December 8, 2023

He Is Us

By Stephen Tuttle | Sept. 10, 2022

So, you woke up this morning in your cozy house, condo, or apartment courtesy of some utility company probably burning fossil fuels to generate power. Trees were cut down, transported, and milled to create the lumber that likely framed your residence. The copper for the wiring was mined, transported, and made into that wiring. The PVC pipes within and under your living space were manufactured using fossil fuel byproducts.

The mattress on which you likely slept has textiles, dyes, and metal coils, all of which came from someplace and left behind waste products in the air, on land, or in water. The sheets and blankets at least partially came from water-heavy cotton farms and were probably made in a European Union country, as Portugal, Italy, and Germany are the bed-linen leaders.

You were probably awakened by an alarm clock—few, if any, digital alarm clocks are manufactured in the U.S. because the electronics all come from someplace else. Maybe you use your cell phone as your alarm clock. About 70 percent of those were made in China, and many of the rest put together in South Korea and imported here. And all that plastic that surrounds clocks, phones, and everything else is mostly a natural gas byproduct.

Getting out of bed might have finally put you in contact with some American-made products, as about 85 percent of carpeting sold in the U.S. is manufactured in and around Dalton, Georgia. However, nearly 70 percent of hardwood flooring is manufactured in and imported from China, where there are almost no regulations controlling lumbering or the dyes and preservatives they use and often forget to tell us about.

But once you get into the bathroom, you’ll be pleased to know the majority of sinks, toilets, and fixtures are manufactured here in the U.S. The toothbrush, electric or manual, likely came from China and uses that ubiquitous plastic.

Once you make it to the kitchen, you’ve just about run out of American-made products, though there are coffee makers made here. But the utensils, microwave, and non-stick pans are all likely imported, which means both manufacturing and transportation carbon footprints.

Time to get dressed, and you should really check the labels. Made in Vietnam, China, Laos, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Bangladesh, Indonesia…the list of countries from which we import clothing is long and includes plenty of places not so worried about employee fairness or the environment. Most of the dyes used have chemical rather than vegetable origins. Polyester and all its variations, by the way, is another form of plastic and a fossil fuel byproduct.

Time to head off to the concrete, steel, and glass office if you’re not working from your wood, concrete, and glass home. If you’re like 76 percent of the rest of American workers, according to our Department of Transportation (DOT), you’ll be driving your personal vehicle to work. Since only about 1 percent of those vehicles are all electric, fossil fuels will be powering the rest.

Those vehicles, traditional or electric, will be awash with imported parts. In fact, there are currently no vehicles sold in the U.S. made with 100 percent of their parts made in the U.S. Nearly all the electronics come from elsewhere, as we learned during the supply chain problems when U.S. manufacturers could not find chips to coordinate all the electronic bells and whistles in today’s personal vehicles. (Two Tesla models and a Mustang come closest to being totally American made, but half the top 10 are, ironically, Hondas.)

Not that you’re at work, likely sitting on an imported chair at an imported desk looking at imported, plastic partitions, you can go to work on your mostly imported laptop, desktop, or tablet computer, all wrapped in even more plastic.

When the workday is over and you’re home again, you might watch some television on your likely-imported set or listen to some music on your imported headphones or earbuds. Tired from a long day, you climb back into bed, pull up some dyed, imported linens, turn off your imported lamp, and call it a night.

Virtually everything we touch all day, every day comes with some downside in terms of where it was made, how it was made, and/or the impact of that process on people and the environment. Our desire for ever more stuff is why that stuff is made.

The fossil fuel companies and pollution-spewing corporations are not the only villains here. We all have a hand in what has happened, and is happening. Our unquenchable need for ever more things using ever more resources coming from ever more distant places has become a consumerism hunger eagerly fed by companies we criticize.

As a wise Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”


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