Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff is extremely timely as a trenchant critique of consumerism.

Western (indeed increasingly world) civilisation is at a critical juncture. Either we go for guided capitalism - capitalism which will be profitable in meeting the needs of society - or we continue with unguided capitalism which has fed the age of waste in which we have been living since the recovery from World war II in the 50s and 60s.

Humanity now faces existential threats - climate change, nuclear wmd proliferation, overpopulation, threats of epidemics, exhaustion of resources from oil to water - etc. etc. Quite apart from the imperative to meet these immense challenges by cooperation rather than eternal war for ever diminishing space and resources, it is indisputable that the developing countries cannot achieve anything even near the US and European standards of living in the present age of waste.

Annie Leonard's figures show dramaticaly how our wealth has been spent on waste, frittered on baubles and inessentials, instead of spent on such things as education (including of women being vital for population control), health, alternative energy, water supply, etc. etc.       

The era of waste will have to end one day and resources redirected - but will we wake up in time - or will those existential threats have become irreversible before we do?

We must answer the question - is life really just all about unlimited consumption (percentage "growth" of our economies)or are there other imperatives for survival, other values than material? As Wordsworth famously remarked - "getting and spending we lay waste our powers".  Not only in a spiritual sense, but our powers to survive as a species.  

Our politicians worldwide are a large part of the problem for they do not and maybe cannot concentrate on the whole picture of our predicament - they are too busy worrying about the next election and how to pay for it - or they are fearful that their dictatorship will meet a stronger force than they.

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