The Wasted Years

20 02 2008

By Jill Ettinger

Our enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.” – Victor LeBeau, Retail Analyst Post WW II

Circling the web like a good Mom rounding up kids for school, the Story of Stuff’s viral message is affectionately startling, gently nudging us to wake up to some very large elephants quickly filling up the room. Viewed over 1.5 million times, Annie Leonard’s matter-of-fact practical approach appeals to a child-like mentality, important for both the children inheriting this messy situation and the deer-in-headlights-National-Enquirer-population still obsessed with making it. Leonard’s no ordinary Mom though; she is Coordinator of the Funders Workgroup for Sustainable Production and Consumption, working for two decades to raise awareness about international sustainability and environmental health issues.

Her point is simple and straightforward: the world economy follows a straight-line growth model based on planned obsolescence, while the world itself prefers to work in a circular symbiotic relationship. Because of the causal bond marketing has with our spending habits, in just fifty years, America (and most Western cultures) has doubled consumption rates. Leonard walks us through the process from extraction of natural resources to production and distribution and finally to consumption and disposal of the accumulation of all these products (all while our government, supposedly for the people, sits back and takes direction from corporate interests). Some of the more incredible facts she’s collated:

• 80% of the world’s forests are gone.
• 2000 trees a minute are cut down in the Amazon alone. That is 7 football fields a minute!
• The U.S. has less than 4% of its forests left.
• 40% of our waterways are undrinkable.
• The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population and 30% of the waste.
• 75% of global fisheries have been fished beyond capacity.
• 100,000 synthetic chemicals are used in production today.
• Bromated Flame Retardants (BFR) neurotoxins (toxins to brain) are in computers, mattresses, pillows.
• Food with highest level of contaminants is mother’s milk.
• 200,000 people a day are moving to cities from environments that no longer support them.
• U.S. industry *admits* to 4 billion pounds of toxic pollution released per year (likely far more).
• We see more ads in one year than people 50 years ago saw in a lifetime. 3,000 ads a day!
• Average house size has doubled in the U.S. since the 1970’s.
• Average American creates 4.5 lbs. garbage a day — an amount doubled from 30 years ago.
• For every one garbage can you put out at the curb, 70 cans were filled by all the processes needed in order to make it.
• 99% of all those things we buy are not in use after 6 months.

To read the full column on Reality Sandwich click here.




One response

16 04 2013

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