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Environmentalist Annie Leonard Speaks at Pacific Union College

Katelynn Christensen, April 22, 2011
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L-R: President Heather Knight, author and environmentalist Annie Leonard, Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon. Leonard, whose book was required reading for this year's freshmen as part of the PUC Reads program, spoke at PUC for Green Week.

A visit from innovative environmentalist Annie Leonard highlighted Pacific Union College’s celebration of Green Week, Thursday, April 21. Leonard spoke for the annual Green Week lecture at Colloquy, and her presentation, entitled “Stewardship for the 21st Century,” capped a yearlong campus discussion on consumerism and society. Following the lecture, roughly 200 students attended a Q & A session with the speaker.

Leonard is founder of The Story of Stuff Project, author of The Story of Stuff: The Impact of Overconsumption on the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health—And How We Can Make it Better, and creator of a documentary of the same name. This year, Pacific Union College students read her book as part of the college’s new PUC Reads program, through which the college aims to foster a rich learning community by providing a shared reading and critical discussion experience to students and faculty. Last summer, all incoming freshman for the fall 2011 quarter received a copy of Leonard’s book. The Story of Stuff was then incorporated into several classes, including English and communication courses.

Beginning her lecture, Leonard described the events that led her to a career in environmentalism. Having grown up in a family that frequented nature and valued conservation, Leonard faced a shock when she moved from Seattle to New York City for undergraduate study. She became intrigued by the quantity of trash littering the six blocks between her apartment and college campus, tracked it to a landfill in Staten Island, and ultimately dedicated her Ivy League education to environmentalism. Since then, her book and documentary have become standards in the environmentalism movement.

According to Leonard, there are three parts to the problem facing Earth’s environment. “We are trashing the planet; we are trashing each other; and we are not even having fun,” she supplied. To illustrate the rate at which resources are consumed, Leonard shared that humans use 1.5 times Earth’s annual resources; “If everyone consumed at the U.S. rate,” she exclaimed, “we’d need five planets!”

Further, she pointed out that the U.S. exports toxic waste to third-world countries, where one-sixth of the world’s population suffers starvation. She also discussed the extent to which human bodies carry toxic chemicals. “Babies are being born pre-polluted,” she noted; newborns can harbor as many as 250 toxins.

Even with the high level of consumerism causing these side effects, Leonard maintained that people are still not fulfilled. “Once [we] have our basic needs met, the things that make us most happy aren’t actually [material] things,” Leonard asserted. She cited the quality of interpersonal relationships, time spent with friends and family, a sense of meaning and purpose, and a common goal as the makings of true happiness.

Leonard concluded her presentation by recalling the large role college students have played in social justice movements throughout history. She encouraged PUC students to involve themselves in the cause for sustainability and social equity now and to continue to strive to preserve the environment throughout their careers.