SOS is a long used and recognised distress call in Morse code which consists of “… — …” (3 dots, 3 dashes, 3 dots) and is used in a serious crisis situation that needs immediate attention. The SOS that I’m going to write about today is also a distress call but it is meant for entire population of this planet. The Story of Stuff (or SOS) is a web-based documentary about the life-cycle of goods and services. The documentary, released online on 4 December 2007, is narrated by Annie Leonard who is an activist who has spent the past 10 years travelling the globe tracking down the path that consumer goods take from their cradle to grave.
As described on the SOS website,
“From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It’ll teach you something, it’ll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.”
Well, it certainly taught me a few things and also made me glad about a few things I do, knowing that they matter to the planet.
Even though SOS is mainly focused on the materialist and consumerist lifestyle in the US, rest of the world definitely has a lot to learn from it. Especially given that majority of the nations want to follow in US’s footsteps and want to live like Americans! The best thing about the documentary is that Annie explains everything is layman terms. Someone like me, not very knowledgeable in world economy, commerce, consumerism etc., can easily understand the crux of the matter. The explanation is also well-supported by animated illustrations. The documentary very easily achieves the difficult goal of explaining the “story of stuff” to its audience successfully in 20 minutes. That’s very commendable! It explains the “fine print” of the extraction – production – distribution – consumption – disposal cycle that has become the story of our life….. without us even knowing it. The story describes how we’ve used up 1/3rd of Earth’s natural resources in past decade, how erosion of these ecosystems pushes the natives towards cities for livelihood, how they (and all of us) get exposed to the synthetic, toxic chemicals used in production, how the distributors afford to sell us goods real cheap by “externalising the costs”, how the goods are designed for obsolescence to keep the “golden arrow of consumption” afloat and eventually, how 99% of goods end up in landfills or as super-toxins in air within 6 months of purchase! Yes, SOS holds a lot of shocking revelations for you and me.
There is a lot more I could go on writing about the documentary and about what I learnt from it, what it made me think etc. But I will leave you with a few key points.
It turns out that breast milk, ideally the first “meal” of a newborn, is the most toxic one a human can ever get. Because it is loaded with all toxins the mother has inhaled, ingested and absorbed in her body in her lifetime. So the most basic right of the youngest members of our race has become a threat to its life! But as a species, we have an escape route. Cleverly, human mothers can switch to formula milk. What about the babies of other mammals on this planet whose parents didn’t even make and release all these toxins in the environment? Why should they pay the price for the actions of some really “intelligent” but equally ignorant species they co-habit the planet with?
I loved the bit where Annie talks about a $4.95 radio from Radioshack and how she thought how can it be so cheap? “I didn’t pay the full price of the radio. The kids from Congo paid it with their future!”
Some things have become so much a way of life for us that when the con is clarified, it is utterly shocking. SOS describes how the goods are “designed for dumps” to keep us buying new things. The stuff becomes obsolete in two ways; planned obsolescence (PC chips are designed in different shape each year so when earlier becomes obsolete, you have to throw out entire CPU and buy a new one. You can’t just buy the chip because it will not fit in the old CPU/motherboard.) and perceived obsolescence (Why do women’s shoes go from thin heel to thick heel to thin heel again and again? So every fashion “season” you have to buy a new one to fit in!)
Well yeah, there are a lot more “enlightening” things about SOS so I’d suggest you go and watch it for yourself. 20 minutes is worth giving for the future of your children and grandchildren. Also, the website has lot of information and resources for those interested in “clicking around and joining in”, as Annie says.
Update: New York Times ran a front page story about SoS on 10th May, 2009 about the ways the film is supplementing and expanding sustainability education!!!