Annie Leonard's Story of Stuff

Review and recommendation of
Annie Leonard (2010, Free Press) The Story of Stuff

If you haven't already done so, take a moment now to enjoy the brief internet version of Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff, which you should be able to access through her website www.storyofstuff.com. If that doesn't whet your appetite for the book of the same title, I hope the following will.

Annie Leonard's journey into the study of stuff began over twenty five years ago during her morning walks from her college dormitory on West 110th Street to her environmental studies class on West 116th Street on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Her curiosity about the content and destination of the morning curb-side garbage led her to a visit to Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. The 4.6 square mile stinking mound she encountered was then the largest man-made structure on the planet. The horror of this launched Leonard into what has become her life's mission: to study and educate us all, in her words, on "how our obsession with stuff is trashing the planet, our communities, and our health" and to offer her vision for change.

Leonard traces "stuff" from its extraction from the Earth through production, distribution, consumption and disposal, at each stage pointing out how we are creating havoc for ourselves and future generations and what we need to do to reverse this process. Reading through the lengthy, impassioned descriptions of the wasteful and destructive practices she has encountered in her journey, the reader might veer toward despair, but interspersed among her descriptions of the ugly are also those of alternative practices that offer hope for the future. These include:

As an alternative to deforestation and tree plantations, the option of community forestry in which forests are managed to protect the sum of their contributions, i.e., not solely for logging;

  • Rather than using enormous quantities of water to remove human waste, the option of composting toilets preserving our water from contamination and turning a would be pollutant and health hazard into a valuable soil additive;
  • In opposition to the drive to exploit water scarcity for private profit, the efforts of "water warriors" to achieve "recognition of water as a human right, improved access to water for poor people, the decommodification of water, taxes for excessive water use";
  • Instead of purchasing gold jewellery including wedding rings, the purchase of previously owned or recycled gold or foregoing it altogether "to ensure we're not contributing to the devastation caused by gold mining";
  • As an alternative to two of the most harmful extraction processes, "leave oil in the soil" and coal in the ground by reducing demand through energy efficiency and using renewable energy sources such as wind and solar;
  • At the front end of the production process, "redesign our production systems to use fewer resources in the first place, thereby decreasing the need for more extraction."
  • At the back end, "vast amounts of metals, paper, wood, and water wasted each year can be recycled or reused";
  • Rather than wasting huge amounts of energy in the production of aluminum and producing toxic pollution along with it, cut out the frivolous use of aluminum as a container for our beverages, putting the tons of aluminum in circulation "into Stuff that makes sense, like to replace some of the steel to lighten up our modes of transportation";
  • Rather than further spoiling the environment with toxic chemicals, follow the example of the European Union and require "that companies have to prove that chemicals are safe before they get used and spread around";
  • Phase out and replace unsafe materials with safe ones by "ramping up development of less toxic alternatives, and converting industry sector by sector from using high-hazard chemicals to using ones that represent low hazard";
  • Instead of a race to the bottom, with attendant harm to the health and welfare of people all along the supply chain, trade regulations be revised to ensure that we "have an entirely transparent system of supply chains in which all the stakeholders are encouraged to identify flaws throughout the system and halt production until that problem has been taken care of";
  • As an alternative to the relentless work-watch-spend treadmill, "downshifting" by working and spending less.
  • To address the waste disposal problem exemplified by electronic hardware, have "extended producer responsibility," that is, make the producers responsible for the entire lifecycle of the goods they produce.
  • In sum, embrace a "zero waste" philosophy, supported by "effective policies, regulations, incentives, and financing structures."

In the process of description of the ugly and the good, Annie Leonard provides in outline the formulation of an alternative economic and social policy, one that is both green and social democratic.

- Charles McFadden
08-08-2010

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Welcome!

This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New

NEW & REVISED

Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them

OPINION

Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement

REVIEWS

Charles and Karen McFadden, “The Shape of Water” as an Antidote to the Age of Trump 

Charles McFadden, Decolonizing the U.S. & Canada: The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.

US CORNER

William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class

CANADA CORNER

George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP

RECOMMENDED

Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018

FEATURED WORK

ECONOMICS

1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism

HISTORY

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems

LABOR

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) applies to all work posted on this website except that which appears with authors whose last name is other than McFadden, in which case standard copyright should be assumed to apply.