTIC areas of earth to PRODUCE products in the USA.

    The argument wasn’t about how much we LABOR and PRODUCTS we OUTPUT… the argument was about how much EARTH can provide in RAW MATERIALS based on how much and how fast Americans CONSUME. There is no “Balancing” act going on here.

  50. refute 2:

    If radio production is SO efficient that you use NO workers, and pay NO employees in the line, just some energy, material, and water costs – your radio will be CHEAP, CHEAP, CHEAP… but simple water (or fill in any number of things essential to life and the sustinence of it long term) becomes expensive to the extreme, and your “efficient” radio has been a local opitmum of no systemic importance. You might have heard the story of the guys at Bell Labs in the 80’s (I think that’s when the story was) – trying to optimize the Unix Kernel, so one has to be careful what one is measuring… Annie is saying “I think we’re not seeing forest from the trees here, folks” — and that’s a good thing.

    ARGUMENT:

    A. Slave labor is abundant in the world.
    B. Labor rights are non-existent in third worlds. It is so corrupt and so dangerous that most people are making an average of 10 cents a day based on a purchasing power of the labor with the American dollar. We extract resources by lobbying with corporations to their political system to have almost complete autonomy over third world economies without regard to civil liberties, property rights, and labor laws. Why? Oppressed societies striving to find rice. (Haiti, Somalia, India, etc) FOOD RIOTS. These are some of the companies staff.
    C. The currency power in other countries that are Third World. Go to Thailand and see how much you can get. Its currently 30-1. Thailand, Indonesia, Burma, Laos, Brazil, etc have an extremely inequal economy and resorts to sex trade, human trafficking, drug cartels, slavery. They also have millions of people living in Shantytowns and Favelas. What do American Companies do? Support it. They find that all this corruption is in their interests because it makes things so cheap to produce for Americans to consume. We contribute and assist the most corrupt countries in the world to profit off their terrible living conditions for cheaper labor. Indonesia’s working people are SELLING their CHILDREN to the orphanages to pay the bills. This is not a MATH problem, folks.

    Americans and the capitalism is a very efficient vaccuum cleaner that creates a black hole. GROWTH = More use of RESOURCES which we do not have enough. This level of coercion with third world nations and consumption is a threat to international security and all life on earth.

  51. Don Berg:

    I agree that this is not a math problem, it is a moral problem. Consider that morality is ultimately about how we create well-being. The moral path is the path that leads to well-being. The assumptions we make about how to best ensure our well-being are the assumptions that will drive our actions in the world. There is an active assumption in many people’s minds that the unrestrained pursuit of self-interest by powerful people and the organizations they lead (meaning corporations and governments) will magically produce well-being for everyone. This is not merely a passing thought in their head, not just a position they chose to take, it is a deeply felt unconscious conviction based on hundreds (maybe thousands) of years of cultural history.

    The foundations of this moral view are based on experiences of family life, as is the alternative moral view. In one case the proper organization of society is based on strict obedience to the person who is assumed to know best due to their having earned their position of authority, while the other is based on the mutual obligations of care for each other. There are a number of authors who have discussed variations on this theme. George Lakoff, Riane Eisler, David Korten, Sharif Abdullah, Jonathan Haidt, to name a few.

    We are in a situation in which the strict version happens to be in power in many aspects of society. Hopefully, a more nurturant point of view is on the ascent.

    On a side note: take a look at this 20 minute presentation that calls into question the division of the world into categories of First and Third: Hans Rosling’s 1st TED Presentation

  52. Sean Bennett:

    Well done. As with all things in life there is truth and fiction in all. What is more important is to understand the bias in which the data is presented. For me, Ms. Leonard proved her bias in the first few minutes when she stated that “it is the job of government to take care of us”. No…it is not. But unfortunately much of our society believes this to be the case.

    With that said I am one capitalist who believes we should do all we can to limit waste and improve sustainability.

  53. Courtney:

    This movie really made me mad. I agree entirely with the idea, but so many of her claims are way off based. There’s a hypocrisy in telling people to think for themselves by doing exactly what I tell you. If you’re going to “enlighten” people, you’d better check your facts first. It doesn’t matter how right you are about the need to change our ways, but don’t take advantage of the country’s laziness to feed them information just as inaccurate as the government you’re so quick to bash.

    As an environmentalist, I feel like we’ve taken two steps back with this video. It’s extremist, and simply distances us away from the true middle-of-the-road thinkers who are actually going to check the facts. When they don’t check out, we’re going to look like the crazy extremists who can’t be trusted.

    The truth is enough to push people into action. Hyperbole just turns people off.

  54. David:

    Most people look at things like this little story and never check out if the data is correct or not. My first objection is with the socialistic opinion that the government is there “to take care of us”! I could take apart 3/4 of the “story” but it would take up too much space. Example: We do not dump all our garbage in poor little helpless countries. It’s the Liberal view that we do…we, the U.S. is always thought of as the bad guy. Fact: Since 1997, the U.S. IMPORTED 48 million tons MORE waste than we exported. European nations, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico are some of these that export waste to the U.S. etc. etc. I must give credit to Congressman Paul E. Gillmor R-Ohio who has offered legislation to stop foreign waste imports. I enjoyed reading the answers posted here…all very good and fair crits and thinking. Yes, certainly we have to take care of the planet! However, one issue Annie did not address is that all problems come from over population. Until we address this, the world will always have major problems.

  55. John:

    “…our stuff simply moves along these stages: extraction to production to distribution to consumption 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.1 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.2″

    Do we live on a finite planet? What about sunlight and …(?)?

    Do we live in a finite universe?

  56. Mathias Hellsten:

    Hello.

    I am probably rather leftwing, from an American viewpoint I’m probably almost extreme – but I can assure you I’m not that extreme given the environment that I heir from, which is the country of Sweden.

    I noticed the same thing with the CPU and monitor issues, but also with the radio. In her example she says resources and work on the radio comes from South Africa, China, Iraq and Mexico. Then she fills it with a random fact about stuff that happens around the Kongo – thousands of miles away from any of those areas – and attributes it to the radio.

    What struck me is that even though Annie Lennords might want to provoke us to think for ourselves, she is making the one cardinal error that makes it difficult for all those that wants to change the world to the better.

    When she presents her argument, it sounds to many that she is altering facts to fit the point instead of the other way around. That is not only a problem from an academic viewpoint (she is an academic and knows this of course, which is why I believe she is trying to provoke) – it backlashes. It makes me think something like, “Bah, she sounds like a frantic, radical environmentalist”.

    And that is why I think that is the main reason that environmentalists can face difficulties in getting wide support for their causes.

    Because, what happens when a person who is not convinced sees this? They will find crucial factual errors such as with the CPU, and (contrary to what I did, being an environmentally aware person) they will simply shut off, and decide not to listen to her main point. They will naturally assume that main point is an errorous conclusion based on errorous facts.

    And that is the problem with radicals, many of them being good people who wants to make the world a better place. It is the problem for many people who want to make the world a better place, be they left-wingers, feminists, environmentalists or pro-privacy fighters.

  57. Joshua Jendryka:

    Thanks for giving us your really thoughtful and evenhanded take on Story of Stuff. I agree that the work is a mixed bag of some solid points about the environmental and psychological costs of consumerism, along with unfortunate scapegoating of government and business.

  58. JT:

    Your Review was a good lesson that I follow on a daily basis…. DOUBT EVERYTHING, all the time, even when you research, doubt that too, ask yourself what those “experts” have to gain. Everyone on the planet has an agenda….. SELF!

  59. CH:

    I was not sure I could endure the entire presentation. The proposal that we must come together to “create a more sustainable and just world” by reducing the extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal of consumable goods neglected to address the reduction of jobs in this process and the impact on humanity.

    There is always room for improvement but I am so sick of the America bashing and cynicism! We have our faults and there is evil, waste, corruption and greed in the entire world (that is why Jesus had to die!) but as bad as America is, people still risk their lives to come to this country. There is a lot of potential with developing technology dealing with waste and we are not ignoring the issue. The “evil” landfill has potential for the production of ethanol. Trees are a renewable resource. They are harvested but replanted 2-1 in many cases.

    Not every “green” idea is a winner! Corn ethanol! Government subsidized! Save ten cents at the pump and pay 30% more for food! Brilliant! Light bulbs that we MUST change to that last longer, save energy, BUT are a toxic environmental hazard! Brilliant!

    Most people, especially Christians, have always desired to be responsible with the use of our resources but that does include ACTUALLY USING our resources!

    With all our faults, what other country does more to provide disaster relief and help the poor in addition to addressing environmental concerns both at home and throughout the world? “Corporate Greed” – yes, there are excesses but corporations do create jobs. Where is the rage over the outrageous incomes of sports figures and entertainers? Health care is expensive throughout the world but although not all Americans purchase health insurance, NO ONE goes without health care in America including ILLEGAL ALIENS! More focus needs to be on all the good in America and build on that.

  60. B:

    Your review was pretty similar to what I was thinking after watching. One thing I have to say, however, is that for things that are “more complex” (ie a Computer vs a Teddy Bear) faster replacement is a good thing. It allows redefinition for future generations of products that SHOULD be better than previous models. Things like computers must be used a lot to open ideas to new features that can be included to improve on the product. If we had a computer that was built to last 15 years, it may still be USEABLE in 15 years but it would sure be less USEFUL.

    Don’t get me wrong, throw-away radios and the like are a waste, but there are many products (like electronics) that improve every iteration. On the other hand, you can’t really improve on tools like the shovel, for example.

  61. Amanda:

    I really appreciate this review. I was looking around online for someone who felt the same way about this short film as I did, and almost every site said Leonard was “enlightening,” or some variation of that. But I feel like she was exaggerating her claims way too much (something your research proves), trying to scare people into believing her… and overall she just sounded too much like she was spewing propoganda to me.

    So, thanks. =)

  62. Klug:

    Thanks for this critique — it says things that I thought.

    As a chemist, I find much of the video portion rather laughable. It reminds me of “Captain Planet”, where people were polluting because THEY LOVE TO POLLUTE. Sigh.

  63. kay:

    Thanks for all the intelligent dialogue with no cartoon illustrations. I disliked this video intensely because it reduces all these complex issues to a simplictic cutsy cartoon and becomes a cathechism of enviromnentalism. I heard a story read to small (3 year olds) at a library story hour about Thanksgiving. The children went to a turkey farm where the turkey farmer, with a very sinsiter smile and a gleaming ax, told the children that he was going to use the ax on all the turkeys. The hero children, of course, sole as many turkeys as they could, putting them under their coats, thereby saving them from the evil turkey farmer. I’m not making this up. It’s a real children’s book. What’s wrong here? Like this video (which is recommended for children), is that it is not the children’s problem. It’s for the adults and we as parents shouldn’t be trying to turn children into crusaders for larger complex problems for which we don’t have even half the answers. Children aren’t supposed to save turkeys. It’s not their job. Let them be children. THe “story of Stuff” is really depressing and not at all the entire picture, as explained in the above comments. If people are getting unhappier that’s an even more complex subject and why doesn’t Annie L. talk about behavior as being related to that? You just can’t cover the entire world of economics, philosophy, etc. in a cartoon.
    Other irritations: A.L. said early on “It’s the governments job to take care of us.”, which I think is really a messy thing to say. How? By what standard, by whose values? It diminishes the understanding and time it takes to intepret the constitution as worked on for several hundred years. That comes off as indoctrination. I could go on, but enough.

  64. Christine:

    Great review. I have to say I totally agree with the comments from Courtney and Mathias. I’m quite stunned there are people commenting that it’s ok to manipulate the facts to get through to people. I do not believe in the end justifying the means, nor that this tactic will even achieve the desired end. I think exaggerating to the point of alarmism paralyses people into inaction. The mainstream uptake of environmentalism in the past few years is proof that an approach like that in ‘the Story of Stuff’ is not necessary. Most of the environmental progress that has been made this decade has been through fact-based education and proposing sensible, achievable steps. Recent campaigns have successfully released environmental action from the ‘treehugger’ stigma. I agree a video like this is a step backward.

    Besides which, a big part of the reason such bad consumerist habits have taken hold is the poisonous influence of the underhandedly persuasive techniques of advertising. There is no justification to use the same tactics to recruit people for a cause. In fact I think such tactics in the past helped create a backlash against environmental causes. A more successful approach has been employed lately. Let’s stick to it. Just because the essence of Annie Leonard’s message is right, does not mean the way she delivers it is right. I can’t give her much credit for what she is trying to say when she could have – and should have – said it much more honestly. And when they are many others who endeavour to do so. They deserve our applause instead.

  65. Fergus Ray Murray:

    Hey, thanks for this – you picked up on most of the same points that bugged me about the film; I still think it’s about 75% really good, but the stupid stuff lets it down terribly. I hope she’ll eventually patch them up…

    On a related but different theme, I wonder if you’ve see ‘Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip’? Perhaps not so much in your field of expertise, but I’d be interested to hear your take on it… http://wakeupfreakout.org/film/tipping.html

  66. Bob:

    Don’t buy stuff if you do not need it. Don’t give the FAT CATs anymore $$$

  67. Bruce Olsen:

    @ the people who claim it isn’t the government’s job to take care of citizens:

    Corporations are not designed to safeguard any of the rights expressed in the US Constitution or in any universally-recognized list of human rights. Corporations maximize shareholder value. The current economic crisis provides plenty of evidence that corporations are not concerned with the public good. Perhaps they should be, but that’s a discussion for elsewhere.

    So who safeguards our “inalienable rights?” Certainly not the corporation, so in that sense government is required to “take care” of its citizens.

  68. Miles Odonnol:

    Dear Andy,
    When you said “Fat Corporate Guy with a Dollar Sign on his Chest further abusing the word…” did you mean “further abusing the world”?

  69. Andy Kaiser:

    Miles,

    Yes, I did indeed make a typo. Now corrected. Thanks for the catch.

    Andy

  70. Barnett:

    Pretty cool that she starts the movie by going on about how we spend too much on the military. But DARPA created, in essence, the Internet. And without the Internet, does she think that the environmental movement could have ever gotten where it is now?

    As always, trying to produce the “simple overview” about such an expansive topic produces waaaay too many generalizations and glosses over waaay too many details…

  71. Barnett:

    Also, as an economist, what “refute” says about GDP is actually incorrect. When a product is produced — whether it is purchased or not — it goes into GDP. “Consumption” GDP is what people actually purchase, and when a product is not purchased but is instead inventoried, it is diverted into “investment”, still a part of GDP, as producing a product no one buys and then shelving it is considered investment by a corporation in its own products for inventory. Though this may sound unintuitive to non-economists, it is a basic aspect of macroeconomics and measuring GDP. In this way, every $ of economic activity is counted.

    THEREFORE — to conclude — if we use 30% of the world’s resources but produce 27% of the world’s products in dollar value, there IS something to be said for that.

  72. jkjkhardcore:

    Lol someone said big corporations aren’t trying to trick us into buying their crap.
    Think for a second;
    How much do they pay to advertise their logos’ on shows like Ally McBeal or Sex in the City or whatever show (I don’t watch tv) or even NBA logos icons. How much do they pay for athletes to drink gatorade or powerade or wear shoes. How many times have you seen people say oh they got new “Jordans” or “whatever product” out and they begin to describe the specs as if your old one was out of date and not worthy of being used.
    How much do advertisers pay to use psycology to sell a product?
    Do you know that the reason McDonalds is red and yellow is because it makes people hungry?
    I’m sorry but as for big corporations not pulling EVERY TRICK IN THE BOOK to get you to buy their product, I believe that is entirely false. they will trick you, they will do anything as you are their paycheck and without you their branch is closed and they lose their jobs.

  73. jkjkhardcore:

    ok TO The Writer of this article:
    I’m glad you did do a review on this piece though You seem to lack most of the knowledge it’s understandable considering (i’m just assuming) your not an expert.

    We’re Running Out Of Resources! That is bad;
    “The USA also produces 27% of the world’s GDP. 30% of resources, 27% of GDP: this seems to be a good measure of our efficiency, not waste. Any economists out there who can explain to me why this is bad?”
    The reason that this is bad is because more and more countries are becoming developed (not the ones we go to war with obviously) but as things progress more and more people are eating up the world’s resources think 5% using 30% of the resources and other countries that are catching up will be doing the same we’ll need more resources yet we live in a finite amount of resources planet. An economist would tell you that we are doing good because while we are doing good it won’t be that way forever as we’ll run out of resources. I don’t see how you can’t put that together lmao.

    As For flame retardent chemicals and other chemicals she even stated that we have no idea what the effect is on humans if it’s positive or negative, though she did say “toxic” and implied that putting our heads on toxins was a practice that happens daily.. I do agree though she does have a point there are many toxins that we put into our consumer products. Lead being one of them. While people hate china for having “Excessive” amounts of lead we also do put lead in our paint as well, the important aspect of this part is that there are many chemicals that can .. when combined with other chemicals cause us harm and there is rarely enough done (studies ect) by our big corporations to make sure that it’s safe even when mixed with the already existant chemicals that we have.
    You also noted that many of us have lead arsenic ect and things we picked up from our environment, how can this be good? Lol, that’s the whole point of “toxic toxic toxic” it’s because these chemicals are getting into our body. Also let’s take note that the “rate of cancer” has increased exponentially over the past few decades (thought it could be just that we are able to test for cancer better than ever) Even if our mortality ratings are lower and we live longer.

    I’m just gonna end here as I don’t really feel like continuing lol already spent over an hour on a 20 minute video.

  74. stan:

    I was sent this video, and after watching decided to find out more about it, because some of it seemed biased to me. I enjoyed your critique, because you discussed the positives and negatives. You confirmed my suspicion that it is at least somewhat biased, as well as overblown and simplistic.
    Didn’t have time to read the comments, so I’m not sure if anyone commented about the house size. The better way to say it is that the average size of new construction has doubled over the past couple of decades. The average size of new homes is about 2,500 square feet. Can’t remember what it was in 1970 or 1980, but in 1950 it was about 800 square feet. It has been increasing steadily for the past 50 or 60 years. With households getting smaller — and so many of us getting older — we expect to see that trend start to reverse, especially with the increase in New Urbanist, mixed use development. With her Master’s degree in Planning, Ms. Leonard should know that.

  75. Anita:

    When it comes down to it all RESPONSIBLITY is the name of the game. Are we to be responsible for the horrible problems of the world? Responsiblity ends where one can not control the situation.

    So what can we control? Many can recycle. Many can write letters to those with higher levels of responsiblity – whether they be corporations (that we purchase articles) or representatives of our State.

    These are just some basic concepts – America is known for her inventiveness! So, be inventive!

    In other words: Doing SOMETHING in a positive way is better than doing NOTHING. I am very happy that Ms. Leonard is doing something – even if it entertains or angers me. Actually, she’s done more than I will probably do in my life time on ecology but she isn’t responsible for me – she is only responsible for herself! Only I can be responsible for me. When I look in my mirror I don’t see Ms. Leonard I see myself. I need to answer for all that I do to Mother Earth that is in my control.

    I’m glad Ms. Leonard reminded me of the “toxins” that are everywhere because too much of a concentrated toxin can be deadly. (The plant watered by floride, the plant ate by the cow, the cow’s milk drank by MY child and same cow’s meat ate by MY child which is now super floridated and at a deadly toxic level.) No, Ms. Leonard didn’t give this example but simply stated “toxins.” Need I discuss hormones and antibiotics induced in chickens and their “toxic” effects on my child?

    Again, I need to be as informed a parent as I possibly can be because my child trusts that I already am a responsible person. I hope that I really am!

  76. stan dailey:

    i agree that it was part good part bad. the portrayal of entrepenuers as evil soured me. that to want to live as well as you can is somehow selfish did too. it could have been more positive without casting such a dark light on so many good people.

  77. Hugh Jonefs:

    We watched “Story of Stuff” tonight and must admit, as expected, that it is the biggest bunch of bull we have ever seen. Just another sign of what our kids are seeing, and being taught, in the govt. schools. It goes right along with the way obama feels about our country. He is doing his best to destroy our country and stuff like “Story of Stuff” is helping him. I would say God help our country but I think it is too late. Aren’t you and your ilk happy about that.

  78. Hugh Jones:

    Correcting the spelling of last name.

  79. steve:

    I cannot believe they are showing this politically biased crap in schools. They make capitalism seem so terrible. And I quote “it is the Governments job to take care of us” NO IT IS NOT!!!! It is your job to take care of you, Its the Governments job to grant us life, liberty and the pusuit of happiness. THATS IT NO MORE NO LESS!!!! My daughter told me she saw this at her school and after hearing what she said I had to see it for myself then had to totally point out all the lies and she said well then that was a waste of time even watching it, I said thats right it sure was.

  80. Daune Russell:

    Are you sure your facts are right? Why is this being show in public school? Do you have the parents permission to show this?

  81. Andy Kaiser:

    Hi everyone,

    I think this is the time to close the thread. We moved beyond the original topic and have dropped down to political bashing of individuals and institutions, which I have no interest in doing for this particular conversation. The topic is “The Story of Stuff” and the ideas it presented. Thanks to everyone for their comments and intellect – your time spent on this thread was appreciated!

    Andy

  82. Andy Kaiser:

    Hi everyone,

    One last comment: For those interested, here’s a brief followup post about my current feelings about “The Story of Stuff”.

    Andy