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  • Do you have one of these?

  • I got a little obsessed with mine.

  • In fact I got a little obsessed with all my stuff.

  • Have you ever wondered where all the stuff we buy, comes from

  • and where it goes when 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 production to 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 comes from and where it goes.

  • And you know what I found out? That is not the whole story.

  • There's a lot missing from this explanation.

  • For one thing, this system looks like it's fine. No problem.

  • But the truth is it’s a system in crisis.

  • And the reason it is in crisis is that it is a linear system

  • and we live on a finite planet

  • and you can not run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely.

  • Every step along the way, this system is interacting with the real world.

  • In real life it’s not happening on a blank white page.

  • It’s interacting with societies, cultures, economies, the environment.

  • And all along the way, it’s bumping up against limits.

  • Limits we don't see here because the diagram is incomplete.

  • So lets go back through, let's fill in some of the blanks and see what's missing.

  • Well, one of the most important things its missing is people, yes people.

  • People live and work all along this system.

  • And some people in this system matter a little more than others;

  • Some have a little more say. Who are they?

  • Well, let’s start with the government.

  • Now my friends tell me I should use a tank to symbolize the government

  • and that’s true in many countries and increasingly in our own,

  • after all more than 50% of our federal tax money is now going to the military,

  • but I’m using a person to symbolize the government

  • because I hold true to the vision and values that 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. That’s their job.

  • Then along came the corporation.

  • Now, the reason the corporation looks bigger than the government

  • is that the corporation is bigger than the government.

  • Of the 100 largest economies on earth now, 51 are corporations.

  • As the corporations have grown in size and power, weve seen a little change in the government

  • where theyre a little more concerned in making sure

  • everything is working out for those guys than for us.

  • OK, so lets see what else is missing from this picture.

  • We'll start with extraction.

  • which is a fancy word for natural resource exploitation

  • which is a fancy word for 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 water and we wipe out the animals.

  • So here we are running up against 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 weve gotta deal with it.

  • In the past three decades alone,

  • one-third of the planet’s natural resources base have been consumed. Gone.

  • We are cutting and mining and hauling and trashing the place so fast

  • that were undermining the planet’s very 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 waterways have become undrinkable.

  • And our problem is not just that were using too much stuff,

  • but were using more than our share. We have 5% of the world’s population

  • but were consuming 30% of the world’s resources and creating 30% of the world’s waste.

  • If everybody consumed at U.S. rates, we would need 3 to 5 planets.

  • And you know what? Weve only got one.

  • So, my country’s response to this limitation is simply to go take somebody else’s!

  • This is the Third World, whichsome would say

  • is another word for our stuff that somehow got on someone else’s land.

  • So what does that look like? The same thing: trashing the place.

  • 75% of global fisheries now are fished at or beyond capacity.

  • 80% of the planet’s original forests are gone.

  • In the Amazon alone, were 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 don’t own these resources

  • even if theyve been living there for generations, they don’t own the means of production

  • and theyre not buying a lot of stuff. And in this system,

  • if you don’t own or buy a lot of stuff, you don’t have value.

  • So, next, the materials move toproductionand what happens there is we use energy

  • to mix toxic chemicals in with the natural resources to make toxic contaminated products.

  • There are over 100,000 synthetic chemicals in use in commerce today.

  • Only a handful of them have even been tested for health impacts

  • and NONE have been tested for synergistic health impacts,

  • that means when they interact with all the other chemicals were exposed to every day.

  • So, we don’t know the full impact on health and the environment of all these toxic chemicals.

  • But we do know one thing: Toxics in, Toxics Out.

  • As long as we keep putting toxics into our inudstrial production systems,

  • we are going to keep getting toxics in 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 things more fireproof but they are super toxic.

  • Theyre a neurotoxinthat means toxic to the brain What 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 heads on them for 8 hours a night to sleep.

  • Now, I don’t know, but it seems to me that in this country with so much potential,

  • we could think of a better way to stop our heads from catching on fire at night.

  • Now these toxics build up in the food chain and concentrate in our bodies.

  • Do you know what is the food at 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 the smallest members of our societies - our babies

  • are getting their highest lifetime dose of toxic chemicals from breastfeeding from their mothers.

  • Is that not an incredible violation?

  • Breastfeeding must be the most fundamental human 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 biggest of these toxic chemicals

  • are the factory workers, many of whom are women of reproductive age.

  • Theyre working with reproductive toxics, carcinogens and more.

  • Now, I ask you, what kind of woman of reproductive age

  • would work in a job exposed to reproductive toxics,

  • except for a woman with no other option? And that is one of thebeautiesof this system?

  • The erosion of local environments and economies here

  • ensures a constant supply of people with no other option.

  • Globally 200,000 people a day are moving from environments

  • that have sustained them for generations,

  • into cities, many to live in slums, looking for work, no matter how toxic that work may be.

  • So, you see, it is not just resources that are wasted along this system,

  • but people too. Whole communities get wasted.

  • Yup, toxics in, toxics out.

  • A lot of the toxics leave the factories in products,

  • but even more leave as by-products, or pollution. And it’s a lot of pollution.

  • In the U.S., our industry admits to releasing over 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals a year

  • and it’s probably way more since that is only what they admit.

  • So that’s another limit, because, yuck,

  • who wants to look at and smell 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals a year? So, what do they do?

  • Move the dirty factories overseas Pollute someone else’s land!

  • But surprise, a lot of that air pollution is coming right back at us, carried by wind currents.

  • So, what happens after all these resources are turned into products?

  • Well, it moves here, for distribution.

  • Now distribution meansselling all this toxic-contaminated junk as quickly as possible.”

  • The goal here is to keep the prices down, keep the people buying, and keep the inventory moving.

  • How do they keep the prices down? Well, they don’t pay the store workers very much

  • and they skimp on health insurance every time they can. It’s all about externalizing the costs.

  • What that means is the real costs of making stuff aren’t captured in the price.

  • In other words, we aren’t paying for the stuff we buy.

  • I was thinking about this the other day.

  • I was walking and I wanted to listen to the news

  • so I popped into a Radio Shack to buy a radio.

  • I found this cute little green radio for 4 dollars and 99 cents.

  • I was standing there in line to buy this thing and I was thinking

  • how could $4.99 possibly capture 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 assembled by some 15 year old in a maquiladora in Mexico.

  • $4.99 wouldn’t even pay the rent for the shelf space it occupied until I came along,

  • let alone part of the staff guy’s salary who helped me pick it out,

  • or the multiple ocean cruises and truck rides pieces of this radio went on.

  • That’s how I realized, I didn’t pay for the radio. So, who did pay?

  • Well. These people paid with the loss of their natural resource base.

  • These people paid with the loss of their clean air with increasing asthma and cancer rates.

  • Kids in the Congo paid with their future – 30% of the kids in parts of the Congo

  • now have had to drop out of school to mine coltan,

  • a metal we need for our cheap and disposable electronics.

  • These people even paid, by having to cover their own health insurance.

  • All along this system, people pitched in so I could get this radio for $4.99.

  • And none of these contributions are recorded in any accounts book.

  • That is what I mean by the company owners externalize the true costs of production.

  • And that brings us to the golden arrow of consumption.

  • This is the heart of the system, the engine that drives it.

  • It is so important that protecting this arrow has become 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 suggested any 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 primary identity has become that of being consumers,

  • not mothers, teachers, farmers, but consumers.

  • The primary way that our value is 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 materials flowing, And flow they do!

  • Guess what percentage of total materials flow through 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 – 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 wasn’t always like this.

  • The average U.S. person now consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago.

  • Ask your grandma. In her day, stewardship and resourcefulness and thrift were valued.

  • So, how did this happen? Well, it didn’t just happen. It was designed.

  • Shortly after the World War 2, these guys were figuring out how to ramp up the economy.

  • Retailing analyst Victor Lebow articulated the solution

  • that has become the norm for the whole system.

  • He said: "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.”

  • President Eisenhower's Council of Economic Advisors Chairman said

  • that "The American economy's ultimate purpose is 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 board this program so enthusiastically?

  • Well, two of their most effective strategies are planned obsolescence and perceived obsolescence.

  • Planned obsolescence is another word fordesigned for the dump.”

  • It means they actually make stuff to be useless as quickly as possible

  • so we will chuck it and buy a new one.

  • It’s obvious with things like plastic bags and coffee cups, but now it’s even big stuff:

  • mops, DVDs, cameras, barbeques even, everything! Even computers.

  • Have you noticed that when you buy a computer now,

  • the technology is changing so fast that in just a couple years,

  • it’s actually an impediment to communication? I was curious about this

  • so I opened up a big desktop computer to see what was inside. And I found out

  • that the piece that changes each year is just a tiny little piece in the corner.

  • But you can’t just change that one piece, because each new version is a different shape,

  • so you gotta chuck the whole thing and buy a new one.

  • So, I was reading industrial design journals from the 1950s when planned obsolescence

  • was really catching on. These designers are so open about it.

  • They actually discuss how fast can they make stuff break

  • that still leaves the consumer having enough faith in the product

  • to go out and buy anther one. It was so intentional.

  • But stuff cannot break fast enough to keep this arrow afloat,

  • so there’s alsoperceived obsolescence.”

  • Now perceived obsolescence convinces us to throw 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 stuff a couple years ago,

  • everyone can tell that you haven’t contributed to this arrow recently

  • and since the way we demonstrate our value is contributing to this arrow, it can be embarrassing

  • Like I’ve have had the same fat white 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 in space 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 women’s shoe heels

  • go from fat one year to skinny the next to fat to skinny? It is not because there is some debate

  • about which heel structure is the most healthy for women’s feet. It’s because wearing fat heels

  • in a skinny heel year shows everybody that you haven’t contributed to that arrow recently

  • so youre not as valuable as that person in skinny heels next to you,

  • or, more likely, in some ad. It’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 targeted with over 3,000 advertisements a day.

  • We each