The Story of Stuff

I’ve been intending to write about environmental issues on my blog for some time now (in addition to the socio-political stuff I’ve already covered), but there’s just so much to write about, and so little time! Anyway, until I get around to writing a proper article on this issue, check out this clever site:

The Story of Stuff

Although there’s probably some exaggerations here and there, I certainly agree with the gist of what they’re trying to get across. I think it is especially important to examine these issues in light of the current economic crisis—many people seem to want to put the environment on the backburner until we get our finances in order, but not only can we not afford to do this, I see the destruction of the environment and the financial crisis as symptoms of the same problem: an economic model that is based on endless growth, and encourages ever increasing (over) consumption. We just cannot have limitless growth on a planet with finite resources—at some point, we need to reach an equilibrium with what our planet is capable of sustaining. Switching to renewable energy resources will help a lot, and is essential if we don’t want to face a resources crisis in the near future. Yet even then, we need to ask tough questions about population control and other difficult issues, if we are to survive.

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The Story of Stuff is a great video to play for school kids, who are the target of so much commercial messaging to conusme as much as possible.

The universal cause of large families is the desire for economic security on the part of (mostly rural) people. THe problem with forced population control in China is that it doesn’t respond to this underlying need on the part of rural peasants–and leads to a great deal of female infanticide.

Thank Goodness we finally have a U.S. President who doesn’t use the economic crisis as an excuse to do less about the environment–if he finds a more sustainable path, it will be easier for other leaders in government and business to follow.


If we can reallocate our carbon emission sources, currently burning and being emmitted into the atmosphere – Oil, Gasoline, Kerosene, Buterol, Butane, Propane, Coal, Ethanol, etc. to products that instead reatain their bound forms and instead help us in other ways, this would be the key to getting current fossil fuel dependent industries to buy into the next generation of world technology.

An example – Coal Mining. Currently the U.S. sends roughly 5,000 railroad cars full of coal to be burned each day. This amount of coal produces approximately 45% of the U.S. national need for power each day.
Approximately 120 days worth of this output would be enough to create nearly 6,000,000 Carbon Fiber windmills, that when placed correctly could generate roughly the same amount of sustained power (45%).
This would be the equivalent of taking all of that CO2 out of the air, but not decreasing coal sales by any significant amount.

Another use for the coal would be in the car industry. Carbon fiber is 36 times the strength of steel by weight, and can be formed using heat to shape just like steel (the process is different, but it can be molded/bent to forms). So if carbon fiber were used in automobile manufacture, then, cars could be just as strong and safe, but weigh in at 1/36 their current weight.

Along comes the battery issue with its weight. We can now take a car that weighs 3,600 lbs with a 400 lb battery that goes 40 miles to the charge, to a 100 lb carbon fiber car, with 3,600 lbs of battery that goes 380 miles to the charge, with all of the same structural strength and creature comforts of today’s modern vehicles.

(I used easy multiples of 36 in the car/battery example, to make the math easier to see, but the point is we could transition to a fully electric/battery based economy, with cars that don’t pollute, and still use the U.S., China and other country’s coal reserves as an asset that doesn’t have to add to global climate change, while also transitioning to a fully non-polluting electrical power grid system.)

The same could be done with the petroleum industry in the fabrication of recyclable plastic materials, thermal depolymerization process plants, and the removal of solid animal wastes from food processing plants to produce fertilizers, recycle/reprocess polluted industrial oils/lubricants and other uses of petroleum products that are in use today that don’t result in being burned for propulsion/energy.

Finally, if we could get people in the world’s highest population growth countries to feel safe about their next generation’s survival, and generally increase the knowledge base of this growing/current generation of people to understand the idea that one/two children will allow them to save more, and provide more to those one/two children, and be less demanding on them in both the short and long term, then and only then will the issue of population growth be confronted in a successful manner.

The one child policy of China, is a disaster, as millions of female children have been dispatched over the past 25 years, simply due to the primogenisis traditions where the entire family’s assets go to the first born son, and the tradition of selling daughters to other families via dowries. Not only are these policies destructive to the families, but also to the nation of China, which now is beginning to face an almost 60% Male/40% Female ratio of imbalance.

Enough for now.


Thanks for your comments Akacra. I agree China’s one child policy is not the way to do population control, and quite frankly I’m not sure what is. I think we can start by legalising euthanasia: keeping people alive when they are in pain and have no hope for any quality of life is just insane, and very expensive. This may sound cruel, but perhaps we shouldn’t have the attitude that every child should be kept alive, regardless of whether they are seriously retarded or have a debilitating disease etc. Human compassion is a great thing as far as it goes, but most of these people wouldn’t choose to live if it were up to them, it weakens our gene pool, and we are talking about our very survival here.

I am sure about one thing though: the current policy of many governments of wealthy countries to encourage people to have more children is just insane. The aging population “problem” is seriously overstated: raising children is more expensive than supporting pensioners, and many of them would be happy to continue working if we let them. We can bring in any skills we need through immigration.


Exaggeration is an understatement, Sachiko. The film is borderline conspiracy theory. I do agree, though, in the underlying statement that we cannot have a linear consumption process sustained infinitely on a planet of finite resources, certainly not with a perpetually growing population.

Population control is, in my mind, the most important issue facing humans. Without it, all other conservation methods will fall short. Build all the energy-efficient appliances you want, develop all the high yield crops you can, but if people don’t stop having so many kids, there will still be shortages. Fortunately, according to the UN, the world’s population growth is in decline due to demographic transition, and should peak around 2050.

China’s one child policy has actually been a success in curbing the population growth, Akacra, however, it has caused serious social problems, only one of which is creating an unequal gender ratio. Currently, due to the development of the urban areas, people are choosing to have fewer children just becuse of their preferences to go to school and concentrate on their careers first. This happens naturally during industrialization. BTW, India is also developing an uneven gender ratio, even without any state imposed population control. Go figure.

With respect to demographic transition, Africa is the main trouble spot. Numerous Sub-Saharan countries have zero to negative growth mainly due to AIDS and malaria deaths being incredibly high. It is estimated that once those diseases get under control, several of these countries’ populations will skyrocket, making them overtake India and China within a century. Avoiding this is one of Microsoft and Dell’s main aims of their project to providing free computers to Africa & the developing world, so that African’s demographic transition period will be much briefer, and the population explosion will be much less.

As for the economic model that encourages growth and consumption, there has to be a middle ground: without consumption, there is nothing to drive progress. I’ve spent many years studying the history of science in society and the link between social progress and implementation of technology. One all-important factor to the implementation of technology in society is getting the public to accept it and use it. That is where mass marketing comes in.

I am reminded of the story of Hero of Alexandria, who invented the steam engine and windmill driven motor circa 1st century AD. He presented these devices to the local Roman governor, who was most impressed in seeing them able to do the work of several men, in much greater efficiency. After the demonstration, he pulled Hero aside and told him, “These are fine contraptions and all, but what would we do with all the slaves?”

Yes, if Hero could have had just a little better marketing ploy, the industrial age would have been ushered in 17 centuries earlier, and slavery could have been eliminated in the Roman empire. This is merely an example of how important it is to have a public willing and eager to buy and implement new technology and new ideas. I know the latest little transistor radio won’t change history for the better, but the idea is, technology changes society. The industrial revolution in the west led to the eventual abolition of slavery there. The development of indoor plumbing gave a huge boost to the suffragette movement, and so on. Without the implementation of new technologies, the world’s social progress will stagnate.


I wasn’t trying to judge success/failure of what China has been doing as an answer to population in my comment. I was commenting that millions of female children have been killed over those same years. It is my opinion that is a disaster. What is the worst is that it is a planned disaster.
It is a planned disaster, much like the Iran-Iraq war of the 80′s when both Iraq and Iran were so proficient in killing each other with the U.S./USSR supplied weapons that up to 40% of the 18-40 male population was eliminated from both countries.
It is a planned disaster, much like the genocide between the Hutus and Tutsis of the mid-90′s and the current situation of Darfur.

The Chinese government didn’t go out and openly say, “OK, Chinese people go and eliminate your first born daughter, if you didn’t get a son as your first born”. However, they also didn’t actively campaign to change the value system of the country that had actively and systematically followed male primogenisis as the line of inheritance that dates back centuries before the modern communist era.
The plan was, however, to implement population growth reduction, and to some respect it has been successful, in the urban areas (Population growth rate of 0.46). Except the vast majority of China is not as highly controlled as those urban areas, and in those rural regions, the families have not changed their practices, or local officials have personal relationships that result in looking the other way , when the policies have not been followed (population growth rates = 5.41). I don’t think this is only happening in China, it just stands out because of the numbers being talked about.

@Sagredo –
2006 CIA world factbook:
The current percentage male to female in the total population of India is:
Birth 1.13 Male/1 Female or 56.5%/43.5%
1-15 1.098 Male/1 Female or 54.9%/45.1%
15-64 1.061 Male/Female or 53.1%/46.1%

The current percentage male to female in the total population of China is:
Birth 1.11 Male/1 Female or 55.5%/44.5%
1-15 1.134 Male/1 Female or 56.7%/43.3%
15-64 1.057 Male/1 Female or 52.9%/47.1%

As women generally are more tolerant/able to survive harsh situations in the womb and are generally protected in times of hardship by the community after they are of reproductive age, their percentage in the population should rise over time. The impact of Chinese Social Policy (1 child in the urban areas) clashing with male primogenesis can be see in the 1-15 age group as the males suddenly gain 1.2% in relative numbers to the women.
In contrast, in India, the male population, as expected, has decreased by 1.6%. The difference in this demographic between populations is a total of 2.8% showing a massive bias towards male children being the sole child chosen by parents since the introduction of the 1 child policy. This equates to roughly 7,900,000 female deaths ABOVE NORMAL population growth in countries without such policies over the past 15 years. (For reference the number of children in China between the ages of 1-15 is 238 million (male and female combined)).
That is the DISASTER I was talking about and IS a DISASTER, as far as I am concerned.

As far as the video is concerned it isn’t neccessary to have a conspiracy theory viewpoint. It just takes an ideology, that becomes successful, and thus others try to emulate/copy/learn from the successful practice.

For example, there was one “doctor” in the 1930′s who believed in lobotomies as a treatment/cure of the mentally impaired. He was a zealot and he would go on teaching tours, throughout the country and demonstrate on live mentally ill patients that would be “cured” by his techniques. So for nearly 20 years the lobotomy was the “treatment of choice” throughout the US. Was this a conspiracy?
If you don’t believe a Wiki source, the research was done for a book:
The Lobotomist, authoritative biography of Freeman by Jack El-Hai.

It doesn’t take a conspiracy to have 50 to 100 main economic theorists for the post war era link into capitalism, sociology, personal psychology, and a massively upscaling domestic/foriegn marketplace to teach, influence and lecture on these areas mentioned in the video. Companies that have followed the Globalization model of trade for the past 50 years have seen their success astronomically overtake those companies that haven’t. These are common buzzwords in business schools, and with the internet even those with smaller amounts of resources are tying into reap the personal or corporate benefits now as well.

I guess there are two questions that are most pertinent, in the hugely gutted post-industrial, time of world wide economic recession/depression, that currently affects 26 times the amount of people that the 1929-1936 world depression did:
1. Isn’t it time to find a new treatment for the world economy other than the lobotomy/global capitalism model?
2. When we become a sustainable world, through the implementation of this combination of technologism/capitalism/socialism, what do we do with all of our currently economically defined and real “slaves”, that currently exist and are in huge peril today?


Thanks for the data, Akacra. That is precisely the point I was getting at. The one child policy of China has been effective in slowing their population growth, but the social ills that have been brought about by such a policy have really negated most of the benefits. I wasn’t aware that India’s gender ratio has started to take a turn for the better. I was commenting on the previous generations and how males made up such a high percentage, even when over the last 60 years India has fought 4 costly wars against Pakistan and 1 against China, given that men make up the majority of those casualties. Thanks again fo that info.

As for the story of stuff, I think you may be missing my point. I do not believe in conspiracies, as I know that 51 of the 100 biggest economies are corporations because they simply had good business models. My comment was intended to mean that much of the film’s language implied that this was due to some LaRouchian conspiracy between financiers and government to keep the people ignorant and enslaved to the corporations through advertising. I might be wrong in my assessment, but even if I am not, I certainly don’t believe in that hype of global conspiracy.

I am also familiar with Freeman and his promulgation of lobotomies, and I get your point. Therein lies the problem: regardless of the method of implementation, whether through advertising to the masses or central planning, whatever is being proposed should be of benefit to the populace. Both systems have had their ups and downs in this area. The question is, how do we effectively ensure that what is being proposed will have the greatest benefit to the largest number of people before we try to implement it?


Just for further information, it appears that the New England Journal of Medicine disagrees with the idea that the one child policy is responsible for the decline in population growth rate.
Apparently the major decline in the birth rate actually started substantially in 1969 not at the time of the one child policy beginning in 1979.
According to this graph:
The birthrate in 1969 was 5.9. In 1974, the birthrate was 3.9 and in 1979/80 it was at 2.9/3.0 births per mother.
After 1979/80, there was actually a huge slow down in the rate of decline as the birthrate stagnates at 2.5 for nearly a decade, and then from 1996 to 2005, the birthrate stagnates again at between 1.9 and 1.7.
For 2007 the birth rate is reportedly 1.73 births/mother.

Unfortunately in 2000, is when the first signifigant jumps in female mortality starts to show up in the population (this is probably due to the “Golden Dragon” 2000 Year of the Dragon, and the huge cultural pressure to have boys born during this lunar calendar year). The male birth ratio in 2000 is 1.15/1 or 57.5% Male/42.5% Female (already up by 0.4 from normal, suggesting a huge number of female fetus abortions) and then in 2001-2003 for all ages 1 to 15 things are shown to stagnate at 1.1/1 ratio. I guess we are then not to notice the jump to 1.13/1 in 2004, when the male births are shown from 2001-2003 to be 1.09/1. Suddenly between 2003 and 2004 some 11,000,000 girls (taking into account 3 consecutive more balanced years took place) just magically disappeared from the under 15 category, without affecting proportionately the 15 to 64 category’s numbers at all. As there was never a time when female births outnumbered male births, this manipulation of data again just shows even more greatly the discrepancy in the system. Finally there is 4 years of 1.12/1 female births, but instead of moving down, the 1-15 population remains at 1.13/1 which indicates a further missing 2.7 million girls from the 1-15 age category over the past 4 years.
So when the government started to more strictly enforce the 1 child policy, to the extremes in the cities, is when the pattern of girls dissappearing from the 1-15 age group really becomes demographically significant. With further analysis, it appears that nearly 15 million or more girls have been removed from the population in just 9 years (nearly 4 times the rate I estimated in the previous post.) That is extremely scary, and the effects overall on population growth during that time were negligible (less than 0.1 births/mother average).

Again compare that with India which went from 3.9 in 1989 to 2.81 in 2007.
India’s rate of decline is actually happening at a faster rate than the years after the change from no controls to 1 child policy. In fact at this rate the birthrate of India may reach 1.5 in 2023, while China’s decrease in birth rates suggests also reaching 1.5 in 2023. For the same 35 year period, India will have a slightly steeper slope of decline, and will end up with approximately the same number of people as China has (1.67 Billion est. 2023).

As to the possible solution, the fundamentals of the entire system needs to shift away from large scale corporatism and acquisition of huge excesses of capital and consumer goods, which serves no one (not even those working within the corporation in the long run), and back to the issues of securing the basic neccesities of what people need.

Actually when the middle class is the largest proportion of the economy, that is the time that the country has been economically the strongest. That era of peace time prosperity was between 1948 to 1968 in the U.S. By the early 70′s the consumer culture had started to take off, and of course the first energy crisis, and business contracts with the government started projecting 10-20% inflationary processes, due to these energy issues.

So what was happening between 48 and 68? We had the highest percentage of college graduates, we had the highest percentage of home ownership, we had major infrastructural upgrades to the country (electrical grids, dam/hydroelectric power projects, suburban school construction, interstate highway systems, telephone and telecommunication upgrade/transition, space program development/achievement.) And widespread wealth, accompanied by fully supportive health care provisions.

That is what is nice about this latest move by the US and other governments around the world. If they stay true to the plan(s) that have been outlined, it will be a huge reinvestment in those things that hopefully will build the foundation for another 20 years of prosperity beginning in 2012-14, as well as signalling a possible shift in public sentiment from ignorant consumerism to a lasting community conciousness, where we know people in our community, more than “those people, that live up the block”, because we have more time to spend in our communities outside of the work-buy-work-buy cycle that consumes more and more of our time overall.


Thanks for the interesting and informative discussion guys! For the record, I find it hard to believe that China’s one child policy is not having an effect on their population numbers, but what Akacra mentions may actually be the most important reason. Whatever the case, it is a bad social policy.


Not to belabor the point, but the reason China’s population growth declined in the decade prior to the enactment of the one-child policy was due in large part to economic and political incentives for people to have fewer children, at a later age, and spread farther apart. This is often lumped in with their official one-child policy enacted in 1979, and I unfortunately didn’t distinguish when I was bringing it up. Sorry to be confusing.

As for India’s growth rate slowing down more rapidly than China’s, that’s simply a matter of number manipulation. from 2.5 to 1.73 compared with 3.89 to 2.81 shows that China had much less that it COULD reduce its fertility rate.

Anyway, getting back on track of the consumerist theme of the blog, I do see Obama’s policies as helping us to get back to that idea of reinvesting in infrastructure and other basic necessities, much like the New Deal did in the 30′s and 40′s. However, we should also ask ourselves WHY were things so good in the 50′s & 60′s? Why were graduation rates, homeownership rates, and the like so high? A major factor was that we had a rival ideology: Communism. We wanted to prove that our way of life was better.

The nuclear arms and space race ensured there was plenty of incentive for people to obtain degrees in sciences and engineering. The technologies spun off of the programs led to accelerated improvements of peoples’ daily lives. Better access to these technologies through industrial processes made people’s lives easier, and with that, social progress occurred.
Anti-communist propaganda permeated the airwaves, and encouraged people to be involved in their communities, and get to know their neighbors.

It all came to an end for the reason you stated in part, but also our involvement in Vietnam in 1964, and saturation of the marketplace caused by the end of a business cycle in 1966 played major roles as well.