Climate change and what to do about it is still a subject for debate among scientists and the public at large, but school children may be getting a very one-sided view given their status as a captive audience. A 20-minute video called The Story of Stuff, and created by a former Greenpeace employee, is proving a big hit with teachers across America desperate for materials to supplement what textbooks say about the environment.

Annie Leonard’s black and white animated video has been on the internet since December 2007 and has been viewed millions of times. She says at the beginning that she travelled around the world for 10 years (think of the carbon trail!) researching what happens to all our “stuff”. She then came up with a simple, child-friendly story that she calls “a nice counterbalance to the starkness of the facts.”

The video certainly makes the facts stark and at times very political, says the New York Times:

“We’ll start with extraction, which is a fancy word for natural resource exploitation, which is a fancy word for trashing the planet,” she says at one point. “What this looks like is we chop down the trees, we blow up mountains to get the metals inside, we use up all the water and we wipe out the animals.”

The video has made converts: a high school graduate tells how she converted her family from using bottled water to settling for a filter on the kitchen tap. (Great.) A young boy had to agonise over whether he ought to have a new set of Lego, before deciding, “It’s OK…because I’m going to keep them for a very long time”. (Hmmm, aren’t there some more important criteria here?) Some students have even asked Ms Leonard to scare them less and give them ideas on how to make things better. (A good move.)

But, not surprisingly, some parents are not happy at the anti-capitalist nature of the video, in which corporations are portrayed as a bloated man sporting a top hat with a dollar sign and having his boots shined by a lackey government. Mark Zuber, parent of a high school student in Missoula, argued before his county school board that the way the video was presented to his daughter’s class, without an alternative point of view, violated the board’s standards on bias, and the board agreed in a 4 to 3 vote.

Maybe there is another story of stuff waiting to be made that includes values other than the environment. ~ New York Times, May 11


Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet