Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ The Story of Stuff - a Summary

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

May 13, 2009

Originally posted on Half an Hour, May 13, 2009.

This is a summary of the contents of the video, The Story of Stuff. I regard this video as essential viewing, and its message as fundamentally correct. I also cover the video on OLDaily.

The materials system that defines our economy today:
extraction, production, distribution, consumption, disposal

It can't work. It's a linear system on a finite planet.

What's missing
- people. Some have a little more say.
- corporation - bigger than the government

- we are running out of resources - in the last decade, 1/3 of the world's resource base has been consumed

- In this system, if you don't own or buy a lot of stuff, you don't have value

- many chemicals employed, most untested
- eg. pillows, are doused in BFR (a flame-retardent), a neurotoxin
- pollution - they emit more than 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals a year

The erosion of local environments and economies leaves people with no other economic option... but to work (and live) in toxic environments


Sell as quickly as possible, keep prices down
It's all about externalizing the cost - keep wages down, skimp on health insurance

How could $4.99 possibly capture the cost of the radio?
I didn't pay for the radio - kids in the Congo paid with their future


The heart of the system, the engine that drives is - that's why Bush said, after 911, to shop
- the primary way our value is measured and demonstrated is how much we consume
- 1 percept of material we consume is still in use 6 months after we consume them
How did thsi happen?

It was designed
- our enormously productive economy demands that we make buying a way of life
- under Eisenhower - the purpose of the economy became to become consumers of goods
- planned obselescence (disposables) and perceived obscelence
- we are convinced to throw away stuff that is still perfectly useful - by changing the way stuff looks
- advertisement plays a big role in this - the point of an ad is to make us unhappy with what he have - we are told "we are wrong"
- all we see is the shopping - the production, distribution and disposal happen outside our field of vision
- we pay for this with our time - we work harder than ever - and in our leisure we watch TV (commercials) and we shop - "we are on this crazy work watch spend treadmill"
(doesn't mention - but should - credit)


- garnage - gets stuffed in a landfill - pollutes air, land and water - and changes the climate - buring releases the toxics
- recycling helps, by reducing garbage, reducing demand
- but recycling is not enough - for every 1 can of recycling, 70 cans remain upstream
- also, much of the garbage can't be recycled


It is a system in crisis
There are many points of intervention
But all of it works when we see the big picture
We need to chuck the old school throw-away mindset - based on reduced consumption and social equity
The people who say we can continue the old way are misled - they're dreaming

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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