We've committed ourselves to reducing our consumption for different reasons: Ramadhan highlighted the search for increased spirituality and improved quality of life. More recently, we've discussed the environmental consequences of the production and destruction of the materials, many of which are toxic. Annie Leonard's video, The Story of Stuff, ties all of the globalization processes together and explores the unseen exploitation that makes all the mass consumption possible. Her main premise is that corporations have crated vast empires of cheap production and rapid consumption by externalizing the true and full costs of their production and services. Overall, the video is an excellent reflection on not only our consumer behavior, but also every single entity (corporation, policies, etc) that is putting all its might into encouraging us to buy, buy, BUY!
It’s not all bad, though. I think one of our fundamental jobs is to re-evaluate, re-define, and re-articulate our goals and lifestyles. After all, if we take a second look, there are several alternative markets that don’t exist to be “green”, they just exist because that’s how people get by. My own mother, for instance, grew up with a mother that sewed for the whole neighborhood (local, fair labor, anyone?) and relatives that owned farms. She spent summers shucking corn and pickling peppers and jamming fruit, and browsing through yard sales, flee markets and antique road shows. Now this was all in Tennessee (represent!), in a community of middle class (and conservative, mind you) families. Wherever we look, we’ll find networks of alternative goods and services, from the black market to Craig’s List.
Things were a little different for me and my brother. For one thing, we were living in the crowded and polluted (although beloved) city of Tehran. Growing up on a budget in the bustling capital of Iran, we had less, or almost no access to the local farms. And yard sales don’t exactly serve a necessary function in Iran. As far as I know, no one has an excess of material wealth that could be displayed on some lawn during a sunny Saturday morning. As a kid, I considered the fate of all the trash people were so comfortable to toss in the streets; the shiny candy wrappers and old plastic bags floating in the wind. I was totally unaware of the social and environmental costs of that “American” (and thus, I thought, HIGH QUALITY) T-shirt, which coincidentally was made in China anyway. The bazaars and street shops of Tehran are a different story than the malls, Target and Best Buy stores of the US, which brings me back to The Story of Stuff. As citizens, individuals, teachers, policy makers, company leaders, students, and families, we can do a lot to change our perception of what we need in our lives. But the video explores interactions on a global scale, and there’s a lot more to be done than only buy non-sweatshop clothing, and fair-trade chocolate (not that either of those methods aren't important and a good start). I’ll leave that discussion for another time though…