Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Story of Stuff

In a few weeks Annie Leonard's book the story of stuff will be on bookshelves and downloaded to e-book readers all over the planet.  Following her wildly popular web movie it is sure to delve into our supply lines and paint a complete picture of consumerism.  Walking us through working conditions in copper mines to the forging of the iPod cover to the online purchase and ultimate disposal of the obsolescent product be it planned or perceived

With the lessons of this work looming I am preparing myself to deal with the complete lifestyle change realization of resource destruction (both natural and human) requires.  Last week an economist from New York's New School named Duncan Foley gave a talk at Colorado State University. He is, beyond an economist, a historian of economic philosophy specifically aware of the entire life's works of both Adam Smith and Karl Marx. Foley's position is that there are unresolved moral consequences continuing to plague the free market system.  As I learned in high school economics class the United States is considered a mixed market economy where certain sectors are regulated and others are not.  The shifting political power usually dictates how much or how little regulation we have at any given point in history.  It happens that in the United States we currently have a gridlocked political system stuck in the eddy of deregulation brought on, not only by George W. Bush but also the corporatist democrats of the Clinton era.  The massive deregulation and relinquished reigns of energy markets have created a bubble of oil so large that the dot com and housing bubbles look like tiny specs in comparison.

This topic of the oil bubble is where the ideas of Foley and Leonard overlap and is quite literally the source of the dilemma.  When corporations calculate the cost of each piece of their product the equation has a tragic flaw... The complete misrepresentation of the true cost of fossil fuel and therefore product transport.  A company operating with the infinite "cheap fuel fallacy"  will simply not endure.  Small electronics like cell phones are a great example.  Of course the manufacturer will have a half assembled phone shipped halfway round the globe if they can get a certain component added at lower cost than shipping.  Therefore all complex industrial products move through a globalized matrix floating atop a huge bubble of oil that will slowly deflate until the equations don't make sense anymore. 

So what do we do?

Though it is not my place to tell anyone how to behave or what they should do, I have the right to put out examples of what can be done so at least people become aware of alternatives. 
In my opinion the meta-analysis of personalized sustainability auditing should proceed with the following list...


- prioritized in that order.

It really is not rocket science.  The first thing to do is take small steps to create a grassroots infrastructure to allow for what is hailed as the "liberation of food."  In this field there are real American leaders taking charge.  Michael Pollan brought some of these folks to our attention in the Omnivore's Dilemma.  Joel Salitin of Polyface farms in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia is one of many food revolutionarys.  He just happens to be coming to Fort Collins in March.  But before we get into all the philosophies of potential food liberators we as individuals need to take it upon ourselves to set up our lives in a way  such that the green revolution can be realized.  How do we do this?  Help build sustainable supply lines from farm field to stomach.  In our individual homes the kitchen is the nervous system of this brave new world.  Mason jars are part of American history and culture for a reason.  Jars and the preservation of food have indeed helped us get through some of the toughest times in our economic history. Victory gardens indeed sustained our nation and an iteration, be they large community supported agriculture projects or other forms of co-operatives need to become our lifeblood.  To do this our kitchens and bodies need to be ready to receive the bounty of liberated food. Most commercial food packaging is made from oil-derived products. These are not necessary and may be environmentally damaging. Look at the BPA facts for crying out loud. These stores where no packaging is used and customers bring their own containers need to become an American tradition!

I will save housing and transportation for a future post while urging all readers to consider how to alter their personal food infrastructure first!


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