The Science of Sustainability

Science Event Pick – The Value of Stuff

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StuffAre you a hoarder?
My wife loves, LOVES a new set of shows on cable featuring people obsessed with collecting Stuff. There are innumerable versions of the same concept: a person shockingly collecting items until their home and life are simply overrun: Hoarders, Obsessed, Clean House, American Pickers…the list goes on and on. It's both horrifying and yet I can't help watching.

As I stared into our closet packed to the gills with "stuff", I started to wonder where all of it comes from. Like most of my thoughts, this was by no means original. Annie Leonard spent the better part of 10 years wondering about the same issue, researching the trail of stuff in the materials economy for her wildly popular movie: The Story of Stuff. The video tracks the linear consumer system dominating the American landscape, exposing an unsustainable culture of consumption and disposal (well maybe not for the people referenced above). By no means does Annie attempt to hide her viewpoint in this effort; the ex-Greenpeace activist is brutally honest and unflinchingly anti-corporation. Annie's video has touched a nerve amongst many: 10 million views and counting and it has even been transformed into lesson plans for schools.

Taking this idea a step farther, Raj Patel proposes our market system hides the true cost of an item by not including associated costs. The $5 Big Mac meal does not include the long term potential obesity affects or the environmental cost of meat production. His thesis runs back to an old Oscar Wilde quote: "Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing." Raj emphasizes that as a community, we have lost sight on what truly represents value to us. In San Francisco, groups are trying to reverse that trend with the recent success of conversion of an abandoned lot into the community Hayes Valley Farm (instead of condos) being heralded as the prime example. It is examples like this that must give Raj a glimmer of hope…reflected in the significant humor he brings to the topic, which may be a greater feat than the thesis itself.

Love them or hate them (and there are plenty on either side), Annie and Raj will certainly stir the pot.

Annie Leonard in conversation with Raj Patel
When: Thursday, June 17 7-9PM
Where: Richard & Rhoda Goldman Theater at the David Brower Center, Berkeley
Cost: $10-20 Suggested Donation, Reservations
Details: Annie Leonard refreshed the national discussion about the dangers of our consumer-driven society when her smart and funny film, The Story of Stuff, became an Internet phenomenon. With his bestselling book, The Value of Nothing, Raj Patel showed how we’ve let economics take over our lives. Each author has offered a powerful warning of what we lose when consumption eclipses community. When they meet in conversation, the result promises to be a lively and provocative dialogue. Book-signing to follow. Event is sponsored by the Earth Island Institute.

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Category: Environment, Events

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Kishore Hari

About the Author ()

Kishore Hari is the founder Down to a Science, a science cafe based in San Francisco. He is most passionate about making science discussion fun and accessible for adults, the kind of discussion that leads to positive change in the world. Professionally, he is a water treatment consultant in San Francisco. Originally from Buffalo, NY, Kishore came to the Bay Area to get a chemistry degree from UC Berkeley. He now specializes in residential water treatment, working with companies such as PUR, Brita, and Camelbak.
  • Stephanie Williams

    WPSU-TV recently did an interview with Annie Leonard that I think you may be interested in. In the interview she talks about her experiences in producing the Story of Stuff and also talks about the environmental, economical, and social effects of the materials economy. The video can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BDwN39YMgY