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GreenWatch- Annie Leonard Comes to Buffalo

Filed under: Environmental

GreenWatch, The Story of Change

On Tuesday night, March 11, 2014 Annie Leonard presented the keynote speech at a program sponsored by the UB Sustainability Academy

She is best known for her Story of Stuff series of online viral videos, campaigns, and projects (The Story of Stuff, The Story of Bottled Water, The Story of Cosmetics, the Story of Electronics, and the Story of Change.

This night focused on her newest campaign- The Story of Change.  “Everyone knows and everyone cares about our problems,” she said. “This is not enough”. “We are always being told  -here are 10 or 50 ways to save the world -recycle, change the light bulb, take shorter showers, don’t use bottled water, drive less, buy Fair Trade, have reusable shopping bags, eat less meat” -these are all important and critical things that individuals can do. “The sad truth is”, she said,  “that if everyone one on earth did everyone of these things, it would not be nearly enough to stave off what is coming.” 

What is coming of course is characterized by the onrushing train of climate change and the dramatic alteration and wholesale elimination of the worlds ecosystems, and biodiversity, the physics and biology that sustains life including human life. Catastrophic collapse and social dystopia may be on the way:  Guy McPherson/

“Making better and informed choices are always important”, she said, “but there are barriers to real change that we are not addressing.”  She says that the reliance on “consumer muscle” to promote better freemarket practices is a false model because products are driven by what she calls “non-informational obstacles” such as bad business practices which limit real choice.  She told the crowd that while it is important to know and care about the world’s problems that are exposed in her videos and activism work, it is also critical and possible to take larger social actions to address systematic solutions.  In her video, “The Story of Change” she uses the example of Gandhi- “Be the Change is a great way to start” she says in the video. But it is a terrible place to stop.”  After all would we have ever known who Gandhi was if he just made his own clothes and then sat back waited for the British to leave India?

“One of the main barriers” she says, “is that we have forgotten how to be citizens.  Our basic understanding of how to make change has vanished. We have lost our civics lessons, lost our way to engage in democracy.”  It could be argued that we have been deliberately been forced away from participation.  How?- “the corporate influence in politics and media.” She says. She is of course talking about “Dark Money “and all of that. 

See: Bill Moyers/Dark Money and Politics

From The Story of Change: “Its not enough to nag people into making change, we have to change the rules of the game.  Why don’t we put safe products, happy people and a healthy planet first?”  “Trying to live eco perfect in today’s economy is trying to swim upstream, and the current is pushing us the other way.”  “Changing our economic priorities is a way of changing that current.”

“Why don’t we just stop making things that are poisonous?” she asked the UB gathering. “Our systems promote this. Change is not easy.”” Leonard said.

Do you know that the European Union has banned a total of over 10,000 toxic substances? The USA has banned only 11!

GreenWatch Readers may remember that Artvoice published a special GreenWatch essay, A Sepulcher of Profit in 2011 which described the complete submersion of the planet and of the human species in a for-profit produced toxic soup.  Sources include industry, food, containers, packaging, cosmetics, and virtually every product created for consumption. That essay described how 1 in 3 children born in the USA today are born sick, often with lifelong consequences. One out of two Americans can expect to have cancer, probably as a result of human made poisons. 

Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff helps to tell a part of that story.  Last night she told the UB crowd-  “Tested umbilical blood from newborns reveal over 150 human produced toxins.” Other studies have indicated that as many as 800 human made chemicals are found in newborn bodies.

Leonard is adamant that there are ways to solve problems. Besides the direct actions that she says that we must engage in, she said that she is excited to know that there are important strides in how we make and use stuff.  She talked about a new movement in chemistry called “Green Chemistry” in which a new breed of scientists that are rethinking how we make things and how we can use nature to model safe, durable, and cost-effective, non waste producing products.  She also spoke briefly about  “biomimicry” which was popularized by Janine Beynus in her book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. 

Biomimicry is a growing science that explores how human products and systems can be made more sustainable by an “imitation of nature”.  In an interview last year Janine told me that “nature is both genius and generous.   3.5 billion years of R&D has created a life support system that we need to and can imitate.  Humans have spent just a short period of time destroying what nature knows. “ A review that I wrote of her presentation at the BALLE Conference held last summer in Buffalo and links to her work can be found here: “From Me to We”

 Leonard told us that “Systematic changes and challenges to the way we do business and live on this planet are not easy. Discussions and choices can be challenging. I get criticized a lot -but it is so important to engage in these discussion and arguments so that we can find solutions and common ground. It is important to argue and discuss so that we can engage ourselves in finding and fighting for solutions and overcoming institutional barriers.”

“We have plenty of support.  We have to find ways to make change happen. Young people and students have always been in the forefront of change. Today we have a large majority of Americans that are opposed to corporate influence and that are aware of the institutional systems that are obstacles. Did you know that less than 25% of Americans were behind Martin Luther King and Civil Rights, women’s rights, and virtually all other justice and rights movements throughout our history?

Today polls show that 85% want corporations out of government

74% want tough toxic chemical laws

83% want clean energy laws.”

 Leonard concluded by saying “You can be part of that change!”

“We need investigators, communicators, builders, resisters, nurturers, and networkers.  Be the Change.“

To borrow from Guy McPherson, linked on this page- “It’s time to act like our lives matter”


Annie Leonard on the Colbert Report