In order to make all the Stuff in our lives, we first need to get the ingredients. Now, some of these don’t occur naturally—the man-made synthetic compounds—and we’ll cover them too. However, many ingredients for our Stuff exist inside the earth or on its surface. They only need to be harvested or extracted... Only!
Once we start examining them, we soon find that each key ingredient requires a lot of other ingredients just to get it out of the earth, processed, and ready for use. In the case of paper, for example, we don’t just need trees. We need metals to make the chainsaws and logging machines; trucks, trains, and even ships to cart the logs to processing plants; and oil to run all those machines and the plants themselves. We need water (a lot of it) for making the paper pulp. We usually need a chemical like bleach (no!) or hydrogen peroxide (better) to get a desirably light shade of paper. All in all, making one ton of paper requires the use of 98 tons of various other resources.1 And believe me when I say that’s a pretty simple example. That’s why we have to look at the whole materials economy, and often a map of the world, to get a clear picture of the ingredients that go into any one product on store shelves these days.
There are lots of ways to think about the various resources that come from the earth. For simplicity’s sake I’ll use just three categories: trees, rocks, and water.
As I said in the introduction, having grown up in Seattle, a green city in an even greener state, I love trees. Half of the land area in Washington State is covered in forests,2 and I visited them every chance I had. Over the course of my childhood I watched in dismay as more and more forests gave way to roads and malls and houses.
As I grew older, I learned that there are more than sentimental reasons to worry about the fate of our trees. Trees create oxygen, which—may I remind us—we need to breathe. That alone would seem sufficient motivation for us to keep them intact. As the lungs of the planet, forests work around the clock to remove carbon dioxide from the air (a process called carbon sequestration) and give us oxygen in return. These days scientists concerned about climate change research all sorts of elaborate, expensive, man-made schemes to sequester carbon from the atmosphere in hopes of moderating climate change. Seems like a waste if you ask me. We already have a natural system that not only sequesters carbon but also provides the exact kind of air we need to breathe: our trees. And their services are free! It doesn’t get much better than that.
And there’s more—forests provide other vital services. They collect and filter our fresh water, maintaining the planet’s overall hydrologic cycle and moderating floods and droughts. They maintain soil health by keeping the nutrient-rich topsoil in place. What are we thinking, destroying these obvious allies?
To name just one more reason that it’s a terrible idea to cut down forests: one-quarter of all our prescription drugs are derived from forests—rainforests in particular.3 Curare, an anesthetic and muscle relaxant used in surgery4; ipecac, for treating dysentery5; and quinine, for malaria6 are just a few examples. Not long ago, western chemists were turned on to a plant native to the tropical forests of Madagascar, the rosy periwinkle, after learning that the island’s healers used it to treat diabetes. It turns out the pink-flowering plant has anticancer properties, and is now used to make the medicines vincristine and vinblastine. The former is used to treat Hodgkin’s disease, and the latter has proven to be a total wonder drug for those suffering from childhood leukemia, who now have a 95 percent chance of survival, up from their previous slim 10 percent chance before the plant was discovered.7
(Unfortunately, even though sales of the two drugs are in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year, almost none of this money winds up in the hands of the people in Madagascar, which is one of the poorest countries in the world.8 This will be a recurring theme.)
It’s nuts to be wiping out forests anywhere on the globe, but it’s especially crazy to be clearing the tropical rainforests because they contain such richness of biodiversity. Generally, the closer forests are to the equator, the greater the diversity of trees and other species they contain. A twenty-five-acre plot of rainforest in Borneo, for instance, can contain more than seven hundred species of trees, which is equal to the total number of tree species in all of North America.9
And the plants and other life we’ve discovered so far are just the beginning; most scientists estimate that only 1 percent of the species that exist in the rainforest (and only there) have been identified and examined for their beneficial properties.10
If the loss wasn’t so tragic, it would be ironic that these invaluable repositories of not-yet-discovered useful chemicals are being cleared in the name of “progress” and “development.” It seems to me a far wiser development strategy would be protecting these forests that will potentially heal our ills (as well as provide the air we breathe, clean our waters, and moderate our climate).
When I was kid savoring my time camping out in the forest, I hadn’t ever heard of carbon sequestration, hydrologic cycles, or plant-derived pharmaceuticals. Instead, one big reason I loved forests was the many animals that lived in them. Forests provide homes for about two-thirds of the species on earth11—from koala bears, monkeys, and leopards to butterflies, lizards, parrots, you name it. Cutting down these homes, especially in areas of rich biodiversity like tropical rainforests, leads to the extinction of as many as one hundred species a day.12 One hundred species per day? For some perspective, think of all the dogs you’ve ever seen; worldwide, they make up fewer than ten species (genus Canis).13 And there’s only one species of human! Losing one hundred species a day is a big deal. Those species could contain miracle medicines or could play some vital irreplaceable role in the food chain. Wiping them out is like throwing out our lottery ticket before we have even checked if we had the winning number.
Imagine for a minute that some other species (maybe Periplaneta fuliginosa, aka the smokybrown cockroach) had control over the planet and was eradicating one hundred species per day to satisfy their appetites. What would we say about them? We might think their actions were a little unfair. What would we do about them? Lead an insurrection? Of course, we might not have a chance—from one day to the next we could just be extinguished, along with ninety-nine other lesser species.
And trees don’t just house wildlife—around the world about 300 million people live in forests, while about 60 million indigenous people are almost wholly dependent on them.14 Forests are the main source of life for more than a billion people living in extreme poverty.15 Forests provide the “four F’s” essential for survival: food, fodder, fiber, and fuel. From healthy forests, indigenous, tribal, or other forest-dwelling communities gather or hunt for food, feed livestock, obtain materials to build homes, and collect firewood for cooking and heat.
As I was growing up in Seattle, my primary relationship with forests was based on a fifth F: fun. I relied on the forests for hiking, camping, birding, and cross-country skiing, not for building materials. If I needed a snack, I’d head for the fridge, not the forest. Even after studying the issue, my understanding of the connection between forests and immediate survival was academic, not experiential. It wasn’t until I went overseas that I realized how directly forests sustain life in other countries.
While traveling in the once lush Haitian countryside, I met families who had lost their homes after forests were cleared. After the destruction of the roots that held the soil in place and moderated water flows following a heavy rain, mudslides took the homes of those families. No forests, no flood control. In India, I saw women walking miles a day to collect branches to feed cows, patch roofs, or cook rice. No forests, no fodder, fiber, or fuel. Forests are essential to life. The values of all these kinds of services dwarf the price of timber from a felled forest.
In fact, economists are working to calculate the monetary benefits that forests produce. In October 2008, the European Union undertook a study to put a dollar value on the forest services that we’re losing through deforestation each year. This study, published in The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity report, warns that the cost to the global economy from the loss of forests is far greater than the economic losses incurred up to that point in the banking crisis that garnered so much media attention and government action that year. Further, the report points out, the losses from deforestation aren’t a one-time fiasco, but continuous, year after year.16 By evaluating the many services that forests perform and figuring out how much it would cost for humans to adapt to their losses and provide these services themselves, the study calculated the cost of forest loss at between $2 trillion and $5 trillion, or about 7 percent of global GDP each year.17 Now, if that doesn’t merit a bailout on both economic and environmental grounds, I am not sure what does.
Despite the implications, even though they provide frames for our houses and our lifesaving medicines, even though they filter our water and create the air we breathe, we’re still cutting down forests at breakneck speed. Globally, we’ve been losing more than 7 million hectares a year, or 20,000 hectares—almost 50,000 acres—a day.18 This is equivalent to an area twice the size of Paris each day, or about thirty-three football fields’ worth every minute.19 According to Rainforest Action Network, fifty thousand species of trees go extinct every year.20
Rates of forest loss are especially high in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and much of Asia. According to reports, the exceptions are China and India, where large investments in forest plantations skew the data to hide the ongoing rates of loss of natural forests.21 However, industrial timber plantations are very different from real forests. The goal of a plantation is to produce wood products, with little or no regard to the many other services, resources, and habitat that real forests provide. To this end, they are generally intensely managed, evenly spaced, monoculture fields of imported species with the highest wood yields. Such plantations simply don’t hold a candle to the real thing in terms of biological diversity, resistance to disease, or provision of the many other nontimber forest products that people and animals depend on for survival. Tree plantations can generally only sustain 10 percent of the species that lived in the forests that preceded them22 and are best described as “green deserts.” They also provide relatively few jobs, increase the use of pesticides, and negatively impact local water cycles.23
So scientists, climatologists, and economists—not to mention all the animals and other people—concur that we need real nonplantation forests. Yet we continue to cut those down—not only in the biodiversity hot spots in the tropics, but also right here at home, in the temperate forests of the Pacific Northwest.
I got to see this firsthand during the summer of 1980, when I spent more time in the forests than out of them. It was the summer after tenth grade, and I signed up to work for the Youth Conservation Corps, or YCC. The YCC was a federal program, established a decade earlier to get kids out of the city, in some cases off of the street, and into the woods for a summer of service and learning. We worked hard, learned about natural systems, and earned a modest salary as well as a sense of purpose. It was my first experience with what my colleague Van Jones would later call “green-collar jobs.”
My YCC site was in the North Cascades National Park in Washington State, a breathtakingly gorgeous region with terrain ranging from alpine peaks and glaciers dotted with crystal blue lakes that literally sparkled in the sun to lowland forests, from mossy dark green water-soaked temperate rainforests to dry ponderosa pine ecosystems. Even for a forest connoisseur like me, this was truly a special place.
Jack Kerouac, who spent a summer there about twenty years before I did, does justice to the area in The Dharma Bums: “It was a river wonderland, the emptiness of the golden eternity, odors of moss and bark and twigs and mud, all ululating mysterious visionstuff before my eyes, tranquil and everlasting nonetheless, the hillhairing trees, the dancing sunlight... The pine boughs looked satisfied washing in the waters. The top trees shrouded in gray fog looked content. The jiggling sunshine leaves of Northwest breeze seemed bred to rejoice. The upper snows on the horizon, the trackless, seemed cradled and warm. Everything was everlastingly loose and responsive, it was all everywhere beyond the truth, beyond emptyspace blue.”24
Amidst this incredible natural beauty, my new YCC friends and I spent our days clearing fallen tree limbs from hiking trails, burying campfire remnants from careless campers, tending to the local salmon hatchery, and learning about the forest ecosystem from college students whose expertise and worldliness awed me. The program worked—at least for me it did. I entered that summer loving forests because of the way I felt in them: secure, grounded, humbled in the presence of something that seemed divine. I ended the summer realizing that our rivers, the fish, and the planet as we know it depended on forests. I left with a solid commitment to protect them.
That summer, I saw my first clear-cuts up close. “Clear-cutting” is the term for aggressive logging that removes all the trees in an area. All the roots, all the wildflowers, all the life. The ground is shaved clean like the head of a prison inmate, so nothing but scattered stumps and drying brown brush remains. I’ve heard clear-cut sites compared to ravaged, pockmarked bomb sites like Baghdad. That’s an apt description. Previously, I’d see them from the windows of a plane or just driving past, getting away as fast as we could. But that summer, we hiked in them to see how different they felt from a forest. We sampled water in the creeks that ran below them, to see the changes in temperature, oxygen, and aquatic life. It was shocking to me to see how far the damage spread, far beyond the scorched boundaries of the cut.
In contrast to forests, which act like giant sponges that hold water in their leaves and trunks and among their roots, regulating its flow into streams and rivers, clear-cut areas don’t hold soil and don’t absorb water. During heavy rains, water just runs off clear-cut hills, causing mudslides, flooding, and erosion. Waterlogged earth comes down in landslides, clogging waterways and burying communities. Downstream, the water and mud destroys property and sometimes injures or kills people. In some cases, millions of dollars of government money is required to repair the damage. In other places, the people just bear the cost themselves, sometimes losing everything they have. And of course the damage impacts the entire delicate web of life dependent on forests: the fungi that grow in the roots of trees feed small mammals, which feed birds like owls and hawks, and so on.
For me, that summer in the North Cascades gave new meaning to something that early wilderness advocate John Muir once said: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”25 I had heard that quote previously but had thought it referred to metaphorical connections. In fact, he meant it literally—the whole planet is, in fact, connected. The forests to the rivers to the ocean to the cities to our food to us.
The clear-cuts brought to mind the traditional folk hero image of a lumberjack: a smiling bearded guy wearing blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt and holding an axe. His picture adorned local diners and bottles of maple syrup. If logging ever was like that, it sure isn’t anymore. Nearly all the flannel-clad guys with axes have long since been replaced with huge belching machinery: massive bulldozers, cranes, gigantic pincher things that pick up the logs in their huge metal claws to pile them on huge trucks. And while machines have taken the place of many human workers, they haven’t removed the risks for those workers who remain. Falling trees, heavy machinery, rough terrain, and weather all contribute to the International Labour Organization identifying logging as one of the three most dangerous occupations in most countries.26
And for what? There must be some darn good reasons why we are we undermining our planet’s health, destroying potentially valuable medicines, driving plants and animals to extinction, eliminating a much needed carbon storage sink, and harming loggers. Right?
A whole lot of forests get cut down to make way for cattle ranches, soy fields, and other agricultural products. Ironically, a short-sighted quest for plant-based alternatives to fossil fuels, called biofuels, is now a major driver of deforestation around the world as forests are cleared to grow palm and other oil crops. “Biofuels are rapidly becoming the main cause of deforestation in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brazil,” says Simone Lovera, who works in Paraguay with the international environmental organization Global Forest Coalition. “We call it ‘deforestation diesel.’ ”27
Forests are also cleared to make way for sprawl and so-called development. Trees are taken for lumber that goes to build homes and furniture. In many places in the world, millions of people depend on wood for heating and cooking. But excluding the trees used for fuel, the number-one thing made from trees is paper. Seemingly simple paper, then, is the main nonfuel product of deforestation. That doesn’t just mean newspapers, magazines, posters, books, and Lands’ End catalogs. There are about five thousand other kinds of products made with paper,28 including money, board games, microwave packaging, and even the inserts of fancy running shoes.
In the United States, we’re consuming more than 80 million tons of paper per year.29 For our books alone, a 2008 report calculated the amount of paper consumed in the United States in 2006 as 1.6 million metric tons, or about 30 million trees.30 For every ton of virgin office or copier paper, 2 to 3 tons of trees were cut down in some forest somewhere.31 And there’s no end in sight. Globally, paper consumption has increased sixfold in the last fifty years32 and is projected to keep rising, with the United States leading the way. A typical office worker in the United States now uses more than ten thousand sheets of paper a year33; together we Americans use enough paper each year to build a ten-foot-high wall from New York City all the way to Tokyo.34
While there is a growing movement to make new paper from recycled or sustainably managed sources, most of the world’s paper supply, about 71 percent, still comes from forests, not tree farms or the recycling bin.35
The current trajectory of forest loss is bleak, but there are opportunities to turn things around. Over the past generation, paper recycling has increased at both ends: more discarded paper is being recovered for recycling, and more companies are using recycled paper. We’re closer to closing the loop and producing paper from paper, not from trees. The Environmental Paper Network (EPN) is a coalition of dozens of groups using market-based strategies to promote paper production from postconsumer recycled paper, agricultural waste, alternative fibers, or sustainably certified trees rather than virgin forests. Their members engage internationally in activities as varied as dialoguing with corporate CEOs and organizing large protests at stores and industry trade shows.36 One EPN member, ForestEthics, has been especially successful at getting highprofile companies—including Office Depot, Staples, and Home Depot—to source sustainable wood and recycled paper. They have also targeted high-volume catalog offenders, most notably Victoria’s Secret, to increase the use of recycled stock in their catalogs. Now they’re upping the ante by campaigning to establish a national Do Not Mail Registry, like the Do Not Call Registry, to stop the incessant flow of junk mail to our homes. According to ForestEthics, more than 100 billion pieces of junk mail are delivered to U.S. households annually—more than eight hundred pieces per household—almost half of which (44 percent) is thrown away before being opened.37 This consumes more than 100 million trees, equivalent to clear-cutting the entire Rocky Mountain National Park every four months.38
The thing is, we don’t just use a lot of paper; we also waste a lot of paper. Almost 40 percent of the Stuff in U.S. municipal garbage is paper,39 all of which is recyclable or compostable if it hasn’t been treated with too many toxic chemicals. By simply recycling, rather than trashing, all this paper, we would reduce the pressure to cut more forests for our next ream. (We’d also reduce our garbage by 40 percent.) Of course, preventing the use of paper in the first place, as in the case with junk mail and catalogs, is even better than recycling.
Also, there are ways to harvest trees from forests without decimating the ecosystem and the communities that depend upon them. These environmentally preferable timber practices limit the intensity of timber harvest, reduce chemical use, maintain soil health, and protect wildlife and biodiversity. The potentially lower short-term profitability of implementing these practices, as opposed to clear-cutting the whole landscape, is far outweighed by long-term environmental and social benefits.
One attempt to track and certify forests that adhere to these higher environmental standards is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which is active in forty-five countries. Over the past thirteen years, more than 90 million hectares around the world have been certified according to FSC standards; several thousand products are made with FSC-certified wood and carry the FSC trademark.40 While forest activists generally agree that the FSC isn’t strong enough and should not be seen as a label of eco-purity, it is a good start. “The FSC is the best forest certification system out there,” says Todd Paglia, director of ForestEthics, “and it needs to continue to get stronger. Compared to other comparable systems, like the timber industry’s greenwashed program called the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, FSC is the clear choice.”41
Additionally, there’s a promising model of forest management known as community forestry, a new school of thought in which forests are managed by communities and maintained to protect the sum of their contributions, i.e., not solely for logging. Actually, this isn’t really a “new school of thought,” since many rural and indigenous communities around the world have a long tradition of managing forests through the collective efforts of community members. At last others are beginning to see the enormous benefits of this approach.
The summer I worked in the North Cascades National Park taught me about more than trees. I also spent a lot of time around rivers. We waded—if you can call being in water up to your neck “wading”—in icy waters that had recently been glaciers to retrieve trash left by campers and branches that blocked river channels. Plunging into glacier melt to pick up an empty Coke can is a great way to solidify a commitment never to drop a piece of trash in a body of water, ever.
It was there I first saw the profound difference between a river at the base of a clear-cut and one below a healthy, intact forest. The rivers below a clear-cut were cloudy, full of muck and debris, with fewer fish, bugs, and life of any kind. When we took samples of the water, we learned that the rivers below the clear-cuts had a higher biological oxygen demand, or BOD, which is a measure of how much organic matter is in the water. A low BOD indicates healthy water, and a too high BOD means polluted water.
Now, in farming or in the produce aisle, the label “organic” is a plus. This is not always the case in the worlds of biology and chemistry, where “organic” doesn’t mean the absence of toxic pesticides. In biology, an organic substance is one that comes from living organisms. In chemistry, it is something that contains carbon among its elemental building blocks.
Organic material is part of nature, rivers included, and its presence is not by definition good or bad. As in many things, the dose makes the poison. Organic matter (like leaves or dead bugs) doesn’t become a problem in water unless it builds up faster than it can be decomposed. The tiny bacteria whose job it is to decompose all that organic stuff need oxygen; when their workload increases, their demand for oxygen outpaces the supply, leading to oxygen-deprived rivers, on their way to becoming dead ones.
Healthy forest floors are covered with organic matter known as “humus,” which is held in place by tree roots and shrubby plants. Humus decomposes just fine in the presence of bugs and oxygen, constantly replenishing the soil with its nutrients. In a clear-cut, the forests are wiped clear of tree roots and shrubs, leaving an exposed surface, so that come a rainstorm, all that nice rich soil rushes downhill into rivers and turns into a pollutant.
The rivers in the North Cascades feed multiple watersheds from which Washington State’s population draws water for drinking, washing, and irrigation. The water eventually makes its way to Puget Sound, where I dug clams and splashed in the waves as a kid. The health of those rivers impacts the health of bodies of water—as well as bodies of fish, birds, and people—hundreds of miles away.
Talk about being hitched to everything else in the universe. Water is the natural resource where we can most clearly see the interconnectedness of systems—as children we learn that the rain comes down, fills our groundwater reserves, rivers, and gutters, evaporates from lakes and oceans, and gets stored in clouds, only to reappear in the form of rain and snow. Water’s also not something only found out there in “the environment,” external to us: our own bodies are 50 to 65 percent water, 70 percent for babies.42
But somehow, as we grow into adulthood, we learn to think about water in a very disconnected way. Pat Costner, a retired Greenpeace scientist, expert in waste issues, and author of a book called We All Live Downstream: A Guide to Waste Treatment that Stops Water Pollution, believes that our water-based sewage systems do us a deep psychological disservice. From the age at which we get potty-trained, we begin to think of water as a waste receptacle and associate water with waste. Costner and many other water activists frequently point out the absolute absurdity of using our most precious resource—water—to transport bodily eliminations to expensive high-tech plants where the water has to be “treated” to remove the sewage. Costner has gone so far as to suggest, only half jokingly, that new parents potty-train their kids in a sandbox to prevent the association of water and waste.43
There is a much better, cleaner, and saner solution: it’s called a composting toilet, and the simple, waterless technology is perfectly ready to be implemented everywhere on earth, preserving our water from contamination and turning a would-be pollutant and health hazard into a valuable soil additive (which we especially need in those clear-cut areas where the nutrient-rich topsoil has washed away). Composting toilets are a win-win-win scenario. Good for the water. Good for soil. Good for plants. All around good.
Living in the United States, where our toilets gobble up gallons of water (even the low-flow ones, although they’re an improvement), and where both warm and cold water are on tap day and night in more than 95 percent of households,44 it is easy to forget how valuable and limited a resource this is. Once you’ve spent a while in a place with limited water, as I have, it is impossible to ever turn on that tap without feeling a rush of gratitude.
In 1993, I moved to Bangladesh to work with a local environmental organization in the country’s capital, Dhaka, for six months. Bangladesh experiences tremendous regular water crises. There’s often too much and there’s often not enough. It’s a low-lying country, basically a giant floodplain where three major rivers—the Brahmaputra, Meghna, and Ganges—all enter into the Bay of Bengal. During the monsoon season each year, about a third of the country floods. Really floods. Millions of people lose their homes. Entire communities of char dwellers—people who live on the islands of silt and soil formed in the constant shifting geography of the rivers—disappear.
Bangladesh’s floods are getting worse for the same reasons that other environmental problems are getting worse. The clearing of forests upstream in the river basin—as far away as the Himalayas in India—causes greater runoff after rainstorms. Without the tree roots to hold the ground in place, the runoff carries more silt and soil, which settles in the rivers, making them shallower and more susceptible to flooding. Global climate change is raising sea levels, which, in a low-lying country like Bangladesh, means that the water levels in the ground itself are also rising, making the land less able to absorb water in times of heavy rains and floods. If sea levels rise 30 to 45 centimeters, as many scientists predict, about 35 million people will literally lose the ground beneath them and be forced to migrate inland from coastal areas.45 More than once during my time there, the roads between my house and office in Dhaka were flooded so deep that the bicycle wheels of my rickshaw were completely beneath water.
Paradoxically, in a country that is increasingly under water, it can be hard to get water to drink. Millions of people in Bangladesh rely on surface water, such as ponds and ditches, which are frequently contaminated with human waste as well as agricultural and industrial pollutants. More than one hundred thousand kids die each year from diarrhea, an easily preventable condition linked to dirty water. Meanwhile many of the wells have been discovered to be contaminated with arsenic, which occurs naturally in the region. In 2008, up to 70 million Bangladeshis were regularly drinking water that doesn’t meet World Health Organization standards.46
While I lived in Dhaka I shared a house with eight Bangladeshis. They drank the tap water, but since my body wasn’t used to it, the two women who did the cooking constantly boiled pots of water for twenty minutes just for me. I was acutely aware of the imposition of using so much of our household’s precious cooking fuel to prepare water for me to drink. You can be darn sure I didn’t throw even one half glass of water into the sink in six months there. After traveling through the country, seeing communities with no access to water, and experiencing real, all-encompassing thirst for the first time in my life, I savored every sip of water I had. I appreciated the fact that this water was in a glass and not flooding my home. It is a very different way to drink water: full of awareness and gratitude.
Bathing in Bangladesh was also different. Every other morning, I got one bucket of cold water. That was it. Sometimes it was so cold that I could only bear a sponge bath to wash those parts of me that most needed it. I did have one other emergency option: I could take a rickshaw down to the fancy part of town to one of two luxury hotels—the Sheraton or the Sonargaon. In the women’s restroom I’d spend a good twenty minutes scrubbing my hands and face with hot water before indulging in the only thing—besides hot baths—that I missed in Bangladesh: a really good cup of coffee.
Then I’d sit in the little café sipping my café au lait, listening in on the conversations of businessmen and aid workers at neighboring tables, aware of the sparkling water in the pool, aware that my cup of coffee required about 36 gallons of water to produce, and acutely aware that the only reason that such a grubby person as me was permitted to spend twenty minutes in their fancy bathroom was the color of my skin and the American Express card in my pocket. I wondered how different life would be for those hundred thousand kids who would die from lack of clean water during the next twelve months, if they each had one of those cards, or even a safe tap in their yards.
Having experienced the level of scarcity that is the norm for most of the world’s people, I am now more aware of the many ways that so-called advanced societies take for granted the one substance, after air, that we most need to survive. Remember we don’t just need it for drinking and bathing, but for growing our food too! Still, we let it pour down the drain when we brush our teeth, we dump everything from our poop to our hazardous waste in it, and we feed millions of gallons of it to our golf courses and lawns.
Did you know that in the United States we spend more than $20 billion a year on our lawns?47 On average, we spend twenty-five hours a year mowing them, often with power mowers so notoriously inefficient that they consume 800 million gallons of gasoline a year.48 And that’s before we even get to the water use. We’re pouring humongous amounts of this liquid treasure onto our lawns: about 200 gallons of water per person, per day during the growing season is used just to water lawns. In some communities, that amounts to more than half of the total residential water use!49 In the United States, the lawn, or “turfgrass,” is the single largest irrigated crop, three times larger than corn.50 Simply by replanting lawns with native plants that use less water and allow more rainwater to seep into the soil, rather than run off into drainage systems, U.S. homeowners could drastically reduce their water use at home.
As you may have guessed, we also use up a lot of this vital, precious resource to make our Stuff.
In fact, from my short list of key ingredients, water is the most fundamental one of all, because it’s a necessary input for virtually every industrial production process. Consider the fact that paper-making plants use 300 to 400 tons of water to make 1 ton of paper, if none of the water is reused or recirculated.51 Growing the cotton for one T-shirt requires 256 gallons of water.52 To get your morning cup of coffee, 36 gallons of water are used to grow, produce, package, and ship the beans.53 Producing a typical U.S. car requires more than fifty times its weight in water, or more than 39,000 gallons.54 Much of the water used in producing these goods is badly contaminated by the chemicals used in the production processes, like bleach (for paper or white T-shirts), lead, arsenic, and cyanide (for mining metals). There is always the danger that these toxins will leach into groundwater or overflow from holding containers into rivers and seas—if the water’s not dumped there directly, as is still too often the case.
Water is also necessary to power the machines that make our Stuff. I’m not just talking about hydropower (electricity derived from the force of moving water); all power generated from fossil fuels such as coal, fuel oil, and natural gas is converted in thermal power plants that need water to cool them down. Together these make up the great majority of the world’s energy sources, and they all use water.
So for all these purposes we need water, and we’re running out of it. Maybe you’re asking how can that be, on a blue planet that’s way more than half covered in water? Of all the water on earth, 97.5 percent is salt water; and most of the 2.5 percent that is fresh water is frozen in the icecaps or so deep underground in aquifers that we can’t reach it.55 Only about 1 percent of the world’s water is accessible for direct human use.56 This includes the water we see in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs as well as those underground sources that are shallow enough to be tapped affordably. Only this 1 percent is regularly renewed by rain and snowfall and is available to us on a sustainable basis. So we’re in trouble if we use too much.
It is that same 1 percent of water we use to meet all our needs for drinking, sanitation, irrigation, and industrial use. Increases in population, urbanization, industrialization, and consumption all mean that demand for water also increases. We’re using and wasting more water than ever before while the supply of clean available water is shrinking. During the last century, our use of water globally increased sixfold, which was twice the rate of population growth.57 There are more of us using more water. This is not a sustainable trajectory.
Already, about one-third of the world’s population lives in countries that are experiencing water stress.58 Despite all our technological know-how, at least one in six people doesn’t have access to safe drinking water. Every day, thousands of people—mostly children—die from preventable diseases contracted because they do not have access to clean water.59 In Asia, where water has always been regarded as an abundant resource, the amount of it available for each person declined by 40 to 60 percent between 1955 and 1990.60 Experts predict that by 2025, fully three-quarters of people on earth will experience water scarcity, a condition in which the demand for water outstrips the supply.61 Overuse of water, along with droughts, contamination, climate disruption, diversion for industrial or agricultural uses, and inequality in access to water all contribute to water scarcity.
As water becomes increasingly scarce, conflicts are emerging all over the world about its use, and perhaps more important, about the process by which its use is determined. Many people—myself included—fear that the growing phenomenon of private business interests managing water systems for profit is incompatible with ensuring everyone’s right to water and sustainable water management. Too often, the privatization of water systems has been followed by rate hikes, service interruptions, and an overall decline in access to water because there is often not money to be made in delivering water to the poorest communities.
Because water is absolutely essential to life, including the lives of future generations, it should be shared and allocated fairly. Programs to manage water must be developed in this context, prioritizing long-term sustainability, ecological integrity, community participation in decision making, and fair access rather than individual private gain. A global movement is calling for water to be managed publicly rather than by private firms, while a network of “water justice” activists are working for a binding United Nations convention that secures every person’s right to water. Already, General Comment No. 15, adopted in 2002 by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, recognized that the right to water is a prerequisite for realizing all other human rights and for living in dignity.62
Still, a number of giant multinational companies are working to privatize public water systems in the United States and around the world, making decisions based on market opportunities and potential profit rather than meeting basic human needs and ensuring ecological well-being and social justice. These corporations are working to expand the market for bottled water and to sell “bulk” water, which will be transported miles to its new market. As communities run out of their own water, they’ll be forced to pay for it from other regions if there is no other option. For this reason, The Economist magazine has predicted that “water is the oil of the 21st century.”63
The fact is, as with most of our dilemmas around diminishing natural resources, there is no one solution to the growing global water crisis; we need action on multiple fronts. Some experts recommend billion-dollar infrastructure and megadams, but I prefer what the Pacific Institute calls the “soft path” solutions to the global water crisis. In their words: “Soft path solutions aim to improve the productivity of water rather than seek endless new supply... [and] complement centrally-planned infrastructure with community scale projects; and soft path solutions involve stakeholders in key decisions so that water deals and projects protect the environment and the public interest.”64 Such solutions include improved technology, improved conservation, and truly democratic, just decision-making processes, all done in concert.
One major step in the right direction is just uncovering and identifying where water is being used and wasted, which often includes uses invisible to us on a day-to-day basis. Hardly anyone looks at a cotton T-shirt, a car, or a light switch and thinks about water. To bring this “invisible” water to light, a British professor named John Allan came up with the concept of “virtual water” to track the use of water in global industry and trade.65 Virtual water is the amount of water embedded in food or other products based on how much water was needed to extract and produce that item. Countries that grow and export water-intensive crops, like cotton and coffee, can be thought of as virtual water exporters.
Another helpful concept is a “water footprint,” which calculates the total volume of fresh water used for the goods and services produced by a business or used by an individual or a community. If you’re curious, you can go to www.waterfootprint.org and get a rough calculation of your own water footprint. Professor Arjen Hoekstra of the University of Twente in Holland explains his creation of the “water footprint” tool as “rooted in the recognition that human impacts on freshwater systems can ultimately be linked to human consumption, and that issues like water shortages and pollution can be better understood and addressed by considering production and supply chains as a whole.”66 In other words, the more Stuff that gets made, used, and replaced, the more water gets used.
When I calculated my personal footprint, I found that my total water footprint is about 500 cubic meters per year. I played around with the numbers and saw that I could reduce it by drinking less coffee, eating fewer animal products, and buying less Stuff.
I’d like to think that my grey-water system, which waters my garden with my washing machine drainage, after filtering it through a simple multitiered planter full of specifically chosen filtering plants, makes a difference. Variations of this system are used around the world to filter and reuse grey water in homes, universities, hotels, food processing plants, and other sites. My garden loves it, but I know that the water diverted is just a drop in the bucket compared to the water that was needed to make the Stuff I use every day. The use of water in agriculture, energy production, and as an ingredient in industrial production is where the greatest potential exists to reduce water use.
The true cost of water is another one of industry’s huge externalized costs, meaning the costs they don’t actually pay. The prices of Stuff don’t reflect water’s real value (which economists are only now beginning to calculate) or the costs of the degradation of water resources through pollution and contamination, or the ecosystem services that are impacted. To capture its true value, some people are beginning to use what’s known as a total economic value framework, which includes direct uses (like drinking water) and indirect uses (like the level and flow of a river) as well as the so-called bequest value (use by future generations) and “existence value” (the right simply to be present on earth).67 Along these lines, government representatives and NGOs from around the world created the Dublin Principles at the International Conference on Water and the Environment in 1992 to recognize the value of water and set standards for water management.68
This shift could motivate improved water productivity. If those hidden or “virtual” externalized costs of using and polluting water actually started showing up under “costs” on the balance sheets of businesses, companies would be highly motivated to reduce the amount of water they use or pollute. At the same time, we need to be sure that calculating the economic value of water doesn’t obscure our recognizing access to water as a basic human right. Assigning economic value to water is a strategy to better understand its overall value, not a step toward privatizing and selling it.
The hope is that if we make industries responsible for the full costs of water use, they will start employing the technological fixes to use and waste less. The tricky thing about economic, or market-based, strategies is that forcing companies to factor in externalized costs will invariably raise the price tags of goods, as industries pass the higher costs on to consumers. While in many instances that might not be all bad (after all, do we really need yet another 256-gallon-of-water T-shirt that we couldn’t resist because it cost $4.99 at Target?), increased prices for basic commodities can be devastating to the poorest people around the world.
There are people already at work on this very issue to ensure that everyone, even those too poor to pay, get enough water for their basic needs, while those who use (waste) water for luxury consumption or excessive industrial use are charged extra. An international coalition of human rights activists, progressive municipal leaders, trade unions, and environmental organizations—collectively known as water warriors—are collaborating to achieve the recognition of water as a human right, improved access to water for poor people, the decommodification of water, taxes for excessive water use, and the defense of elected municipal governments as the key institution in water delivery, rather than private businesses.
On the technological front, many companies are already improving their processes so they use and waste less water through innovations like closed-loop factories, which continuously recycle all the water they use. As companies shift away from toxic inputs into their production processes, the water leaving the plant won’t be contaminated and so can be safely used again: this is a huge improvement. One company undertaking these kinds of practices is the carpet manufacturer Interface. Since 1996, under the visionary leadership of CEO Ray Anderson, the company has reduced water intake by 75 percent per production unit in its facilities.69 And they say they aren’t done yet!
Meanwhile, professionals in regional planning, industrial ecology, urban design, and architecture are redesigning our built environment—from individual homes to factory complexes to entire cities—to mimic rather than disrupt natural water systems or “watersheds.” Replacing lawns with native plants that demand less water; replacing solid surfaces with permeable ones that allow more rainwater to seep into the soil; removing industrial tie-ins that allow factories to dispose of hazardous waste in the municipal sewers; and many other shifts can help protect water supplies. Not to mention (again) the composting toilet.
In addition to market-based and technological solutions—which are ready to be implemented as soon as we decide to do so—we also need changes in our cultural approach to water that would prioritize sustainable usage and access for all. Like the oxygen we breathe, water is absolutely essential to survival, and there’s no substitute waiting in the wings.
The most elusive ingredients needed to make our Stuff are underground. Metals, gems, and minerals—and their organic cousins petroleum and coal—are basically nonrenewable, unlike trees (renewable, as long as our rate of replanting is faster than our rate of use) or water (replenishable, which means a resource at risk of being depleted, but which can be restored in a healthy ecosystem over time). They’re also harder to reach. That’s where mining comes in.
You’re unlikely to hear someone wax sentimental about rocks. They’re not grand, awe-inspiring living creatures like trees or a serene, healing, cleansing substance like water. You don’t hear appeals from nonprofits to save the poor silver or uranium from being removed from its native habitat. You are likely to run in to people who are emotionally attached to their rock-based Stuff, though. Threaten someone’s wedding ring, cell phone, and car, and you’re likely to wind up underground yourself.
So what’s the big deal about removing these inanimate and uncharismatic resources from the earth in the name of our most cherished possessions? Well, for starters, there’s the issue of availability of these materials for future generations. What we use up today isn’t going to grow back. The fact that our primary economic model is based on using up nonrenewable resources, like minerals, is one of the main blind spots of the GDP as a viable measure of progress.
And then there’s the whole story of how we get at those materials— mining. No matter how you slice it, mining is a serious drag—for people and the planet. Open-pit, strip, shaft, above the surface, below it, it doesn’t matter: these are energy-and water-intensive, waste-spewing, often poisonous, and all-around dirty processes. Communities are evicted, workers’ rights are violated, and the toxic by-products endanger everyone’s health, all in the name of mining. And the trauma doesn’t stop when a mine gets shut down—it continues for years afterward.
Underground, or subsurface, mining involves tunnels dug deep down into the earth. Although this is probably the image—along with headlamps and canaries—that most people have in their heads when they think of mining, most mining today occurs in gigantic open-air pits. In the United States, open-pit mining provides the bulk of the minerals extracted; globally, two-thirds of all metals are from open pits.70 Diamonds, iron, copper, gold, and coal are all commonly extracted from open pits, which can be huge. The Bingham Canyon copper mine in Utah, for instance, covers about 3 square miles (7.7 square kilometers) and the Chuquicamata copper mine in northern Chile covers about 4.5 square miles (12 square kilometers).71 There’s also mountaintop removal, usually used to get at deposits of coal found deep inside mountains (see the box on coal on page 35). Particularly in developing countries there are also still small-scale “artisanal” operations that employ workers in mining accessible surface deposits using their hands and basic tools.
Creating an open pit means chopping down trees (more trees!) and clearing off the land’s inhabitants, whether they walk on four or two legs. A report on the mining industry in India compared the mineral and forest maps, only to find that the highest concentrations of coal, bauxite (used for aluminum), and iron ore are all located in forest areas that are home to most of the country’s biodiversity and indigenous people as well.72
And the living things atop a mine only make up the first layer of what gets scraped off. All the stone and soil covering up the valuable ores—what the mining industry terms “overburden”—also have to be removed using heavy duty tools like bulldozers, drills, explosives, and trucks (all of which require their own long lists of ingredients to create and operate). This rubble gets piled up, sometimes skyscraper high. In fact, open-pit mines produce eight to ten times as much waste rubble as underground mines.73
Getting at the ore is only the beginning. Because even high-grade ore only contains a little bit of the pure metal or mineral being sought, it has to be processed, which involves more machinery as well as loads of water and chemicals. Most of the ore—and an ever-increasing amount, as high-grade sources disappear—ends up as waste. According to a report by Earthworks and Oxfam America called Dirty Metals, in the United States, “the copper ore mined at the beginning of the 20th century consisted of about 2.5 percent usable metal by weight; today that proportion has dropped to 0.51 percent. In gold mining, it is estimated that only 0.00001 percent [that’s one hundred thousandth of 1 percent] of the ore is actually refined into gold.”74 Chemicals used in processing contaminate at least 90 billion tons of waste ore per year globally, equivalent in weight to almost nine times as much trash produced annually by all U.S. cities combined.75
Of course mine workers suffer disproportionately from the toxins, as well as from injuries caused by using dangerous heavy equipment and from events like explosions, fires, mudslides, etc. The International Labour Organization reports that although mining accounts for only 0.4 percent of the global workforce, it is responsible for more than 3 percent of fatal accidents at work (about eleven thousand per year, about thirty each day).76
In Rajasthan, India, for example, miners—many of them women and children—toil long days to extract the marble and sandstone that furnishes fancy bathrooms and kitchens worldwide. GRAVIS, a nongovernmental organization inspired by Gandhi that works with Rajasthani miners, reports that about half of the mineworkers in the state have developed lung disease, such as silicosis. “The mineworkers work in deep open pits where the air is thick with dust from dry drilling, and safety equipment is nonexistent. There is no drinking water provided, no shade to rest in, no toilets, no first aid kits, and no worker’s compensation for accidents. Accidents occur frequently and often mineworkers have no extra money to pay for medical treatment.”77
You would think, given all the costs, from contamination of water, air, and soil to the health care of workers, that mining companies would be hard-pressed to turn a profit. But only a smidgen of the true costs is borne by those companies; their balance sheets rarely factor in things like water or air quality. In fact, get this: it is virtually free to mine on U.S. federal lands. Under the General Mining Act, passed in 1872, any U.S. citizen eighteen years or older has the right to prospect and mine for minerals, such as gold, silver, platinum, copper, lead, and zinc, on federal lands. For free. The argument of the day was that miners and prospectors were performing valuable services by promoting commerce and settling new territory, particularly out west.78
Since the passage of the act, it is estimated the federal government has given away minerals worth more than $245 billion.79 This not only deprives the government of revenue, it also encourages use of virgin materials instead of recycled. One study found that in the United States fifteen federal subsidies—averaging $2.6 billion each—annually benefit resource extractive industries,80 again guiding them toward virgin rather than recycled metals. When minerals are basically free, there is little incentive to conserve them or to go to the effort to recover the gold, silver, lead, and other metals in all the electronics and other Stuff we throw out.
Thankfully, efforts are underway to update the antiquated mining law. In early 2009, the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act was reintroduced, after the 2007 version failed to pass the U.S. Senate. The new law would impose a royalty of 4 percent of gross revenues on existing mining from unclaimed mines and place an 8 percent royalty on new mining operations. Seventy percent of the royalty money would go to a cleanup fund for past abandoned mining operations, and 30 percent would go to communities impacted by mining.81 While a step in the right direction, that law only pertains to mining on U.S. public lands. Meanwhile, the subsidies encouraging the use of virgin materials still exist; they need to go!
If I wanted to examine every kind of metal and mineral that gets extracted to make our Stuff, it would take several books’ worth of stories. So let’s look at a select handful of rocks that get dug up or blasted out of the ground. They’re pretty representative of the way all the metals and minerals needed for our Stuff are extracted.
Gold and Diamonds
Gold is used for a lot of things, from dentistry to glassblowing to stockpiling wealth. Gold is also used in electronics; virtually every modern electronic device—cell phones, laptops, televisions, GPS systems, MP3 players—has a bit of gold in it. But the biggest use, dwarfing all the rest, is jewelry. Jewelry accounts for more than 75 percent of the total amount of gold consumed today.82
Maybe you have a piece of gold jewelry that’s very dear to you. You’re not alone. I don’t have much of it, but I do have one little gold ring, given to me by a long-ago love.
When he wanted to buy me a ring, I insisted on an old one and a small one. I’d seen gold mines in South Africa. I knew that gold mining is horribly polluting, is routinely linked to human rights violations, and that more than three-quarters of the gold mined around the world ends up in jewelry. Since there is a lot of gold in jewelry rattling around in old ladies’ dresser drawers and increasingly in piles of e-waste, why fuel the market for mining more? So he got me an antique ring from the Tiny Jewel Box store in Washington, D.C. It’s inscribed “16 Mai 1896” and has a fleck of sapphire surrounded by tiny pearls not much larger than pencil dots.
I love that my ring has a past from long before me. Given the spelling of “May,” it was likely presented to someone in France or Germany. And given its tiny size, it seems unlikely to have been an engagement ring: perhaps a sweet-sixteen ring? I’ve often gazed at it and imagined its life on the finger of a young European woman and wondered who gave it to her. And of course the metal had a life before her, before being shaped into a ring.
Where was the gold for my sweet little ring mined? Maybe South Africa? For years, South Africa has supplied much of the world’s gold and still provides more than a quarter of today’s demand. When I visited South Africa in the mid-1990s, I looked out the window of the car in which I was riding and wondered aloud what geologic processes could have created so many randomly spaced small hills that covered the countryside. “Those aren’t hills,” my South African host explained. “Those are piles of mining waste.”
Mining enough gold for an average gold wedding ring creates about 20 tons of hazardous mining waste,83 which is sometimes dumped in rivers or the sea, sometimes just left right where it was created, as I saw in South Africa. The reason it’s toxic is that to get the gold from the ore, mining companies use a process called heap leaching, which means piling up the gold-containing ore and pouring cyanide over it to let it slowly drip through, extracting the gold on its way. At the same time, the cyanide also extracts toxic metals, including cadmium, lead, and mercury. The cyanide and toxic metal liquid runoff ends up in a big pool, from which the gold is extracted, leaving behind a heavy metal and cyanide contaminated pond next to a heavy metal and cyanide contaminated hill of leftover ore. Cyanide, I probably don’t need to remind you, is a deadly poison. An amount about the size of a grain of rice is enough to off a human being, and one-millionth of a gram of it in a liter of water kills fish,84 which is a big problem since much mine waste ends up in rivers and lakes.
But my ring was so tiny! I reassured myself that it must have only created half the average amount of waste. Then I realized that’s still 10 tons.
I hope my ring wasn’t made by pouring cyanide over heaps of earth. Cyanide wasn’t widely applied to gold ores until 1887.85 And maybe the gold in my ring is American, maybe even Californian, like me. Since early Californian gold miners didn’t use cyanide, this would free my ring from that toxic legacy but would unfortunately bring another equally problematic one.
Gold was discovered in Northern California forty-eight years before my ring was inscribed. In 1848, a man named James Marshall working on a sawmill in Northern California found the shiny metal in the American River in Coloma. Marshall’s discovery led to the Gold Rush of 1849: hundreds of thousands of people arrived in hopes of striking it rich.86 As a result the white population in California soared from 13,000 to 300,000 by 1854, while California’s native American populations were decimated, declining from a pre-gold rush population of 150,000 to about 30,000 by 1870. Sixty percent of those deaths were linked to diseases introduced by the invading gold miners, while others were hastened by forced relocation onto reservations or happened in outright massacres.87
In that era, the ore wrested from riverbanks and mountains was soaked with mercury to extract the gold. Mercury, which I’ll discuss more fully in the upcoming chapter on production, is a potent neurotoxin that can affect the brain, spinal cord, kidneys, and liver. (The term “mad hatter” comes from the neurological damage done to those who cleaned felt hats, which used to be done with—you guessed it—mercury.88) During the gold rush, an estimated 7,600 tons of mercury were deposited into the rivers of the central Sierra Nevada alone.89 That mercury remains in the California environment, in rivers and in sediments, much of it being continuously transported to the San Francisco Bay, where people swim and fish.
The unfortunate fact is, I can’t tell you where the gold in my little ring came from, or who was harmed by its creation. All I know is that when it came to me, it was already secondhand—and that’s a plus. Since the great majority of gold is used for jewelry and since two-thirds of gold in use is newly mined, old gold is a good choice for people who believe that gold is the best way to symbolize love or commitment.
Buying previously owned or recycled gold, or forgoing it altogether, is the best way to ensure we’re not contributing to the devastation caused by gold mining. However, for those who are stuck on buying new gold, there are still ways to lessen the impact. There are a number of jewelers who have committed to ensuring that the gold in their wares wasn’t produced at the expense of local communities, workers, or the
How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health-and a Vision for Change
The Story of Stuff
How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health-and a Vision for Change
The Story of Stuff was received with widespread enthusiasm in hardcover, by everyone from Stephen Colbert to Tavis Smiley to George Stephanopolous on Good Morning America, as well as far-reaching print and blog coverage. Uncovering and communicating a critically important idea—that there is an intentional system behind our patterns of consumption and disposal—Annie Leonard transforms how we think about our lives and our relationship to the planet.
From sneaking into factories and dumps around the world to visiting textile workers in Haiti and children mining coltan for cell phones in the Congo, Leonard, named one of Time magazine’s 100 environmental heroes of 2009, highlights each step of the materials economy and its actual effect on the earth and the people who live near sites like these.
With curiosity, compassion, and humor, Leonard shares concrete steps for taking action at the individual and political level that will bring about sustainability, community health, and economic justice. Embraced by teachers, parents, churches, community centers, activists, and everyday readers, The Story of Stuff will be a long-lived classic.
- Free Press |
- 352 pages |
- ISBN 9781439148785 |
- March 2010
Author Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff
Read an Excerpt
Reading Group Guide
Where do our computers, soda cans, and T-shirts come from? Who and what was involved in their production? How far did they travel to reach us? And where will they go when we throw them away? Annie Leonard, creator of the internet film sensation "The Story of Stuff “takes readers on an epic journey around the world and back in time to understand our consumption-driven economy. Her conclusion is clear: we have too much Stuff, too much of it is toxic and we’re not sharing it well.
With staggering revelations about the economy, the environment, and cultures around the world, alongside stories from her own life and work, Leonard demonstrates that the drive for a "growth at all costs" economy fuels a rampant expansion of production, consumption, and disposal that is jeopardizing our health, our happiness and the very survival of the planet’s ecosystems.
Yet there is hope. Nearly every page offers alternatives and solutions that can stop the environmental damage, social injustice, and health hazards we face. Our see more