What’s wrong with our world?

I make no apologies for introducing you to a short movie called The Story of Stuff. If you’re still wondering why people like me bang on about sustainability, this 20-minute recording will give you a pretty good idea.

You will disagree with some of the detail. Heck, I did too. And you may worry about the provenance of some of the ’facts’. It doesn’t matter, it really doesn’t. The general drift is correct. So when you’re told that only one small piece of a computer changes year on year, but you have to change the whole machine, treat it as a metaphor. [Update: here’s a pdf of the full text with accreditations.]

The movie takes you through the traditional linear approach to making, selling and disposing of things. It looks at the roles of big business and government and the impact of our consumption on the lives of all the people on this planet, rich and poor alike.

It is quite finger-pointy and while explaining the problems in detail, it is less explicit about the solutions except that, fundamentally, they boil down to taking a sustainable approach to satisfying our requirements. I deliberately avoided saying ’needs’ because this has other implications – for example, is a movie a ’need’? I could get more picky and suggest that the concluding ’closed loop production’ graphic is slightly misleading because we get a continuous nett energy input from the sun, after the earth’s radiation is taken into account. This should actually help us, were we better able to exploit it.

Do visit the blog, where 163 people (at the time I blogged this) had praised the movie, railed against it or added fresh information. Despite several appeals for citations, Ms Leonard has not responded, which is a shame. It suggests she doesn’t really inhabit our digital social world. [Update: She posted to her blog today. Bless my soul.]

The movie sticks to atomic ’stuff’ and doesn’t give digital stuff an explicit mention. Yet, our digital world contributes substantially to ’dematerialisation’, which is a significant part of the sustainability story. Admittedly, energy is consumed in storing and transporting digital stuff, even Annie Leonard’s movie (50MB, by the way), but the movement of bits has to be more sustainable than buying the DVD.

Regard The Story of Stuff as a metaphorical springboard for those oblivious to what’s going on, or a reminder to the rest of us.

Here’s a thought to finish with: “For every dustbin of rubbish you put out, seventy dustbins of waste and pollution will have been created upstream”.

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