Environmental sociology is great because it focuses on the biggest social system we have, the natural environment. The natural environment is at the center of culture, the economy, and every other social institution in one form or another. To understand environmental sociology is to understand social systems. The Story of Stuff is the best video I’ve found for explaining how individual actions, social systems, and the natural environment all intertwine. The video is just 21 minutes and available online making it an excellent resource to use in class or as a homework assignment.

If you teach Marx you need to show this video to your students. I’ve spent multiple classes trying to explain how capitalism (a linear system) and the natural environment (a finite resource) can not coexist long term, but it wasn’t until my students watched this video that they truly understood what Marx was trying to say. Furthermore, students seem to grasp how capitalism generated inequality and social injustice both in the U.S. and globally.

I’ve also used this video to teach my students about the difference between what we value and what we spend our money on. I’ll start class by asking students to write down a single item they possess that could never be replaced if it was lost. The item has to be something they would be heartbroken if they lost it forever. In the past students have written things like family photos, something a loved one passed on to them, or something mundane that holds a great deal of sentimental value to them because of who they were with when they first got it. After we watch The Story of Stuff I ask the students to flip the paper over and write down what items they spend most of their discretionary money on. Students write down things like clothes, video games, and smart phones. Then we start a class discussion about why the sentimental things we value are not the things we spend most of our money on.

This video is the gift that keeps on giving. Even if you don’t teach environmental sociology, this video would be a great inclusion for an Intro to Sociology class, a Social Problems class, and any class dealing with global issues or inequality.