ASM Speaker Annie Leonard Criticizes Excess Consumption

Environmental activist, writer and filmmaker Annie Leonard challenged Phillips Academy students to step away from excessive consumerism at this week’s All-School Meeting. Leonard’s presentation on Wednesday focused on the environmental and social costs of the consumerist American society. “There is a growing number of people who actually need to increase their consumption and address their basic needs. Millions of people are chronically starving while we use up one-and-a-half planets worth of resources,” said Leonard. “The current materials economy is a system in crisis, and we cannot continue to waste our resources and run a linear system in a finite planet. The responsibility is on us to understand and stop what is happening beyond our horizon,” she said. In addition to the evident natural exploitation, Leonard addressed the repercussions of the toxic chemicals used in the production of material goods and its effect on the health of the global population. “Chemical toxins are constantly used to produce so much of our ‘stuff’ and not much is being done to prevent its negative effects on our health and the environment. Safer alternatives to production are necessary and we must find ways to stop the use of toxins,” she said. Leonard investigated a noticeable correlation between the United States’ increase in consumerism and the population’s decline in happiness. “Research shows that what actually makes people happy is the quality of social relationships, sense of purpose beyond yourself and working towards a shared goal, not buying products and satisfying one’s material desires,” she said. Leonard also denounced the relationship between large, wealthy corporations and the government. “Our regulatory systems are disproportionally influenced by wealthy corporations, and this industry domination has made it hard for bills to pass,” said Leonard. Leonard concluded her speech by expressing her hope for people to engage in active citizenry and reduce unnecessary consumerism. “We must seek to be high in community and low in stuff. Always be aware of where you are on this spectrum,” she said. Tahir Kapoor ’12 said, “I strongly agree with Ms. Leonard’s ideas, but many of her claims seem to be presented with some bias. She states that while U.S. takes up only 5% of the world’s population, it uses up around 30% of the available resources on earth. When she argues that our country is using up more than our share, she fails to take into account that we also produce 30% of the world’s GDP.” Jaewon Suh ’12 said, “I really enjoyed Ms. Leonard’s speech and respect her initiative to make a difference in society but I’m not sure if she left us with practical and realistic ways to get involved as students other than the old and boring ‘recycle and don’t waste.’” Others found Leonard’s presentation inspiring. Chuan Xu ’12 said, “Ms. Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff, and her presentation on Wednesday were both very eye-opening. Before her visit, I was not aware that consumerism could have such a big impact on the environment.” Nicole Villar ’12 said, “I strongly believe that Annie Leonard’s insights and views on sustainability is something that we should all strive for, and I hope that Andover will become more aware environmentally as sustainability becomes a more prevalent issue.” Leonard has received acclaim for her animated documentary, “The Story of Stuff,” which critically depicts the current consumption pattern in the United States. Carlos Hoyt, Associate Dean of Students, urged students and faculty to watch Leonard’s video prior to her visit. The Eco-Action Club brought Leonard to Andover with the help of an Abbot Grant to help recognize Earth Week. Jessica Blake, Head of Eco-Action said, “I think Ms. Leonard addressed the topic of sustainability very clearly to the Andover community and I hope her talk has inspired students with initiatives to become more environmentally aware.”