The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health-and a Vision for Change

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9780743599153: The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health-and a Vision for Change

The unabridged audiobook on only two MP3 CDs!


We have a problem with Stuff. With just 5 percent of the world's population, we're consuming 30 percent of the world's resources and creating 30 percent of the world's waste. If everyone consumed at U.S. rates, we would need three to five planets! This alarming fact drove Annie Leonard to create the Internet film sensation The Story of Stuff, which has been viewed over 10 million times. Now, in a landmark book in the tradition of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Leonard tracks the life of the Stuff we use every day -- how it is produced, distributed, and consumed, and where it goes when we throw it out.


Leonard's message is startlingly clear: we have too much Stuff, and too much of it is toxic. Outlining the five stages of our consumption-driven economy from extraction through production, distribution, consumption, and disposal she vividly illuminates its frightening repercussions. Leonard reveals the true story behind our possessions, and how we, as consumers, are compromising our health, safety, and quality of life. Meanwhile, all this Stuff isn t even making us happier!


The drive for a ''growth at all costs'' economy fuels a system in crisis, but Annie Leonard shows us that this is not the way things have to be. Expansive, galvanizing, and sobering yet optimistic, The Story of Stuff transforms how we think about our lives and our relationship to the planet.


This MP3 CD edition will not play on traditional CD players, but is perfect for transferring to iPods and other portable MP3 players. It will also play on your computer or MP3 CD player.

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About the Author:

Annie Leonard is an expert in international sustainability and environmental health issues, with more than 20 years of experience investigating factories and dumps around the world. She's taking time off from her other work to write the book, but until recently she was coordinator of the Funders Workgroup for Sustainable Production and Consumption, communicating worldwide about the impact of consumerism and materialism on global economies and international health. Annie's efforts over the past two decades to raise awareness about international sustainability and environmental health issues has included work with Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance (GAIA), Health Care without Harm, Essential Information and Greenpeace International. She serves on the boards of GAIA, the International Forum for Globalization and the Environmental Health Fund. 

Annie has written about international environmental issues for a range of public interest audiences and will step this up and broaden her reach with op eds and features around publication time. She's appeared on radio and TV in the U.S. and other countries many times over the past 20 years. She had extensive media training and exposure during her tenure at Greenpeace. She's testified in front of Congress, been interviewed on CNN, publicly debated a US State Department representative, and done hundreds of public presentations. In 2008, Annie was named one of Time magazine's Heroes of the Environment.

Annie did her undergraduate studies at Barnard and graduate work in city and regional planning at Cornell. She has traveled to 40 countries, including Haiti, Bangladesh, India, the Philippines, Pakistan and South Africa, in her work investigating and promoting anti-pollution issues internationally. Annie currently resides in California with her daughter.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


CHAPTER 1
EXTRACTION

In order to make all the Stuff in our lives, we first need to get the ingredients. Now, some of these don’t occur naturally—the man-made synthetic compounds—and we’ll cover them too. However, many ingredients for our Stuff exist inside the earth or on its surface. They only need to be harvested or extracted... Only!

Once we start examining them, we soon find that each key ingredient requires a lot of other ingredients just to get it out of the earth, processed, and ready for use. In the case of paper, for example, we don’t just need trees. We need metals to make the chainsaws and logging machines; trucks, trains, and even ships to cart the logs to processing plants; and oil to run all those machines and the plants themselves. We need water (a lot of it) for making the paper pulp. We usually need a chemical like bleach (no!) or hydrogen peroxide (better) to get a desirably light shade of paper. All in all, making one ton of paper requires the use of 98 tons of various other resources.1 And believe me when I say that’s a pretty simple example. That’s why we have to look at the whole materials economy, and often a map of the world, to get a clear picture of the ingredients that go into any one product on store shelves these days.

There are lots of ways to think about the various resources that come from the earth. For simplicity’s sake I’ll use just three categories: trees, rocks, and water.

Trees

As I said in the introduction, having grown up in Seattle, a green city in an even greener state, I love trees. Half of the land area in Washington State is covered in forests,2 and I visited them every chance I had. Over the course of my childhood I watched in dismay as more and more forests gave way to roads and malls and houses.

As I grew older, I learned that there are more than sentimental reasons to worry about the fate of our trees. Trees create oxygen, which—may I remind us—we need to breathe. That alone would seem sufficient motivation for us to keep them intact. As the lungs of the planet, forests work around the clock to remove carbon dioxide from the air (a process called carbon sequestration) and give us oxygen in return. These days scientists concerned about climate change research all sorts of elaborate, expensive, man-made schemes to sequester carbon from the atmosphere in hopes of moderating climate change. Seems like a waste if you ask me. We already have a natural system that not only sequesters carbon but also provides the exact kind of air we need to breathe: our trees. And their services are free! It doesn’t get much better than that.

And there’s more—forests provide other vital services. They collect and filter our fresh water, maintaining the planet’s overall hydrologic cycle and moderating floods and droughts. They maintain soil health by keeping the nutrient-rich topsoil in place. What are we thinking, destroying these obvious allies?

To name just one more reason that it’s a terrible idea to cut down forests: one-quarter of all our prescription drugs are derived from forests—rainforests in particular.3 Curare, an anesthetic and muscle relaxant used in surgery4; ipecac, for treating dysentery5; and quinine, for malaria6 are just a few examples. Not long ago, western chemists were turned on to a plant native to the tropical forests of Madagascar, the rosy periwinkle, after learning that the island’s healers used it to treat diabetes. It turns out the pink-flowering plant has anticancer properties, and is now used to make the medicines vincristine and vinblastine. The former is used to treat Hodgkin’s disease, and the latter has proven to be a total wonder drug for those suffering from childhood leukemia, who now have a 95 percent chance of survival, up from their previous slim 10 percent chance before the plant was discovered.7

(Unfortunately, even though sales of the two drugs are in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year, almost none of this money winds up in the hands of the people in Madagascar, which is one of the poorest countries in the world.8 This will be a recurring theme.)

It’s nuts to be wiping out forests anywhere on the globe, but it’s especially crazy to be clearing the tropical rainforests because they contain such richness of biodiversity. Generally, the closer forests are to the equator, the greater the diversity of trees and other species they contain. A twenty-five-acre plot of rainforest in Borneo, for instance, can contain more than seven hundred species of trees, which is equal to the total number of tree species in all of North America.9

And the plants and other life we’ve discovered so far are just the beginning; most scientists estimate that only 1 percent of the species that exist in the rainforest (and only there) have been identified and examined for their beneficial properties.10

If the loss wasn’t so tragic, it would be ironic that these invaluable repositories of not-yet-discovered useful chemicals are being cleared in the name of “progress” and “development.” It seems to me a far wiser development strategy would be protecting these forests that will potentially heal our ills (as well as provide the air we breathe, clean our waters, and moderate our climate).

When I was kid savoring my time camping out in the forest, I hadn’t ever heard of carbon sequestration, hydrologic cycles, or plant-derived pharmaceuticals. Instead, one big reason I loved forests was the many animals that lived in them. Forests provide homes for about two-thirds of the species on earth11—from koala bears, monkeys, and leopards to butterflies, lizards, parrots, you name it. Cutting down these homes, especially in areas of rich biodiversity like tropical rainforests, leads to the extinction of as many as one hundred species a day.12 One hundred species per day? For some perspective, think of all the dogs you’ve ever seen; worldwide, they make up fewer than ten species (genus Canis).13 And there’s only one species of human! Losing one hundred species a day is a big deal. Those species could contain miracle medicines or could play some vital irreplaceable role in the food chain. Wiping them out is like throwing out our lottery ticket before we have even checked if we had the winning number.

Imagine for a minute that some other species (maybe Periplaneta fuliginosa, aka the smokybrown cockroach) had control over the planet and was eradicating one hundred species per day to satisfy their appetites. What would we say about them? We might think their actions were a little unfair. What would we do about them? Lead an insurrection? Of course, we might not have a chance—from one day to the next we could just be extinguished, along with ninety-nine other lesser species.

And trees don’t just house wildlife—around the world about 300 million people live in forests, while about 60 million indigenous people are almost wholly dependent on them.14 Forests are the main source of life for more than a billion people living in extreme poverty.15 Forests provide the “four F’s” essential for survival: food, fodder, fiber, and fuel. From healthy forests, indigenous, tribal, or other forest-dwelling communities gather or hunt for food, feed livestock, obtain materials to build homes, and collect firewood for cooking and heat.

As I was growing up in Seattle, my primary relationship with forests was based on a fifth F: fun. I relied on the forests for hiking, camping, birding, and cross-country skiing, not for building materials. If I needed a snack, I’d head for the fridge, not the forest. Even after studying the issue, my understanding of the connection between forests and immediate survival was academic, not experiential. It wasn’t until I went overseas that I realized how directly forests sustain life in other countries.

While traveling in the once lush Haitian countryside, I met families who had lost their homes after forests were cleared. After the destruction of the roots that held the soil in place and moderated water flows following a heavy rain, mudslides took the homes of those families. No forests, no flood control. In India, I saw women walking miles a day to collect branches to feed cows, patch roofs, or cook rice. No forests, no fodder, fiber, or fuel. Forests are essential to life. The values of all these kinds of services dwarf the price of timber from a felled forest.

In fact, economists are working to calculate the monetary benefits that forests produce. In October 2008, the European Union undertook a study to put a dollar value on the forest services that we’re losing through deforestation each year. This study, published in The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity report, warns that the cost to the global economy from the loss of forests is far greater than the economic losses incurred up to that point in the banking crisis that garnered so much media attention and government action that year. Further, the report points out, the losses from deforestation aren’t a one-time fiasco, but continuous, year after year.16 By evaluating the many services that forests perform and figuring out how much it would cost for humans to adapt to their losses and provide these services themselves, the study calculated the cost of forest loss at between $2 trillion and $5 trillion, or about 7 percent of global GDP each year.17 Now, if that doesn’t merit a bailout on both economic and environmental grounds, I am not sure what does.

Despite the implications, even though they provide frames for our houses and our lifesaving medicines, even though they filter our water and create ...

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