The most emailed story on The New York Times website today highlights The Story of Stuff, a video that the article describes as “a cheerful but brutal assessment of how much Americans waste.” With black-and-white drawings of smokestacks, big box stores and the Earth, the video explores the underbelly of our consumer culture in simple but stark terms. (Extraction, it opines, is just a fancy term for trashing the planet.)
Of course, Sightline wrote the book on Stuff, tracing what it takes to produce the staples of Northwest life, more than a decade before curbing your consumption was in vogue. But the viral video has found a new audience.
Schoolteachers, the article explains, are turning to the 20-minute video as a way to supplement textbooks that are woefully out-of-date when it comes to climate change and pollution. It’s approachable—but not dumbed-down—and allows students to connect how what they do—like buying an iPod—affects the environment. And though the Missoula County School Board in Montana pulled the video after a parent claimed it was anti-capitalist, many teachers have found it a useful tool to spark discussion.
Its message appears to be resonating in deeper ways:
Riding in the car one day with his parents in Tacoma, Wash., Rafael de la Torre Batker, 9, was worried about whether it would be bad for the planet if he got a new set of Legos.
“When driving by a big-box store, you could see he was struggling with it,” his father, David Batker, said. But then Rafael said, “It’s O.K. if I have Legos because I’m going to keep them for a very long time.”
In the newspaper business, there are different ways to track the stories that speak to readers. One of the best is to see which articles strike someone enough to share them with friends via email. By that measure, maybe Americans—or at least the subset that reads The New York Times—are ready to wrestle with the same questions.