Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Story of Stuff

LibraryThing Review Link:

I picked this book up in a mall. I had not seen the YouTube video that the author had made prior to publishing the book, but I'd heard of it. I leafed through it and was caught up in reading about computer metals and how they are produced, used, and disposed of, when I realized I needed to leave. I bought the book.

I read this book on a plane. The book is about the material possessions that are so important to us Americans in our consumer society. It talks about extraction of resources, production and distribution of goods, marketing of goods, and the disposal of goods. The author had started out as an expert on disposal, particularly. She's originally a Greenpeace activist on garbage issues such as the barge that traveled the world looking for somewhere to put the garbage (I can hear Alice's Restaurant in my head right now). But at some point, she discovered systems thinking and started realizing that the garbage problem is really not easily separable from the other issues that lurk behind our happy consumer attitudes about "stuff".

The fact that I was reading it on the plane, where everything was disposable, made it that much more poignant to me.

I was raised by a very liberal family and my father is an environmental activist who lives in a cabin "off the grid" using hydro and solar power and a self-composting outhouse. I also lived in developing countries much of my adult life and I observed many of the issues about garbage and disposable goods that Ms. Leonard talks about in her book. In other words, I am the choir to whom this book is preaching. It gave me some good ideas about how to reuse things, avoid other things (such as vinyl - I had no idea it was such bad news), and in general try to be a better individual American consumer.

But really, what would be great is if this book became the start of a movement for Americans to get back to being people and not consumers. We are human beings foremost. It is true we need material goods to live. But we should not be living in order to get material goods. The best chapters of this book, for me, were not the ones on the life cycle of "stuff" but on how we can make our lives less consumerist.

I highly recommend this book to all readers, particularly the younger ones. The future can definitely be different and this book is a very good place to start realizing this.