Of course, there’s nothing new about talking about the state of the environment and the 4 R’s of recycling (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink), at this point, almost every North American has seen An Inconvenient Truth and those who haven’t have probably heard everything about it. For those of us who were on the hippy-dippy side of the 60’s and 70’s, saving the environment was almost like a new religious crusade. And while I may have gotten hooked on environmental friendliness as a kid— following such precepts as: thou shalt no buy unnecessary stuff; thou shalt not litter; thou shalt conserve water; thou shalt save and reuse things; thou shalt find new ways of using old things; though shalt give away or sell those things you no longer want, etc—like everybody else, I’m not perfect, which means I too need constant reminders of what concrete steps I can take to be part of the solution. Not always easy to remember in a consumer society gone completely haywire. This is where The Story of Stuff comes in. I posted a preview of this movie here a couple of days ago and it’s been on my mind since then. Of course I couldn’t help but make comparisons to An Inconvenient Truth, a movie which I’m quite divided about, partly because I see the value of the movie in having helped drive the message to people who hadn’t *gotten* it yet, but for me, having been steeped in ecological concerns since birth, I found that movie manipulative and utterly demoralizing and wrote what I hope is a fun little post about it in Global Warbling.
The Story of Stuff on the other hand, covers similar issues, but in a larger context and with a more lighthanded approach which is just as effective in terms of driving home the message. There are no hardcore scientific evidence or mind-boggling statistics here, yet to my mind, it was even more informative than Gore’s was because instead of focusing on the details of what the environmental catastrophe might end up looking like if we don’t take action, The Story of Stuff looks at the big picture and encourages you to think for yourself in terms of how and where you can best help make a difference. Annie Leonard, a friendly girl-next-door type, spent 10 years traveling the wold to specifically gain an understanding of “The whole story about how stuff goes from extraction, to production, to distribution, to consumption, to disposal”. Annie is an expert in international sustainability and environmental health issues, with more than 20 years of experience investigating factories and dumps around the world and she communicates worldwide about the impact of consumerism and materialism on global economies and international health*. Her film informs, yes, but it’s also fun to watch, even humorous, with simple animations that help to actually see the big picture and how everything is interrelated. The humour aspect is actually a very smart and way to help communicate information which, at the end of the day, isn’t much fun, but this device makes the material covered seem that much more interesting. The bottom line of the story of course is that we (i.e. the North American consumer society) are using too much stuff. But finding out the who, the what, the where, and the when, is of course where lies the value of the message. So… two thumbs up for The Story of Stuff from Smiler.
Sometimes, being overly conscious can sort of backfire though. Take yesterday when I went to get a manicure and pedicure as a special treat. I used get that sort of treatment fairly regularly, but then at one point decided it was too time consuming and an unnecessary expense so cut back on my visits to the nail parlour, even though I enjoy looking groomed and (literally) polished. So it had been a little while since I’d gotten anything done, and as I was sitting there yesterday, I couldn’t help but think about the materials and the chemicals and the labour that are used in the average nail salon; many of the chemicals used are highly toxic, the labour used is probably the closest thing we have to legalized slavery—the meagre compensation of the workers who are tending to our hands an feet and of course aren’t slaves because we tip them well to appease our conscience, the fact that most of them are recent immigrants which has impacts on their cultures and communities—both native and adopted. I also thought about the more than $1000 a year that countless weekly clients dish out for something that is completely unnecessary and could instead go toward something like saving the Amazon forest, or feeding a starving family for a few years. Then of course I realize that by having regular treatments, they’re encouraging small local businesses and helping feed and shelter local families, by giving work to immigrants who don’t have many options as well-paying jobs goes. At one point I started going to a more upscale place where it cost a lot more, though of course there were a lot of extras touches. I felt that I was making a better choice because I assumed the workers were getting better pay and therefore being less exploited, and also that because they didn’t do fake nails there, the air wasn’t as toxic to breathe. Then when I thought about the fact that I was spending that much more money that I could put toward charity or say, or… clearing my own debt, I realized there was no smarter option when it comes luxuries, be there big or small. And when you start applying that thinking to all our consuming needs and habits, it all becomes mind boggling. That’s when it’s nice to see something like The Story of Stuff, because it helps put everything into perspective. Because no matter how badly I think I’m doing when it comes to ecological choices, I’ll always do better than Mr. faceless corporation man who will only get the message if me and many others like me aim to make as many smart consumer choices as possible, over and over again.
Finally, when I’m not sitting in a nail salon or watching scary ecology movies, here’s something I sometimes visualize to keep myself from straying too far from the righteous ecological path: first, I visualize an image of the planet, either in photographic or illustration styles. At first it’s just a blue marble, as seen from outer space, then I zoom in closer and see the continents, then I zoom in again, and the America’s, then I zoom in to the area where the Amazon forest should be but I can’t seem to find it, then I zoom in to a tiny little green speck, equivalent to an area the size of Central Park in Manhattan, then zooming in closer still, I notice that all the wild animals are in cages and pens and there are signs and tourists and kids and concession stands everywhere… all come to visit the last bit of greenery on earth. Not very uplifting I know. But it does make me want to find solutions. And if anything, it’s a great way to keep me from buying too much stuff…
* Information taken from Annie Leonard’s bio
Photo by: madhatrk