do you have one of these? i got a little obsessed with mine. in fact i got a little obsessed withall my stuff. have you ever wondered where all thestuff we buy, comes from and where it goeswhen we throw it out? i couldn't stop wondering about that.so i looked it up. and what the text book said,is that stuff moves through a system from extraction to productionto distribution to consumption to disposal. all together, it is called the materials economy.well, i looked into it a little bit more.
in fact, i spent 10 years traveling the world, tracking where our stuff comesfrom and where it goes. and you know what i found out?that is not the whole story. there's a lot missing fromthis explanation. for one thing,this system looks like it's fine. no problem. but the truth is itâ€™s a system in crisis. and the reason it is in crisisis that it is a linear system and we live on a finite planet and you can not run a linear systemon a finite planet indefinitely.
every step along the way, this systemis interacting with the real world. in real life itâ€™s not happeningon a blank white page. itâ€™s interacting with societies, cultures,economies, the environment. and all along the way,itâ€™s bumping up against limits. limits we don't see here becausethe diagram is incomplete. so lets go back through, let's fill insome of the blanks and see what's missing. well, one of the most important things its missingis people, yes people. people live and work all along this system. and some people in this systemmatter a little more than others;
some have a little more say.who are they? well, letâ€™s start with the government. now my friends tell me i should usea tank to symbolize the government and thatâ€™s true in many countriesand increasingly in our own, after all more than 50% of our federal tax moneyis now going to the military, but iâ€™m using a personto symbolize the government because i hold true to the vision and valuesthat governments should be of the people, by the people,for the people. it's the governments job to watch out for us,to take care of us. thatâ€™s their job.
then along came the corporation. now, the reason the corporationlooks bigger than the government is bigger then the government. of the 100 largest economies on earth now,51 are corporations. as the corporations have grown in size and power,weâ€™ve seen a little change in the government where theyâ€™re a little moreconcerned in making sure everything is working outfor those guys than for us. ok, so lets see what else is missingfrom this picture. we'll start with extraction.
which is a fancy word fornatural resource exploitation which is a fancy wordfor trashing the planet. what this looks like is we chop down trees,we blow up mountains to get the metals inside, we use up all the waterand we wipe out the animals. so here we are running upagainst our first limit. we are running out of resources.we are using too much stuff. now i know this can be hard to hear,but it's the truth weâ€™ve gotta deal with it. in the past three decades alone, one-third of the planetâ€™s natural resourcesbase have been consumed. gone.
we are cutting and mining and haulingand trashing the place so fast that weâ€™re undermining the planetâ€™svery ability for people to live here. where i live, in the united states,we have less than 4% of our original forests left. forty percent of the waterwayshave become undrinkable. and our problem is not just thatweâ€™re using too much stuff, but weâ€™re using more than our share.we have 5% of the worldâ€™s population but weâ€™re consuming 30% of the worldâ€™s resourcesand creating 30% of the worldâ€™s waste. if everybody consumed at u.s. rates,we would need 3 to 5 planets. and you know what?weâ€™ve only got one.
so, my countryâ€™s response to this limitationis simply to go take somebody elseâ€™s! this is the third world, whichâ€“ some would say â€“ is another word for our stuff that somehowgot on someone elseâ€™s land. so what does that look like?the same thing: trashing the place. 75% of global fisheries now arefished at or beyond capacity. 80% of the planetâ€™s original forests are gone. in the amazon alone,weâ€™re losing 2000 trees a minute. that is seven football fields a minute. and what about the people who live here?
well. according to these guys,they donâ€™t own these resources even if theyâ€™ve been living there for generations,they donâ€™t own the means of production and theyâ€™re not buying a lot of stuff.and in this system, if you donâ€™t own or buy a lot of stuff,you donâ€™t have value. so, next, the materials move to â€œproductionâ€œand what happens there is we use energy to mix toxic chemicals in with the naturalresources to make toxic contaminated products. there are over 100,000 synthetic chemicalsin use in commerce today. only a handful of them have evenbeen tested for health impacts and none have been testedfor synergistic health impacts,
that means when they interact with all the otherchemicals weâ€™re exposed to every day. so, we donâ€™t know the full impact on healthand the environment of all these toxic chemicals. but we do know one thing:toxics in, toxics out. as long as we keep putting toxics intoour inudstrial production systems, we are going to keep getting toxicsin the stuff that we bring into our homes, and workplaces, and schools.and, duh, our bodies. like bfrs,brominated flame retardants. they are a chemical that make thingsmore fireproof but they are super toxic. theyâ€™re a neurotoxinâ€“that means toxic to the brainwhat are we even doing using a chemical like this?
yet we put them in our computers, our appliances,couches, mattresses, even some pillows. in fact, we take our pillows,we douse them in a neurotoxin and then we bring them home and put our headson them for 8 hours a night to sleep. now, i donâ€™t know, but it seems to me thatin this country with so much potential, we could think of a better way to stop our headsfrom catching on fire at night. now these toxics build up in the food chainand concentrate in our bodies. do you know what is the foodat the top of the food chain with the highest level of many toxic contaminants?human breast milk. that means that we have reached a point where thesmallest members of our societies - our babies
are getting their highest lifetime dose of toxicchemicals from breastfeeding from their mothers. is that not an incredible violation? breastfeeding must be the most fundamentalhuman act of nurturing; it should be sacred and safe.now breastfeeding is still best and mothers should definitely keep breastfeeding,but we should protect it. they should protect it. i thought they were looking out for us.and of course, the people who bear the biggestof these toxic chemicals are the factory workers,many of whom are women of reproductive age. theyâ€™re working with reproductive toxics,carcinogens and more.
now, i ask you,what kind of woman of reproductive age would work in a job exposedto reproductive toxics, except for a woman with no other option?and that is one of the â€œbeautiesâ€ of this system? the erosion of local environmentsand economies here ensures a constant supplyof people with no other option. globally 200,000 people a dayare moving from environments that have sustained them for generations, into cities, many to live in slums, looking forwork, no matter how toxic that work may be. so, you see, it is not just resourcesthat are wasted along this system,
but people too.whole communities get wasted. yup, toxics in, toxics out. a lot of the toxicsleave the factories in products, but even more leave as by-products, or pollution.and itâ€™s a lot of pollution. in the u.s., our industry admits to releasingover 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals a year and itâ€™s probably way moresince that is only what they admit. so thatâ€™s another limit, because, yuck, who wants to look at and smell 4 billion poundsof toxic chemicals a year? so, what do they do? move the dirty factories overseaspollute someone elseâ€™s land!
but surprise, a lot of that air pollution iscoming right back at us, carried by wind currents. so, what happens after all these resourcesare turned into products? well, it moves here, for distribution. now distribution means â€œselling all thistoxic-contaminated junk as quickly as possible.â€ the goal here is to keep the prices down, keep thepeople buying, and keep the inventory moving. how do they keep the prices down?well, they donâ€™t pay the store workers very much and they skimp on health insurance every time theycan. itâ€™s all about externalizing the costs. what that means is the real costs of making stuffarenâ€™t captured in the price. in other words,we arenâ€™t paying for the stuff we buy.
i was thinking about this the other day. i was walkingand i wanted to listen to the news so i popped into a radio shackto buy a radio. i found this cute little green radiofor 4 dollars and 99 cents. i was standing there in line to buy this thingand i was thinking how could $4.99 possiblycapture the costs of making this radio and getting it into my hands?the metal was probably mined in south africa, the petroleum was probably drilled in iraq,the plastics were probably produced in china, and maybe the whole thing was assembledby some 15 year old in a maquiladora in mexico.
$4.99 wouldnâ€™t even pay the rent forthe shelf space it occupied until i came along, let alone part of the staff guyâ€™s salarywho helped me pick it out, or the multiple ocean cruises and truck ridespieces of this radio went on. thatâ€™s how i realized, i didnâ€™t pay for the radio.so, who did pay? well. these people paid with the lossof their natural resource base. these people paid with the loss of their clean airwith increasing asthma and cancer rates. kids in the congo paid with their future â€“30% of the kids in parts of the congo now have had to drop outof school to mine coltan, a metal we need for our cheapand disposable electronics.
these people even paid, by having to covertheir own health insurance. all along this system, people pitched inso i could get this radio for $4.99. and none of these contributionsare recorded in any accounts book. that is what i mean by the company ownersexternalize the true costs of production. and that brings us to the goldenarrow of consumption. this is the heart of the system,the engine that drives it. it is so important that protecting this arrow hasbecome the top priority for both of these guys. that is why, after 9/11,when our country was in shock, and president bush could have suggestedany number of appropriate things:
to grieve, to pray, to hope. no.he said to shop. to shop?! we have become a nation of consumers. our primaryidentity has become that of being consumers, not mothers, teachers, farmers,but consumers. the primary way that our valueis measured and demonstrated is by how much we contribute to this arrow,how much we consume. and do we! we shop and shop and shop. keep the materialsflowing, and flow they do! guess what percentage of total materials flowthrough this system is still in product or use 6 months after the date of sale in north america? fifty percent? twenty? no. one percent. one!in other words, 99 percent of the stuff we harvest, mine, process, transport â€“99 percent of the stuff we run through this system
is trashed within 6 months.now how can we run a planet with that level of materials throughput?it wasnâ€™t always like this. the average u.s. person now consumestwice as much as they did 50 years ago. ask your grandma. in her day, stewardshipand resourcefulness and thrift were valued. so, how did this happen?well, it didnâ€™t just happen. it was designed. shortly after the world war 2, these guyswere figuring out how to ramp up the economy. retailing analyst victor lebowarticulated the solution that has become the normfor the whole system. he said: "our enormously productive economydemands that we make consumption our way of life,
that we convert the buying and use of goods intorituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption. we need things consumed, burned up, replacedand discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.â€ president eisenhower's councilof economic advisors chairman said that "the american economy's ultimate purposeis to produce more consumer goods." more consumer goods? our ultimate purpose? not provide health care,or education, or safe transportation, or sustainability or justice?consumer goods? how did they get us to jump on boardthis program so enthusiastically?
well, two of their most effective strategies areplanned obsolescence and perceived obsolescence. planned obsolescence is another wordfor â€œdesigned for the dump.â€ it means they actually make stuffto be useless as quickly as possible so we will chuck it and buy a new one. itâ€™s obvious with things like plastic bagsand coffee cups, but now itâ€™s even big stuff: mops, dvds, cameras, barbeques even,everything! even computers. have you noticed thatwhen you buy a computer now, the technology is changing so fastthat in just a couple years, itâ€™s actually an impediment to communication?i was curious about this
so i opened up a big desktop computerto see what was inside. and i found out that the piece that changes each yearis just a tiny little piece in the corner. but you canâ€™t just change that one piece,because each new version is a different shape, so you gotta chuck the whole thingand buy a new one. so, i was reading industrial design journalsfrom the 1950s when planned obsolescence was really catching on.these designers are so open about it. they actually discuss how fastcan they make stuff break that still leaves the consumerhaving enough faith in the product to go out and buy anther one.it was so intentional.
but stuff cannot break fast enoughto keep this arrow afloat, so thereâ€™s alsoâ€œperceived obsolescence.â€ now perceived obsolescence convinces us tothrow away stuff that is still perfectly useful. how do they do that? well,they change the way the stuff looks so if you bought your stuffa couple years ago, everyone can tell that you havenâ€™t contributedto this arrow recently and since the way we demonstrate our value iscontributing to this arrow, it can be embarrassing like iâ€™ve have had the same fatwhite computer monitor on my desk for 5 years.my co-worker just got a new computer.
she has a flat, shiny, sleek monitor. it matches her computer,it matches her phone, even her pen stand. she looks like she is driving inspace ship central and i, i look like i have a washing machine on my desk. fashion is another prime example of this.have you ever wondered why womenâ€™s shoe heels go from fat one year to skinny the next to fat toskinny? it is not because there is some debate about which heel structure is the most healthyfor womenâ€™s feet. itâ€™s because wearing fat heels in a skinny heel year shows everybody thatyou havenâ€™t contributed to that arrow recently so youâ€™re not as valuable as that personin skinny heels next to you,
or, more likely, in some ad.itâ€™s to keep buying new shoes. advertisements, and media in general,play a big role in this. each of us in the u.s. is targetedwith over 3,000 advertisements a day. we each see more advertisements in one yearthan people 50 years ago saw in a lifetime. and if you think about it, what is the point of anad except to make us unhappy with what we have? so, 3,000 times a day, weâ€™re told thatour hair is wrong, our skin is wrong, our clothes are wrong, our furniture is wrong,our cars are wrong, we are wrong but that it can all be made rightif we just go shopping. media also helps by hidingall of this and all of this,
so the only part of the materials economy we seeis the shopping. the extraction, production and disposalall happen outside our field of vision. so, in the u.s.we have more stuff than ever before, but polls show that our national happinessis actually declining. our national happiness peaked in the 1950s,the same time as this consumption mania exploded. hmmm. interesting coincidence. i think i know why.we have more stuff, but we have less time for the thingsthat really make us happy: friends, family, leisure time.weâ€™re working harder than ever.
some analysts say that we have lessleisure time now than in feudal society. and do you know whatthe two main activities are that we do with the scantleisure time we have? watch tv and shop. in the u.s., we spend 3 to 4 timesas many hours shopping as our counterparts in europe do.so we are in this ridiculous situation where we go to work, maybe two jobs even,and we come home and weâ€™re exhausted so we plop down on our new couch and watch tvand the commercials tell us â€œyou suckâ€ so we gotta go to the mall to buy somethingto feel better, and then you gotta go to work more
to pay for the stuff you just boughtso you come home and youâ€™re more tired so you sit down and watch more t.v.and it tells you to go to the mall again and weâ€™re on this crazy work-watch-spend treadmilland we could just stop. so in the end, what happensto all the stuff we buy anyway? at this rate of consumption,it canâ€™t fit into our houses even though the averagehouse size has doubled in this country since the 1970s.it all goes out in the garbage. and that brings us to disposal.this is the part of the materials economy we all know the most because we have to haulthe junk out to the curb ourselves.
each of us in the united statesmakes 4 1/2 pounds of garbage a day. that is twice what we eachmade thirty years ago. all of this garbage either gets dumped in alandfill, which is just a big hole in the ground, or if youâ€™re really unlucky, first itâ€™s burned inan incinerator and then dumped in a landfill. either way, both pollute the air, land, waterand, donâ€™t forget, change the climate. incineration is really bad. remember those toxicsback in the production stage? well burning the garbage releasesthe toxics up into the air. even worse, it makes new super toxics.like dioxin.
dioxin is the most toxic man madesubstance known to science. and incinerators are the number onesource of dioxin. that means that we could stop the number onesource of the most toxic man-made substance known just by stopping burning the trash.we could stop it today. now some companies donâ€™t want to dealwith building landfills and incinerators here, so they just export the disposal too.what about recycling? does recycling help? yes, recycling helps.reduces the garbage at this end and it reduces the pressure to mineand harvest new stuff at this end. yes, yes, yes, we should all recycle.but recycling is not enough.
recycling will never be enough.for a couple of reasons. first, the waste coming out of our housesis just the tip of the iceberg. for every one garbage can of wasteyou put out on the curb, 70 garbage cans of wastewere made upstream just to make the junk in that one garbage canyou put out on the curb. so even if we could recycle 100 percent of thewaste coming out of our households, it doesnâ€™t get to the core of the problems.also much of the garbage canâ€™t be recycled, either because it contains too many toxics, or itis designed not to be recyclable in the firs place like those juice packs with layersof metal and paper and plastic
all smooshed together.you can never separate those for true recycling. so you see, it is a system in crisis.all along the way, we are bumping up limits. from changing climate to declining happiness,itâ€™s just not working. but the good thing about suchan all pervasive problem is that there are so many pointsof intervention. there are people working here on saving forestsand here on clean production. people working on labor rights and fair trade and conscious consuming and blockinglandfills and incinerators and, very importantly,on taking back our government
so it is really is by the peopleand for the people. all this work is critically importantbut things are really gonna start moving when we see the connections,when we see the big picture. when people along this system get united,we can reclaim and transform this linear system into something new, a system that doesnâ€™twaste resources or people. because what we really need to chuckis this old-school throw-away mindset. thereâ€™s a new school of thinking on this stuffand itâ€™s based on sustainability and equity: green chemistry, zero waste,closed loop production, renewable energy,local living economies.
itâ€™s already happening. now some sayitâ€™s unrealistic, idealistic, that it canâ€™t happen but i say the ones who are unrealistic are thosethat want to continue on the old path. thatâ€™s dreaming. remember that old way didnâ€™t just happen.itâ€™s not like gravity that we just gotta live with people created it. and weâ€™re people too.so letâ€™s create something new. subtitles by the amara.org community