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ENGL-487: Final Project

Using Rhetoric to Build Things

Speech with Visual Aides
Author: David Miles


(cue image #1)Good afternoon, everyone. I am not here before you today because I am an
authority on the subject that follows and therefore qualified to speak on such matters. No, but because
many are qualified to speak on such matters, in fact, we all should speak on such matters for the issue
isn't going to be solved in a laboratory or solved through a fund raising campaign, but it will be solved
within each of us, within our cultural consciousness. The issue I am here to speak on can be condensed
into one word, consumption.

Here in America, we value our frontier heritage. Our cultural consciousness is stuck in manifest
destiny mode. This ubiquitous ideal can be seen easily by examining our consumer habits. You're
never more than a few dozen highway miles from the next Bass Pro Shop, Cabelas, or Wal-Mart
Supercenter with accompanying parking lot filled with pick-up trucks adorned with woodland camo
accents(cue image #2). Shelves stocked to the brim with every manner of fishing tackle, hunting gear,
and camping equipment so that you may tame nature's bounty. It's simply not enough to enjoy nature,
we must reap its wealth, even while our stocked refrigerator back home is filled with expiring food.
This mentality, a necessity to the homesteaders of yesteryear, has lingered in our cultural
consciousness. This mentality, keeps us searching for the next new world to exploit. This mentality,
my comrades in consumption, obscures the reality that we simply do not live in a vast wilderness filled
with limitless renewable resources as our nations earliest immigrants felt they did. Consumption, and
our rabid thirst for economic growth, underpins every environmental problem we face today.

Future decision makers, today in 2015, does it seem rational that we are still running our
economy as if we are frontiersmen and colonizers? The world loses around seven million hectares of
forest a year, not including the conversion of natural forests to tree plantations (Leonard, 2010, p. 5).

Thanks to our stable democratic government and concerned constituency, very little of that loss occurs
in America. We have created vast public lands and laws controlling land use, but what about the rest of
the world?(cue image #3). How is it that the largest economic market in the world, where a large
percentage of products derived from this forest loss are consumed, experiences little to no loss of
forest? Case in point, Indonesia has some of the largest reserves of lowland tropical forests left in the
world, much of which is now being converted over to support palm oil production. Palm oil is in
everything from cosmetics to chocolate to cooking oil. Indonesia created the Tesso Nilo National Park
in 2004 to preserve this valuable natural resource. The World Wildlife Fund in a 2013 report estimates
that nearly half (43%) of the protected land inside the park has been encroached on by illegal palm oil
production (Palming of a national park, 2013). We have deferred the consequences of manifest
destiny capitalism from which we derive our consumer goods to countries and governments too weak
and corrupt to resist the fleeting yet prosperous payday. Next time you buy something, look at the
label, read its contents and realize that the places these ingredients are being sourced and manufactured
do not play by the same relatively friendly environmental rules we in the western world play by.

Now please everyone entertain me with a thought experiment because I can tell from the crowd
I'm losing some of you. I want you each to think about everything you have bought today or any
typical day. Did you grab a coffee to go from your cafe of choice? A Gatorade this morning to
replenish the fluid loss from last nights festivities? Perhaps a sandwich from your favorite campus
store as you pass through for lunch? Now, remove the items you actually wanted from this mental
image. What are you left with? If you take my example, you're left with a paper cup and its
accessories, sleeve and lid, a twenty ounce plastic bottle, and a rigid plastic disposable tupperware.
Now take that daily collection and extrapolate it out to a whole week...a year...a lifetime. Take that
lifetime total and multiply it by everyone you know, everyone in your city, everyone in the western
world. But wait, there's more! Imagine if the billions of people in the developing world had a 7-11 on

every corner and a little disposable income in their pockets as we do. What is your mental image now?
Is that something you're proud of? Is that the legacy you want to leave to your ancestors?

Although it sounds like it, I'm not a representative from the local recycling plant and I'm not
offering eight cents a can. It's far too easy, and it has been done far too many times for me to stand up
here and lecture on the benefits of recycling, because you already know that. No, I want to do
something far more difficult. I want to challenge, not what to do with our waste, but challenge our
rabid consumption, our lifestyles. The trash we produce is simply a glaring example of the nonsensical
way in which we live, all of us.

The amount of waste we produce in America and in the first world is simply staggering. All the
waste we tallied up in our thought experiment is known as municipal solid waste and makes up only
around two and a half percent of the waste America produces annually. The bulk of the waste we
produce comes from industry; that is, the real waste is produced producing the stuff we waste. For
every pound of waste in a landfill, forty times more is created during the various upstream industrial
processes (Leonard, 2010, p. 186). We live in a world where it is actually cheaper and easier to buy a
new vacuum cleaner than it is to get yours fixed. We live in a world where we buy new six hundred
dollar smart phones on a yearly basis while experiencing little added functionality. We live in a world
where small businesses that repair durable goods and create local jobs are gone. Even if you wanted to
get something repaired, it isn't likely you'll find anyone with the knowledge and access to parts
necessary to perform repairs. So instead, we make another trip to Wal-Mart and then the dump. Let us
also not forget about the pollution and environmental harm that comes out of these processes. Largely
invisible to us as a result of building manufacturing centers overseas, we have exported many of these
problems to the developing world. Anyone who watched the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing saw the
environmental toll this can have, dust masks anyone?

I am not suggesting we stop producing consumer goods, live in locally sourced huts, and
demonize the practices that helped create the modern conveniences we all enjoy. No, I'm simply
questioning the way we go about it. Would we allow such waste and inefficiencies if they were clearly
visible? Imagine that the garbage you take to the curb every week is so big you need a forklift to move.
This would represent the true size of the waste produced producing your waste. (cue image#4)Imagine,
after you drove your new car home the dealership dropped off multiple shipping containers full of the
industrial waste produced alongside your car, added some air pollution to your home, and maybe a few
pollutants to your water supply. If these consequences were that visible, how would that change your
consumer habits? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves because while we have diverted
these effects to the corners of the developing world, they are very real for many, and may be very real
for us sooner than you think.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, it's time to talk about the elephant in the room. A favorite topic of
conservative pundits everywhere, anthropogenic climate change. The science, on the surface, is
relatively simple. Since the dawn of civilization humans have been churning out increasing amounts of
carbon into the atmosphere, culminating in meteoric fashion with the industrial revolution. Whether it's
carbon dioxide, methane, or another greenhouse gas, the amount of carbon we have injected into the
atmosphere is second only to volcanic eruptions in scope and timescale. Our insatiable appetite for
consuming cheap goods produced across the globe contributes heavily to the added carbon in the
atmosphere. The production chains of these goods are massive and jump across countries as well as
continents. The transport of goods accounted for thirty percent of developed countries CO2 emissions
in 2005 from burning fossil fuels (Leonard, 2010, p. 113). The massive, diesel burning, marine
container ships are incredibly dirty and are among the worst combustion polluters in use today.

Whats that Rush Limbaugh? There is no scientific consensus on the subject of climate change?
The many disruptions observed in Earth's climate system from temperature fluctuations, changing
weather patterns and the loss of 125 of the 150 glaciers found in Glacier National Park since 1850 are
just a cowinkydink (Mckibben, 2010, p. 43)? Well, Rush, the overwhelming majority of climate
scientist's agree that all this extra carbon is drastically changing the way our climate system operates
while you and a very vocal minority argue little to no causation can be proven. The controversy
surrounding the climate change debate has turned towards the degree of causation between what we're
doing and what we're seeing, a debate that can never be settled due to the extreme complexity of Earth's
climate. Rush wouldn't have it any other way though, the conservative stance is clear, we cannot lose a
debate that will never be black and white.

My friends, I have one thing to say to the those who claim the science isn't settled. WHO
CARES!? Who cares whether ninety nine percent of climate scientist are correct? The next step in our
evolution as a society is crystal clear with or without scientific consensus. Why on Earth would we
build infrastructure for, maintain, and be dependent on a non-renewable resource? Why on Earth
would we promote hydrocarbon combustion, a very dirty and dangerous chemical reaction regardless
of carbon dioxide, as the primary means of energy production? Why on Earth would we not evolve our
technologies towards renewable, sustainable, and cleaner energy production? Naysayers will point to
cost as the reason, which has merit, but is not an excuse to give up. I'm not suggesting we abandon our
old friend hydrocarbon immediately and altogether. There will always be a seat at the table for it, but
we must look to the future and stop investing in old, dangerous, and toxic energy solutions. It will be
difficult and cost considerable amounts of capital to make alternative energy a reality. In an oddly
satisfying cosmic coincidence, our countries electrical grid is crumbling much like the rest of our aging
infrastructure. Now is the time to turn this difficult situation into a great opportunity. We must rebuild
and revamp our nations grid to work better and more efficiently with the intermittent power produced

by the of the non-renewable power plants of the future. It will be a challenge, but we all know, nothing
worth doing is easy.

Lets recap everyone. We have a myriad of pressing and troubling environmental issues before
us as a generation, issues accented by our globalized and shrinking world. Pulitzer prize winning
author Jared Diamond outlines the Environmental struggles of civilizations that came before us in his
book Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. This book teaches us that every civilization
must behave like skynet(cue image #5) and become self aware in order to survive. The societies that
refused to accept their predicament died off along with the natural resources they exhausted. It is
thought that Easter Island's population numbered in the tens of thousands, but by the time the Dutch
arrived in 1770, the population was less than ten thousand. Diamond's theory (which has recently been
challenged) attributes this decline with the near decimation of the isolated island's natural resources.
Diamond famously postulated What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say as he
was doing it? Jobs, not trees!(Diamond, 2005, p. 114)

Our generation, the millennials, takes much flak for appearing entitled and soft. I want to
shatter that assumption everyone. I want us to rally behind the single most important problem we have
faced as a globalized civilization to date, maintaining our environment. I want history to look back at
this moment, and judge us favorably. I want to leave behind a liveable and healthy world to subsequent
generations. In my opinion, the keystone of this environmental arch is our hyper-consumption culture.
We must fundamentally change how we view goods and the entire consumer driven economy
surrounding it. We must challenge the long standing ideals of an ever-expanding economy driven by
extractive industries. We must challenge ourselves to be more conservative with what we have. There
is no magical fix, no technological savior that will save us from ourselves. We must save ourselves
from ourselves, for the world is finite but our species existence must not be. Next time you're thirsty,

get yourself a Nalgene bottle and fill up at the water fountain, not because this single act will change
the world, but the mentality behind the act will.


Diamond, J. (2005). Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. New York: Viking.

Kennedy, G. (1991). On rhetoric: A theory of civic discourse. New York: Oxford University Press.

Leith, S., & Leith, S. (2012). Words like loaded pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama. New York:
Basic Books.

Leonard, A. (2010). The story of stuff: How our obsession with stuff is trashing the planet, our
communities, and our health--and a vision for change. New York: Free Press.

McKibben, B. (2010). Eaarth. New York: Time Books/Henry Holt.

Palming off a National Park. (2013). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from