Do you have one of these? I got a little obsessed with mine, in fact I got a
little obsessed with all my stuff. Have you ever wondered where all the stuff we
buy comes from and where it goes when we throw it out.? I couldn’t stop
wondering about that. So I looked it up. And what the text books said is that
our stuff simply moves along these stages: extraction to production to
distribution to consump tion to disposal. All together, it’s called the
Well, I looked into it a little bit more. In fact, I spent 10 years traveling
the world tracking where our stuff comes from and where it goes. And you know
what I found out? That is not the whole story. There’s a lot missing from this
For one thing, this system looks like it’s fine. No problem. But the truth is
it’s a system in crisis. And the reason it is in crisis is that it is a linear
system and we live on a finite planet and you can not run a linear system on a
finite planet indefinitely.
Every step along the way, this system is interacting with the real world. In
real life it’s not happening on a blank white page. It’s interacting with
societies, cultures, economies, the environment. And all along the way, it’s
bumping up against limits. Limits we don’t see here because the diagram is
incomplete. So let’s go back through, let’s fill in some of the blanks and see
Well, one of the most important things that is missing is people. Yes, people.
People live and work all along this system. And some people in this system
matter a little more than others; some have a little more say. Who are they?
Well, let’s start with the government. Now my friends tell me I should use a
tank to symbolize the government and that’s true in many countries and
increasingly in our own, afterall more than 50% of our federal tax money is now
going to the military, but I’m using a person to symbolize the government
because I hold true to the vision and values that governments should be of the
people, by the people, for the people.
It’s the government’s job is to watch out for us, to take care of us. That’s
Then along came the corporation. Now, the reason the corporation looks bigger
than the government is that the corporation is bigger than the government. Of
the 100 largest economies on earth now, 51 are corporations. As the corporations
have grown in size and power, we’ve seen a little change in the government where
they’re a little more concerned in making sure everything is working out for
those guys than for us.
OK, so let’s see what else is missing from this picture
We’ll start with extraction which is a fancy word for natural resource
exploitation which is a fancy word for trashing the planet. What this looks like
is we chop down trees, we blow up mountains to get the metals inside, we use up
all the water and we wipe out the animals.
So here we are running up against our first limit. We’re running out of
We are using too much stuff. Now I know this can be hard to hear, but it’s the
truth and we’ve gotta deal with it. In the past three decades alone, one-third
of the planet’s natural resources base have been consumed. Gone.
We are cutting and mining and hauling and trashing the place so fast that we’re
undermining the planet’s very ability for people to live here.
Where I live, in the United States, we have less than 4% of our original forests
left. Forty percent of waterways have become undrinkable.
And our problem is not just that we’re using too much stuff, but we’re using
more than our share.
We [The U.S.] has 5% of the world’s population but we’re consuming 30% of the
world’s resources13 and creating 30% of the world’s waste.
If everybody consumed at U.S. rates, we would need 3 to 5 planets. And you know
what? We’ve only got one.
So, my country’s response to this limitation is simply to go take someone
else’s! This is the Third World, which — some would say — is another word for
our stuff that somehow got on someone else’s land. So what does that look like?
The same thing: trashing the place.
• 75% of global fisheries now are fished at or beyond capacity.
• 80% of the planet’s original forests are gone.
• In the Amazon alone, we’re losing 2000 trees a minute. That is seven football
fields a minute.
And what about the people who live here? Well. According to these guys, they
don’t own these resources even if they’ve been living there for generations,
they don’t own the means of production and they’re not buying a lot of stuff.
And in this system, if you don’t own or buy a lot of stuff, you don’t have
So, next, the materials move to “production“ and what happens there is we use
energy to mix toxic chemicals in with the natural resources to make toxic
There are over 100,000 synthetic chemicals in commerce today. Only a handful of
these have even been tested for human health impacts and NONE of them have been
tested for synergistic health impacts, that means when they interact with all
the other chemicals we’re exposed to every day.
So, we don’t know the full impact of these toxics on our health and environment
of all these toxic chemicals. But we do know one thing: Toxics in, Toxics Out.
As long as we keep putting toxics into our production system, we are going to
keep getting toxics in the stuff that we bring into our homes, our workplaces,
and schools. And, duh, our bodies.
Like BFRs, brominated flame retardants. They are a chemical that make things
more fireproof but they are super toxic. They’re a neurotoxin — that means toxic
to the brain. What are we even doing using a chemical like this?
Yet we put them in our computers, our appliances, couches, mattresses, even some
pillows. In fact, we take our pillows, we douse them in a neurotoxin and then we
bring them home and put our heads on them for 8 hours a night to sleep. Now, I
don’t know, but it seems to me that in this country with so much potential, we
could think of a better way to stop our heads from catching on fire at night.
These toxics build up in the food chain and concentrate in our bodies.
Do you know what is the food at the top of the food chain with the highest
levels of many toxic con taminants? Human breast milk.
That means that we have reached a point where the smallest members of our
societies — our babies — are getting their highest lifetime dose of toxic
chemicals from breastfeeding from their mothers. Is that not an incredible
violation? Breastfeeding must be the most fundamental human act of nurturing; it
should be sacred and safe. Now breastfeeding is still best and mothers should
definitely keep breast feeding, but we should protect it. They [government]
should protect it. I thought they were looking out for us.
And of course, the people who bear the biggest brunt of these toxic chemicals
are the factory workers, many of whom are women of reproductive age.