Environmental activist Leonard debuts with a critical examination of the effects of human consumption on the global environment.
Elaborating on the message of her widely viewed Internet video of the same title, the author argues that the consumer society’s pursuit of growth for growth’s sake is testing the limits of Earth’s carrying capacity. To create often needless manufactured goods (stuff), we extract, use and dispose of natural resources in ways that harm people, workers and communities. Drawing on research and her own observations during travels in Asia and Africa for Greenpeace and other environmental groups, Leonard describes the startling scale of our stuff and the often little-recognized impacts of the “take-make-waste” economic model on the quality of people’s lives. Mining the gold for an average gold wedding ring creates about 20 tons of hazardous waste, which is often dumped in rivers. U.S. book manufacturers use 300 million trees yearly. Some 400 million toxic electronic products are discarded each year in the United States; they often wind up in developing nations. Devoting a chapter to each stage of the life of stuff—extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal—Leonard blends facts, expert testimony and anecdotes from visits to factories, landfills and e-waste recycling facilities to create a vivid account of how waste is connected to disparate aspects of our lives. The author urges four major societal changes: redefining progress to value things that promote well-being; ending warfare, which drains money needed for change; adding the externalized costs (disease, environmental impacts, etc.) of stuff to the price of products; and reducing working hours to provide more time with friends and family and cut overconsumption. Leonard offers a utopian vision of an ecologically compatible U.S. economy by 2030, with no personal cars or polluting industries, less obesity and depression, and citizens having more influence than corporations.
An earnest, reasoned contribution to the national conversation on sustainability.