SISL > Teaching Activities > Understanding Why Our Present Consumption Way of Life is Unsustainable

Understanding Why Our Present Consumption Way of Life is Unsustainable

This page authored by Walt White, Oakland Community College, utilizing information from www.storyofstuff.com .
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Summary

First, the three definitions of sustainability are presented so the student becomes familiar with what sustainability is. They are:

"Sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs." Ref. The World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED)

"Sustainability is improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of the Earth's supporting eco-system." Ref. The Union of Concerned Scientist

"Sustainability is about stabilizing the currently disruptive relationship between Earth's two most complex systems, human culture and the living world." Ref. Paul Hawkin, Renowned Environmentalist and Activist

Second, they view the video, "The Story of Stuff" http://storyofstuff.com under the movie tab, which shows how unsustainable we have become, what the root cause is, why it is urgently necessary for us to change our present high consumption/wasteful way of life, and some of the positive actions currently going on that will help make the Earth increasingly sustainable for us and future generations. "The Story of Stuff Project" has other informative videos that can be viewed at another time that will further the students understanding of both the problems and solutions.

Third, within the "Assessment" heading there are nine short questions that each student should answer to further their understanding of the problems we face. A thorough understanding of the problems is essential before we can begin to develop/implement viable solutions.

Learning Goals

The goals are:

To prepares students to build effective coalitions

To engage students in civil discourse/ communications that lead to more effective decisions

To advances students' literacy around sustainability issues.

To encourage self-reflection and personal development of their voice for solving societal challenges

To promote creative visioning around sustainable futures

Context for Use

This activity requires access to a computer and the internet. It is appropriate for high school seniors and college freshman in a number of different curriculums that have open minds and want to help make a difference in the world. It requires simple logic and a willingness to change and promote change.

Description and Teaching Materials

First we define sustainability because a thorough understanding of sustainability is essential to defining the problems we face and in developing alternative solutions.
Sustainability defined:
"Sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs." Ref. The World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED)

"Sustainability is improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of the Earth's supporting eco-system." Ref. The Union of Concerned Scientist

"Sustainability is about stabilizing the currently disruptive relationship between Earth's two most complex systems, human culture and the living world." Ref. Paul Hawkin, Renowned Environmentalist and Activist

To further understand sustainability and how our system is in crisis "The Story of Stuff" http://www.storyofstuff.com , under movies tab, shows how consumptions' linear system is incompatible with the finite or limited natural systems of the Earth and if we don't act responsibly and quickly our unsustainable system will probably cause the human race to become extinct. However there is hope, because you and I can make change happen if we intelligently work together by reducing our consumption and getting involved with activist groups that promote the changes we know are needed in governments, corporations, and individuals. Further "The Story of Stuff" based on the three Ps: Planet, People, and Profit, while shocking, helps people realize where we now are and that working together to promote sustainability is the only way the human race can survive long term.




Teaching Notes and Tips

Assessment

Some Questions to think about and answer on "The Story of Stuff" and Sustainability:
1)What are the five main elements in our linear consumption chain?

2)Which is larger world wide in monetary terms, governments or corporations?

3)What is the product costs called that you don't pay for as a consumer?

4)About how many untested synthetic chemicals are used in our production processes?

5)What flame retardant chemical do we continue to use in the U.S. that is a neurotoxin and is found in mothers' breast milk?

6)How many ads does an average American see or hear in one day?

7)Do you believe consumption should be a way of life? Do you think that people in the U.S. are happier because of their increased consumption?

8)How many pounds of garbage/trash does the average person throw out per day?

9)Is planned obsolescence good for the planet because it keeps people employed and makes larger profits for businesses/corporations?

The answers to these questions will provide the teacher with feedback on the understanding of the students as well as a basis for class discussion.

References and Resources

The video of the story of stuff is located at the website http://www.storyofstuff.com and located under the movie tab.

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