Interview with Annie Leonard: "The Story of Stuff"
Annie's name might sound familiar to those in the environment circle, and even those not in it. Annie was the writer and star of the viral video "The Story of Stuff", focusing on on the effects of human consumption - the video since its creation has reached over 10 million hits worldwide. In the 20-minute video Annie, an activist who spent the past 10 years traveling the globe fighting environmental threats, takes viewers on an eye-opening tour on the real costs of our consumer driven culture. Since the creation of the video, Annie has been named Time's Hero of the Environment of 2008 and was the feature of a front page story in the New York Times.
The book is a follow up and takes the basic concepts of the video and greatly expands it with detailed information on every stage of the consumer process, from extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal, revealing the poor, unsustainable state that our lives have taken in the past couple of decades.
Here are the highlights of my phone conversation with Annie this morning talking about her new book, and her hopes for escaping this consumer culture:
The “Story of Stuff” was video was highly successful – why then the need to write a book?
(Since the video came out) we had gotten 80,000 emails asking for more information and we were thrilled and shocked that so many cared. Trying to answer all those questions, getting thousands of emails a week was exhausting. I also realized this was going to keep happening, it was not a short-term interest.
There is only so much that can go into a little cartoon. As well, a lot of people don’t have access to high-speed internet. In most of the world, and even in huge amounts in North America, people don’t have access to high speed internet to view the video. The kind of change we need is going to require being inclusive and reaching beyond those who can access the internet. A book was a broader, deeper platform that provided more information.
How can our generation, a group that has spent their lives growing up in artificially developed environments, eating artificially developed food, and are disconnected physically and emotionally from nature, develop an instinct love and respect for nature like you have?
It’s hard because my daughter loves the laptop and is constantly plugged in, and you really need to drag them outside. It is incredibly important to be with nature, to really go out into the woods and to do activities like camping. We can’t do as much now-a-days, but it’s important to give (young people) that experience. My time spent in the woods, camping in the summer, overnight trips, those times developed a deep sense of humility within myself.
How do you respond to the naysayers that defend their right to consume, to waste, as they perceive cutting back as essentially hindering their quality of life?
I decide whether they are in the “reachable camp” or “unreachable camp”, whether they are indoctrinated into consumer culture. I tell them to turn the TV a little off, to re-engage in their community. If we can get people to try that, I hope that they find it so delicious, so rewarding, that people want to switch over. For the unreachables, they clearly won’t. We can not get hung up trying to convince the minority. If you look at the data, the vast majority of people are sympathetic about the environment, and want to live in a sustainable, safe, clean planet.
What are your own personal hopes for the future? Can humanity really stop this incessant consumerism and wasteful lifestyle?
I think a growing number of people are fed-up with the Work-Watch-Spend treadmill, and told what to buy and increasingly realizing that its just not that fun. Increasingly people are waking up everywhere I go, all over the country and world, with businesses figuring out how to eliminate toxic chemicals, build their local community more. Everywhere you go, schools are doing more environmental education. But for a lot of people, it just might have to get worse before they realize and wake up.
Can the concepts of your book be introduced to children or is it too complex for them?
When I was making the video, I was not making it for kids. I was thinking, this film isn’t going to be shown in schools. But I literally have gotten feedback from elementary school kids to post-graduate students in economics. The breadth of reach is phenomenal. The book, like the film, contains serious scientific and technical information, fun stories, and tries to be as inclusive as possible. There are a lot of great environmental books out there, a lot of them technical and intellectual with serious language, and sometimes they can serve to intimidate or exclude a lot of people from the conversation. So I hope that with this book it makes a lot of this information more accessible and easier to share.
To learn more about the Story of Stuff Project and to view Annie's other videos on "The Story of Cap and Trade", click here.
To watch the original video, here is the link on YouTube.