The "Good Point" blog is about "Ethical Electronics Exports, Fair Trade Recycling". Composed by Robin Ingenthron, founder of Good Point Recycling and the WR3A non-profit, the site discloses the company's position, policies, as well as the personal opinions of its founder. It has become an important source of inside information on the "e-waste recycling" business for academic research into recycling policy. The website invites dialogue, promotes discourse, and twitters recycling policy forward, using humor, music, and mind-bending analogies to convey important issues.
The recycling industry has been accused of misleading consumers. Ingenthron hopes that a "warts and all" blog which fully discloses the company's opinions and practices will temper cyncicism about green businesses. Frequently cited by the recycling trade press, the Vermont blog has been labeled "bracingly honest", a "creative approach", and a "refreshing" break from recycling dogmas.
As a passionate defender of "fair trade", Ingenthron writes, "Our company's first motto was that we are who we say we are, and we do what we say we do, which is kind of a sad commentary on the e-waste recycling industry." He hopes that in the future, people can once again take that for granted.
Meanwhile, a growing number of academics, entrepreneurs, and government recycling coordinators use the SEARCH function on the blog to mine answers to specific questions. They find external links to film of operations overseas, data on the company's Mexico operations, export policies, its domestic recycling capacity, hard drive data management, and more. The Good Point blog offers insights into positions staked out by EPA, ISRI, NRC, NGOs, and International institutions on mining, disposal, and recycling alternatives. Perhaps our most important followers are overseas.
Before creating American Retroworks Inc. and WR3A.org, Robin Ingenthron was Recycling Director at Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. His division implemented the first CRT "waste ban" regulations, the first market research on CRT reuse and recycling, and the first state RFP contract for municipal "ewaste" recycling (a state contract is enforceable by the Attorney General, giving it more teeth than a "Pledge" or "Certification").
Ingenthron has a BA in International Relations from Carleton College, and spent a semester at the UN in Geneva. With the US Peace Corps, he trained in Congo and taught school in Cameroon. He was hired by Peace Corps to stay in country as a "cross cultural trainer" before returning for an MBA Peace Corps scholarship at Boston University. He worked as a consultant for operating systems software industry, and as a co-director of two recycling non-profit organizations.
Good Point Recycling is a member of Vermont Businesses For Social Responsibility, Association of Vermont Recyclers, and the World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association [WR3A] an organization which establishes "Fair Trade" standards for surplus electronics exports, ensuring no "toxics along for the ride".
Live from New Orleans, International finalists for Recycling Innovator Prize (c: Resource Recycling)
Game Theory continues. Can the policy over #ewaste, the tiny little environmental niche of electronic device recycling, be assessed best via the individual conflict and cooperation strategy of decision-makers? Or rather by the environmental risk and benefit of the environmental impacts?
Competition, evolution, survival of the fittest... in societal groupthink, it's called Survivor.
I wasn't. Ah well. Neither was my reuse business model.
Over the years, this blog has examined how "legacy display devices" movement is better explained by reuse value than by "avoided disposal costs". Used CRTs from the USA compete with new CRTs made in Chinese factories in 2002. Used CRTs provide ten-fold increase in internet access in cities ruled by anti-democratic governments. Cheap secondary devices compete against new. The planned obsolescence, or anti-gray-market forces, join an alliance with "parasites of the poor". The NGOs see the visibility of their "cause celebre" picked up by more journalists, turning donations into enterprise.
The rules in any game are bought into by the players at the table. The rules are set by environmental officials who don't know an SVGA monitor from a monochrome flat panel display. The rules are enforced by international police, beat cops who act on the information given by journalists, following the footsteps of Lord Chris Smith. "I'm reporting on a really big and important story," says the journalist... and "80% exported to primitive wire burning operations" becomes the single critical ruling enforced by umpires on the field to protect Africa and China's Eden-ism (or the value of the primitive imagery to westerners, who seem to almost see huge African city-scapes - development itself - as a loss of vacation habitat).
The story builds interest in the Game. And public interest in the game is currency. Every perceived crisis is an opportunity. Even if the water samples in Guiyu, China, actually measured textile dying factories from upstream, the awareness brought to "E-Waste" can be turned into a game changer.
At the last conference WR3A attended in Africa (UNEP Nairobi conference, 2012), someone from StEP apologized for Jim Puckett by saying, "without BAN, we wouldn't be here". He meant it in a positive way... he had a job, he had a vacation to an exotic setting. Without the drama of 80%, the images of unfamiliar children burning familiar-looking scrap, could my company have gotten the funding to collect the electronics? Would we have these laws, these conferences, these blogs?
What will shut this down is the environmental malpractice, as the story surfaces of environmental injustice against "tinkerers" and "geeks of color"... When I go to conferences, I feel like the guy who has the goods on Lance Armstrong. Jim Puckett and BAN.org's incredible story about e-waste exports is - simply - not credible. This cannot be good for E-Scrap trade shows, for sale of shredding equipment, for booths and press releases, any more than a doping scandal is good news for the Tour de France.
Meanwhile, millions of people are involved in the secondary and recycling market... doing boring work, no more exotic than washing clothes. What does the scandal mean for the Egyptians, the Ghanains, the Pakistani, the Peruvian, the Taiwanese and Indonesian used goods traders? What does it mean for people showing up to grade and dismantle old TV parts in Vermont? My pitch, in writing thousands of pages of blogs about it, is that the lessons of environmental malpractice have meaning for future environmental "crises" and policy. The use of mercury in laxatives was a sad chapter in western medicine. But human health in the west is the best because of scientific method. We made mistakes and made corrections, and improved the medicine and more importantly the method. Mercury makes great bowel movements, but the value is offset by brain damage (good for excrement is negated by bad for nutrition). And no doubt the marketing of mercury to scale, to be sold over the counter to millions of people in the 1800s, involved business people and regulators and mining and marketing, the same as e-waste policy today. The names... forgotten. It's a past game of Risk, by unfamiliar players. But by knowing the strategy of the games played today, I feel like I could create anonymous stand ins and predict marketing of mercury as a laxative the same way as the sale of shredders for working legacy display devices became the primary million dollar business in e-waste, leaving piled of ruined CRT glass in its wake.
I look at Benson, and I look at my own small pond fights, here in Vermont's City Hall. How do I survive in small ponds with bigger fish? In this small, small niche of scrap recycling, and in the smaller niche of the peoples' republic of Vermont, we see individuals. We see Bullyboys. We see hard workers. We see well meaning #accidentalracism, we see #greatwhitesaviors everywhere. You could make up an environmental crisis, make up someone with the statistic that drives suspicion, and recreate the dynamic that set major OEMs, environmental police, college protesters, and journalists to roll the dice against Africans.
But the most important thing is not to label people, including UK and the EA and environmental activist. That's tough to resist in a small pond full of bullyboys. But my company has succeeded by seeing people for what they CAN do, not for what they CANNOT do. In a small classroom, a small town, or a small market team, or a small courtroom, the individuals make the difference.
In New Orleans, over dinner with researcher Travis Reed Miller of MIT, we discussed the strategy of writing brief and simple stories to stop the injustices of e-waste. I've written a few of those. This is not one of them. The long series, like Bullyboys and Firehose blogs, and this Games Theory series, are never going to get read by people in business and government. They are written to help provide a record for graduate research, and hopefully to boil down for a "how to" manual... not "how to" for e-waste, but "how to" for creating environmentally beneficial rulemaking in complex economic systems, without rolling the dice with Planned Obsolescence and Big Shred, taking out affordable internet cafes in Africa, by being part of an exciting game full of loud applause, as environmental gladiators slay hyenas, monkeys, lions, slaves and Christians, singing for the glory of the challenge. Without the bullshit, we would not have a paying audience, we would not have a nice hotel room in a foreign nation, we would not be the most popular storyteller at the tea party.
I'm amassing my pieces, gaining no cards.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
Hurricane Joe Benson (#FreeHurricaneBenson) spent years on appeal before concluding he couldn't fight "City Hall."
"In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake." - Sayre's Law (Wallace S. Sayre)
In a small pond, big fish are kings. And intellectuals talking about a rather obscure niche of world recycling policy have become empowered by the smaller audience. You learn that the proportionality of Sayre's principle cuts both ways... the big stakes questions about recycling policy go "whoosh" over the heads of local decision makers. And the small contracts, small business disputes, small business accusations, and "people from third world countries", can whip City Hall into a frenzy.
Game Theory is the study of strategic actions in multi-decision-maker scenarios. Game Theorists may use math - especially statistics - to predict how the number of actors involved in a decision affect the outcome. Or they may measure the wealth of the outcome, and how its control affects the behavior of stakeholders and decision makers. Look at it this way - the strategy and outcome of a game of RISK is affected by the number of players. If you have six players, a goal of controlling a continent is much more difficult to achieve than a game with three players. If you get to keep the cards of an eliminated player, timing that player's elimination (so you execute their final play and get their cards) becomes more important than the extra pieces you achieve by controlling a continent.
As players are eliminated, the sea of stakeholders gets smaller and smaller. The stakes in the economy, per player, get larger.
[Note: I'm on my way to New Orleans for the Recycling Innovators Forum... leaving in 20 minutes.]
A small set of stakeholders interested in an outcome starts to resemble a "small pond", as goals and perspectives become less diverse. This in turn defines the law, or the rules about behavior concocted by the remaining participants. But as the economy or stakes become greater, more people want to play at the table. This "game theory" analysis explains a lot about electronics recycling policy, perhaps so much that no one even notices the lack of actual data on the "risks" to be mitigated. Free and fair trade is almost presumed guilty, and in a rush to make rules, any rule may do. And the rules are being made by a small group of players: OEMs, Big Shred, Poverty Pornographers, and the contract managers at City Hall.
Take an online game of poker, with real cash stakes, with players on 5 continents. A vote comes up, which lettering to use on the playing cards, Chinese characters or western Arabic?
Australia, Europe, North America, and South America vote against the Asian card numbering... and like the JDowsett's Ferguson-themed Racism by Bike Blog, the game is subtly biased in a way that a Western observer won't even notice. Language is in many ways a better lens than color or bike-vs.-car for studying how majority behavior dictates systems. Debating use of language used at "City Hall" is a better study for "tyranny of the majority", perhaps, than calling darker skin a "minority" in a world geography, precisely because it takes us away from "You're not Trayvon" jingoism.
Apparently, I'm now defending JDowsett and the Racism by Bicycle Blog. But I'm also trying to demonstrate how finger-pointing do-gooders can create a carnage of collateral damage in a rush to make rules they haven't the time to vet. Primum non nocere ... first, do no harm.
In the emergency rush to make rules about e-waste, driven by the hoax emergency of brown children threatened by scary CRT display monsters, R2, E-Stewards, StEP, EPRA, and others got to choose the deck and make rules. Some of those rules were in conflict with existing rules in the Basel Convention, which explicitly recognizes Joe Benson's right to trade in CRTs for reuse. But they created "guidance documents" to explain those rules. And guidance documents, not laws, were presented in Benson's trial.
By Bullyboys... Somehow, despite the control of the rules by righteous do-gooders, by liberals out to save African children, the collateral damage falls on the wrong side of the track, again.
The irony is that many people who'd resent my questions last month about "checking privilege" are also the most privileged when it comes to owning electronics. IPhone 6 holders, who support Basel Action Network and CAER's proposed bans on overseas trade in used electronics, are the same college kids telling me to check my privilege, telling me I'm not Trayvon Martin. They want to simplify the #Game, and boil down the rules to make trade of used displays from London, listed on Alibaba, and sold to Cairo, a #wastecrime. A two player game - First World and Third World - licenses simpler strategy, like "bans" and "prohibitions".
The "ethical environmentalist" must broaden the common Western lessons of "racism" without losing the effectiveness of liberalism. We don't want to say "gotcha", and the blog may seem cynical when it exposes accidental racism by liberal environmentalists intent on helping. No, don't give up. But in trying to assist the patient's constipation with end of life electronics, don't let go of dialectic, scientific doubt, and extensive debate and review of the rules. Mercury worked wonders as a laxative, a century ago, but it failed in "do no harm".
This blog is not rejecting liberalism. Rather, in finding where it doesn't work, the blog is trying to repair it. Tinkering with liberalism, if you will, trying to make it work better. Studying racism and environmental injustice means one thing if you take a geographic boundary for granted. When liberals make assumptions about Africans, Indonesians, Brazilians based on their own experience, they get a mashup of their domestic racial history and whatever they learned about "the third world on youtube". They are playing poker with Chinese cards, and placing bets that affect players far outside their respective ponds.
Are Interpol and UK Environmental Agency prosecutors "racists"? It's a binary, ad hominem, insult and like "check your privilege", may generate more heat than enlightenment (see link to Cracked). But the concept of "accidental racism" (first coined here, before the song) applies when 4 English speaking players misread the playing cards. Spades are not "a minority". And the Chinese economy is not just larger, it's way more diverse in its "selfish interests" than 15 years ago. Not just raw material, labor, and government control, NYT diagram shows the GameTheory players changing, as China's economy more resembles Taiwans. The more different ways a game makes money, the more interest the players have in stable government. That's a huge difference between Pacific China and, say, the Arab World. And Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation, shows that religion and skin color have nothing to do with it.
I have now collected almost all the documentation on the notorious case of #freehurricanebenson, and it's dozens of pages. In the end, the UK prosecutor was using "guidance documents" from the EU, and applied a suggestion for assurance (PAT test) as a mandatory requirement under Basel Convention - i.e. interpreting Basel Convention to say export for repair is dumping. It's not, it is explicitly listed as allowed under Basel Convention Annex IX B1110. Keep in mind that the prosecutor did not show that any of the items required repair... he just shifted the burden of proof to Benson, saying that if there wasn't affirmative proof that they didn't require repair (e.g. a PAT test, which ironically Benson HAD done, but wasn't required - the prosecutor actually stated "PAT was not displayed on the container BOL")... Anyway it's clear from the documentation that Benson was tried because what he did walked and quacked like the E-Waste Hoax, and Lord Chris Smith's Environmental Agency was eager to have the first such prosecution ever.
Check your privilege, let them eat cake, unintended consequences... and environmental malpractice. I've done and made the case. Through psychology, game theory, parables, and statistics, we need to digest the mistakes of the "ewaste hoax" and adjust our prescriptions to "fix" the free market. Energy use releases carbon, and energy use costs money, and recycling and reuse save energy... That's a much simpler explanation than Emile Lindemiller's "missing link" to "organized crime". It's all in black and white.
In other words, Sir Lord Chris Smith is the biggest fish in the 2009-2013 #ewaste hoax pond. And Benson, who never went to school and cannot read and write, finally said he couldn't fight city hall. The record of the prosecution looks eerily, spookily, like racial profiling. Whether or not that's the case, #EnvironmentalMalpractice is the result. Independent testing of the goods in Nigeria showed 91% reuse, better than brand new product. I sent Benson's friends that info, but it was too late.
Benson viewed his position on the game board. He saw the dice, and the number of players - environmentalists, courts, journalists, and big shred SWEEP, rolling dice against his position. Financially and morally exhausted, Benson took 16 months in jail to avoid the risk of 60 months, and had to listen to a prosecutor compare him to a rapist. (Nice Willie Horton reference at ya.) Spending the last five years of your 50's in an English jail cell, in order to fight for the right to sell gently used electronics. He resigned.
Lord Chris Smith seemed very sincere during the presentation I attended at the Arlington VA Interpol meeting. He definitely believed his co-presenter, Jim Puckett, that 80% of the exports shipped by people like Joe Benson were burned by children in toxic dumps. But as importantly, there was no other large fish for UK's Environmental Agency to contend with in the court's pond. The was no large manufacturer, no large political figure, no NAACP, no ACLU. I contacted several attorneys seeking help for Benson, but taking a case in another country is not on anyone's pro bono wishlist.
The court documents show... It was a small pond. The handful of spurious evidence they gathered against Benson were not enough to prove habeus corpus (there was none of his "waste" at any dump), but enough to exhaust him morally. After spending on appeal after appeal, Benson gave a Tom Robinson shrug and gave up on the court system. England seemed no so different from the Nigerian legal system he grew up with.
Listen. Hear it? The deafening silence from Basel Action Network. Where is the "Applause" sign?
They know. I sent evidence of the E-Waste Hoax for years BEFORE posting it on this blog.
And yet this week, the Economist, repeated the mantra... that 80% of American electronics are shipped to Africa to be burned in villages. September 2014.
I'm trying to connect Game Theory, Accidental Racism, and Environmental Malpractice, and am not sure I've done so. But it has been almost 2 months trying to edit this blog, and I have 4 more parts to it I just have no time to edit. But in hopes that some Environmental Studies major is looking for a thesis or research paper, fighting City Hall convinced it's on the side of Environmental Justice seems to have little science, little evidence, little patience for knowledge.
Benson was prosecucted over Jim Puckett's use of Poverty Porn, and his conviction says more about racial injustice and LCS's political ambitions than it says about recycling policy. You could as easily have convicted Toyota for dumping junk Japanese cars in Agbogbloshie (which has far more auto scrap going on than electronics, btw).
Liberals, we have met the enemy, and he is us.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
After 5 years of trials at our sister company "Retroworks de Mexico" (see NPR Living on Earth, and MarketPlace), approval of the glass recycling system under EPA CRT Rule last year, and a $469,000 "Fair Trade Recycling" research grant with 3 universities to study the process, Good Point Recycling's CRT Glass management is in the news again.
This month we are being flown as a FINALIST to the National Recycling Innovators Forum in New Orleans, hosted by the national Resource Recycling Conference. This is a very prestigious national competition, which includes all types of recycling innovation (paper, glass, plastic, compost, you name it). Our "Fundente Production Partnership" (FPP) proposal is recognized as a way for electronics recyclers across the nation to cooperatively share in this new market. Basically, it supports the use of old TV CRT glass as leaded silicate to replace as a necessary ingredient in copper, zinc and gold smelting. A single copper smelter we are working with in Mexico uses over 200 tons per day of leaded silicate "fundente" or fluxing agent, and copper smelters (like Phelps Dodge in Arizona) would also become end markets in replacing mined Angelsite, Feldspar, and other virgin leaded silicates for their smelting processes.
What's the bad news? We know it works. The challenge is the perception, at Smelters, that "no good deed goes unpunished". See "CRT Market Murder Mystery" (aka the "Friendly Fire Blog") for the history of past market "solutions". Just because these smelters can recycle the piles of CRT glass does not mean they will. "We make $55,000,000 per day" one anonymous smelter engineer told me. "We'd love the chance to do something environmentally positive. But the transaction costs and liabilities of working with environmentalists are deadly. Why take material that needs a lawyer when we own the mine and it asks no questions?"
WELCOME TO THE 2014 RECYCLING INNOVATORS FORUM!
The Recycling Innovators Forum is a venue for inventors and innovative organizations to present their game-changing ideas on how to advance recycling. The Forum offers innovators throughout the recycling community the chance to compete for additional funding, marketing opportunities and industry support.
Co-located with the annual Resource Recycling Conference, the Forum is designed to elevate the best and brightest ideas in recycling to the national stage and connect them with the companies, institutions and organizations that can help turn them into reality.Original ideas, inventions and processes presented at the Forum are "shovel-ready" and capable of producing a real and immediate positive impact on the recycling industry.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
It has been one of those months when a lot of social and racial soul-searching is going on in the USA. The mysterious shooting of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri... Without going into a lot about that case here, I'll just put this link to Cracked.com "7 Important Details that No One Mentions about Ferguson" (my Facebook status for much of the week). The language is salty, but I think Cracked has definitely evolved from a Mad Magazine rip-off in the 1970s to some of the best editorial writing on the web today. Here's a shot of my status, including a snippet of the article.
Dudes... Cracked.com has grown into something, like... way different from "Mimic MAD". I've actually considered quitting to go work for Cracked, it's today's editorial.
Robin IngenthronBTW It's a longer article than usual in Cracked and the language is quite quite salty. But there are some great points made, e.g.: "Aside from protesters throwing rocks and things at police, you've probably heard reports that LOOTERS and RIOTERS were at the protests, and that is true, .... There were people at these protests who got out of hand (some from out of town, some not), and the community paid for it. But small groups of drunken youths do not a riot make, especially when it's surrounded by much larger groups of completely peaceful protesters. Most of them are just like any average citizen in America. If you have to, just imagine that all of these protesters also happen to be white. Hope that helps."
Note the distinction the author Cody Johnston makes about how a mass protest gets labelled as a "riot" less easily in our minds if we "just imagine that all these protesters also happen to be white". It's much the same point I make ad nauseum about TV repair... people perceive an African TV repairman as a little more dangerous, a little more criminal. #HurricaneJoeBenson did not get six bullets like Mike Brown, but the time they took to defame him and prosecute him was a slow motion train wreck.
Even as UN reports surfaced showing 91% reuse, and the original source of the "ewaste hoax" statistic ("80% dumping?") mumbled away a denial of ever having stated otherwise, the prosecution of Joseph Benson and BJ Electronics plodded away, taking a note of none of it. It's harder to assess, perhaps, a mistaken snap judgement made by a Ferguson MO policeman in seconds. And Trayvon Martin's killer was acquitted based on the quickness of the killing (and prosecuted in the press for the number of minutes he spent stalking trouble). Benson was FRAMED over a course of years, and apparently no one ever thought he was worth the time to check that Greenpeace and Basel Action Network were full of @#$*.
Yep, the biggest thorn in Jim's side is indeed a liberal environmentalist, a college chum of Puckett's chums.
Yearbook got us liberal Minnesota PIRGs (leaning left) mixed up with sparse Black Christians in Asia?
Back to the pastor JDowsett blog. He defends a term, "Check Your Privileges." If you haven't heard it yet, it's the modern form of "politically correct". Minorities and the liberals who defend them from society have established it as a meme for "don't make us take the time to remind you how the entire white society has put minorities into such a situation that it has to be factored in to whatever expectations we're discussing". CYP says that, quickly. And by saying it, you declare yourself with the underdog, and kind of let the person on the other end know they'll be up against the wall come the revolution.
The website "KnowYourMeme" has a good definition of the Check Your Privilege expression.
“Check Your Privilege” is an online expression used mainly by social justice bloggers to remind others that the body and life they are born into comes with specific privileges that do not apply to all arguments or situations. The phrase also suggests that when considering another person’s plight, one must acknowledge one’s own inherent privileges and put them aside in order to gain a better understanding of his or her situation.
The phrase “Check Your Privilege” was used as early as March 2006 on the social justice blog Shrub.com in an article explaining how to accept one’s inherent privilege and understand situations that members of non-privileged groups are going through.
Social justice bloggers... I never heard the term before. Kinda like it. Isn't that what we're doing when we defend the "geeks of color" in emerging markets right here at Good Point Ideas / Retroworks Blog?
Well, as I said previously, JDowsett hit the social justice blog mainline with "what my bike has taught me about white privilege". It's a about 1800 words. And against what I think is a growing backlash in some quarters about the "check your privilege" meme (which sounds a little finger-pointy, doesn't it?), Dowsett makes the case that as the white parent of black kids, he needs to understand the social context of justiced and expectations, and that he has found an analogy that works for him.
Imagine you ride a bike to work in a city that isn't bike friendly. It's not really the fault of the automobile drivers that you're in danger as you move around, they are just travelling in the lines that the city planners developed. But you can't say its fair, if you use a bike in a city like Lansing Michigan.
And it’s not just the fact that the whole transportation infrastructure is built around the car. It’s the law, which is poorly enforced when cyclists are hit by cars, the fact that gas is subsidized by the government and bike tires aren’t, and just the general mindset of a culture that is in love with cars after a hundred years of propaganda and still thinks that bikes are toys for kids and triathletes.
So when I say the semi driver is privileged, it isn’t a way of calling him a bad person or a man-slaughterer or saying he didn’t really earn his truck, but just way of acknowledging all that–infrastructure, laws, gov’t, culture–and the fact that if he and I get in a collision, I will probably die and he will just have to clean the blood off of his bumper. In the same way, talking about racial privilege isn’t a way of telling white people they are bad people or racists or that they didn’t really earn what they have.
It’s a way of trying to make visible the fact that system is not neutral, it is not a level-playing field, it’s not the same experience for everyone. There are biases and imbalances and injustices built into the warp and woof of our culture. (The recent events in Ferguson, MO should be evidence enough of this–more thoughts on that here). Not because you personally are a racist, but because the system has a history and was built around this category “race” and that’s not going to go away over night (or even in 100 years). To go back to my analogy: Bike lanes are relatively new, and still just kind of an appendage on a system that is inherently car-centric. - JDowsett 2014.08.20 Blog
It's a great defense of social justice blogs' use of the terms "privilege" and "white privilege" specifically. And I didn't feel bad about the roar of comment-applause via Facebook shares during the Ferguson week. In eloquently defending use of a "finger-pointy"term, Dowsett gave a good defense for checking others privileges. By applauding the use of an accusation, Facebookers were showing support for blacks in Ferguson.
My son sent me the CYP-by-Bike blog and asked me to read it carefully, and asked my opinion. It was lukewarm... I said I much agreed with an early comment by "Taylor".
So when it came back up on Facebook, I'd already read it. Both times, I open with a compliment, and it is indeed a good job. But the people applauding need to hear a counterpoint.
I'm all about dialectic. Liberals back-slapping each other, like nodding Budweiser Clydesdales hauling Kool-Aid, doesn't do the progressive cause more good than Limbaugh's ditto-heads, or cheerleaders for low forheaded word-butting by Sean Hannity. Logic and discussion, honesty and dialectic, that's how to get to the next level. So I thought.
Again, with the racial opinionizing, I had to leave a comment on Dowsett's blog (and via FB)
Robin IngenthronMy son just shared this with me a couple of days ago. It makes an important point, and many who’d bristle at the “political correctness” no doubt have privileges they don’t acknowledge. But I’ve seen the term (or assumption) tossed at people based purely on their race, which I believe represents the same “thin ice” of any “easy assumption”. How many handicap license plates pass the cyclist on the road? Yes, the person in the wheelchair van travels in an advantaged traffic pattern, and hopes their driver doesn’t cut off or hit a cyclist. And how many “students of color” on the campuses (where this phrase is used) have never had an experience as a minority (e.g. exchange students)? Simplification is intoxicating, and while statistically the people who say “check your priviledge” are going to be frequently on the money, “walk a mile in the other man’s shoes” is a saying which has traveled far with good reason. It cuts both ways, it makes the point of privileges, but seems less prone to sanctimony. The fact a person feels disadvantaged or privileged by society does not offer them a monopoly on dis/advantage, and they do not necessarily share equally in either the disadvantages or advantages of their ethnic group. It’s easy to see if someone’s a cyclist. Not so easy to tell the story of the bus passenger.
Now, I knew I was on huffy (or Huffington-y) turf with taht post. I'd see the distainful retorts left by proud progressive social justice commenters to other people's posts which... for lack of a better phrase - defend the resentment of "check your privileges" memes. )
Social Blogger KS - Robin, exactly what a person with white privilege would say. That you might offer the statement of "a monopoly on disadvantage" is an important one, but gets lost in your sanctimony. "You are not Trayvon Martin." That fits perfectly here because I suspect you cannot measure another's experience as it is not yours. I also suspect it speaks to your need not to be a racist to believe that not all "people of color" (can't wait to meet colorless people), experience the adversity of "white privilege". There is corruption in the idea that we can understand what it means to be someone else, and we should not cast dispersions. The power of "white privilege" is that it is so prevalent and long running that it is normal. Which is not to say it is right.
News flash. Check Your Privileges means, among other things, that you are "sanctimonious" if you are privileged and you speak out against the binary oversimplification embedded in CYP. I'm not Trayvon Martin and if I'm speaking in caution about the "politically correct" use of CYP, it's corrupt by nature and suspicious that I'm using terms like "people of color" (the correct term when I took 'US Black History' class with Dr. Nubie Williams at the University of Arkansas, before "African American" was vogue).
Anyway, I'm trying not to feel pissed off, but it's also familiar ground. "Have you stopped beating your wife?" I apologized too long for trading used computer equipment with Africans, and wish I'd taken a louder stand sooner. So summoning my politeness and reminding myself that the wounds of Ferguson are still fresh, I responded...
Robin Ingenthron KS, I thought I was careful to describe my concerns over the term without being sanctimonious, but perhaps I failed. Statistically, you may be 100% right about me and your retort maybe "fits perfectly here". It sounds like I may even have offended you in expressing the uneasy feeling I have about the essay. Not sure where I cast dispersion, however. Most of the very disadvantaged people I work with have never experienced being a racial minority, so maybe that's where my tone-deafness comes from.
Note, I said "Most of the disadvantaged people I workd with have never experienced being a racial miniority". By that I mean people in Africa, Asia, Mideast and Latin America. Sure there are religious and secular minorities, and South America is not exactly color blind. But people suffer injustice outside of the automobile-centric whiteburbia.
Ok, he's politely asked me to explain how I have a right to an opinion on the matter, stating I've placed myself as an "exemplar". The glove has dropped.
First, I have to take myself out of the dynamic. Let's say KS is right about me, on the money.
Still, in the same way that JDowsett explains that automobile drivers can't really experience life as a bicycler, can't really understand the way the system looks at from their point of view, I have to point out that Dowsett hasn't addressed the wheelchair van, or the handicapped person, or the people walking on foot.
Could I ever really know discrimination? I remember when I was a "hippy", with long hair in the early 80s, an African-American friend reminded me... Yes, I'd be discriminated against in Arkansas, looking the way I did. Yes, I could get a peek into social injustice, by being judged for my looks rather than my character. But for me, it would only be a choice. If things ever got bad, I would always know, I could cut my hair. He could not wash the black off.
As I explain in the last response, my final post, "Check Your Privilege" is an ad hominem attack. It is a logical tactic called "poison the well". If racists would share my opinion about Dowsett's blog, how can I respond?
By reminding Americans that the USA is a small place, and our history of racial integration is a work in progress. It has lessons for places like Europe. It also has almost nothing to do with Africa or Asia. Privilege and injustice exists outside of the USA's cultural traffic jam. But most of the dark skinned people in the world live their entire lives surrounded by people who look more or less like they do, and have little experience with being "a minority".
As serious as I am about posting Cracked.com's damning, searing attack on Ferguson Missouri police, I'm also serious that liberals must "do no harm" in promoting their solutions. I think "Check your privilege" is lazy. It simplifies the world and equates people who may have some experience in common, but maybe not. Disenfranchising women is not a western invention, it's an invention of poverty which is cured by industrialization. It's cured slowly, agonizingly slowly, with setbacks, but trade in my opinion is the great equalizer.
Robin IngenthronKS - I honestly believe in dialectic. Really. You may be 'on the money' that "no monopoly on disadvantage" is "exactly what a person with white privilege would say", but that's an ad hominem argument. Given that many "wrong" (non-Trayvon) persons would share my opinion is not a logical counterpoint, no matter how many disagreeable strawmen you imagine to share it. As it happens the examples I had in mind are non-whites who are a) disadvantaged, and b) not minority. The Biyas, Gaddafis, Mubaraks and Mugabes tell whites to "check our privilege", invoking "colonial history" as an excuse for their political purges on Malalas, Ken Saro Iwa, Isaac Boro, etc. My Privilege does not keep me from recognizing a poor excuse for tribalism, graft, or sexism (Europeans did not bring "sexual inequality" to the global south, did they?) , yet it's used all the time by bullies to keep criticism off balance. Many are suffering in Lagos, Jakarta, or Lima, savagely taxed by locally privileged people they know perfectly well. Yet they've never been "a minority". Why is that notion important to me? Mugabe could say that "a racist would agree with me", which pinpoints the flaw with CYP - Correlation /= Causation. My analogy that dis-ambulatory people are not on bicycles was a fair critique against telling all "autoists" to 'check their privileges', and injecting my alleged "sanctimony" demonstrates my concern. "Privilege" and lack thereof is complex, it isn't binary, and as the OP states well, the haves often don't appreciate it. But as oblivious as the cyclist imagines them, the cyclist can indeed be oblivious to his ambulatory privileges, and the point is that attacking the privilege of the reasonable opponent is not a good method of dialectic. No matter how racist I may or may not be, insinuating that I lack the moral bearings to acknowledge my white privilege triggers deflection of blame, which is a distraction from a valid debate. See Aristotle's ad hominem attack or "poisoning the well"http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Poisoning_the_well "Check your privilege" comes across that way to me, it appears to be used to intimidate and raise questions about one's zen. I don't think your response disproves my caution.
Poisoning the well is a rhetorical technique and logical fallacy that uses the a...S
We want Palestinians and Jews to trade, we want Tutsi and Hutu to exchange, we want to let our kids jam out to other peoples music. We don't want dictators chasing away Western democracy with guilt trips of colonization.
We want Japanese Romeos to marry Chinese Juliettes, we want to jail assholes who chop up women and journalists without regard to how many people look like them. Assholes come in many flavors. We want people to feel good about becoming a police officer, we don't want it to be identified as a "politically incorrect" career. We want to be honest about sustainability.
I'm considered crazy left by some of my family in the South.
What I learned is that to truly, truly make a difference about the cause, you must approach it like a doctor. Use scientific method, logic, and economics. Like Socrates, learn to thank others who argued against you, happy to be found wrong. And treat your colleagues the same.
"Check your privilege" is shorthand. It's worth saying maybe once. When it becomes a "meme", it jumps the shark and can do more harm than good. Liberals make just as lousy bullies as conservatives.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
I have about 30 pages of blogs composed this summer, but the challenge is to update them as fast as the news changes.
Sometimes it's easier to point back at past predictions... In the past year or so (not in order, and some still "breaking" news).
1. BAN denies "80% waste" statistic (denies ever saying it). 2. Peer reviewed studies from USITC, MIT, Memorial U, ASU, UNEP, etc. show 85-91% reuse. 3. Benson is reportedly released early#freehurricanebenson 4. Lord Chris Smith (UK Environmental Agency director) is replaced. 5. Vermont ANR terminates contract with CRT-landfill operation early. 6. Payment refused to local governments may be released. 7. Interpol may have hit the "pause" button on Project Enigma / Eden (unconfirmed) 8. A stampede of Europeans emerging from the trenches in Agbogbloshie to testify...
E-WASTE HOAX - NOT AS "BAN" ADVERTISED.
"Do not know what they are talking about. Making it up as they go along."
Time's up. Basel Action Network and Greenpeace need to make a correction. They are good people, with consciences, and eStewards should be troubled by technicians being put in jail accused of #wastecrime.
There are still plenty of problems in emerging markets. There is pollution, there is child labor, there is definitely "toxics along for the ride". But the idea proposed - to shred all the rich people's "stuff" - was no solution to poverty or pollution. It was planned obsolescence, joining big shred, given thumbs up by censoring dictators, to boost a firehose of disinformation about recycling.
Lesson, be true to thine own self. My company may never recover from the economic hardship dished out by Montpelier. But that business was changing quickly anyway, and while the blog may not always keep up with current events, it has done a good job of predicting future events.
"Useless Lists of Jobs Beneath Wealthy People (2012)" was spot on. Bans on trade between rich and poor is just as bad an idea as Adam Smith described. You can come up with "safe" jobs you feel are ok for 18 year olds in the global south. But no one in emerging markets sees your safe jobs in the Want Ads. "Let them bake cakes" is a lousy slogan.
I've had several dozen silent supporters, afraid of being singled out as "export apologists" (a personal ad hominem label Jim Puckett gave me personally). It's ok now to come out and say "touche pas a mon pote". We have inter-gender friends, we have interracial friends, we have interreligious friends, and our inter-friendships will not be framed or defined by "anti-globalization" stories about abuse.
#FreeHurricaneBenson is a campaign slogan understood by FRAMED, understood by RUSTYRADIATOR, understood by KIVA, and a long list of under-30 alterglobalization good people. We did not drink the "shred rich people's equipment" koolaid and history will be our ****.
Having busted open the myth, we now have a lot of work to do. SERI (formerly R2 Solutions) is trying to address the vacancies in their map of "find a recycler". Fair Trade Recycling knows the best repair and reuse technicians in the world are inversely proportionate to the dots on SERI's map.
Coming soon - a new WR3A Program designed to redistribute the credit for fixing Annie Leonard's "STUFF".
"Philip Dilley was until recently the Executive Chairman of Arup, a trust-owned global planning, engineering, and project management consulting group with fee revenues in excess of £1bn and over 11,000 staff members. His role carried responsibility for the group performance and brand. He is currently Chairman of London First, a business membership organisation with the mission to make London the best city in the world in which to do business. It influences national and local government policies and investment decisions to support London’s global competitiveness. He is also a Member of the Governing Council of Imperial College, a world-renowned British University carrying out undergraduate and post-graduate teaching and research in science, engineering, medicine, and business."
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
Saw this in the Atlantic Online, via Quartz (qa.com)
It shows how intelligent rural people are attracted to culture, or simply shows urbanization, depending on your take. It's a little tough to distinguish the two. But the printing press, during this time, was a city device, and until the internet, literacy was correlated with printing presses, and printing presses were in cities.
In my experience in "emerging markets", aka the "developing world", electricity and internet remain urban magnets. As aspiring people move to Accra or Lagos (see "cultural gulfs in developing markets" series), they need "good enough" display devices to do things like access the internet and watch World Cup matches and local news broadcasts.
The export of display devices, like those shipped by #freehurricanebenson and other importing markets, is more plausibly driven by reuse than by externalization of pollution.
The fact is that Americans and Europeans and Japanese and South Koreans and Australians replace CRTs which last 20 years for a "flat" LCD device after 4-5 years. The simple explanation explains far more export than the theory of "toxic exports" and "avoided disposal costs". Those cost savings do accrue, but correlation is not causation. And the pollution costs embodied in the copper and plastic and aluminum are actually positive environmental recovery
The "e-waste hoax" of the past ten years is the hypothesis that if it's more expensive to crush and destroy a TV or monitor than it is to export it, then the cause of the export must be the savings. Look at the film above. No doubt the people leaving for the cities were freeing beds and food and displacing their consumption of resources from the rural areas. In severe cases, that can even be the cause of expatriotization, when refugees flee war or pestilence.
But stating that "80%" of the exports of display devices are explained by avoided disposal costs is like saying that 80% of of the history of Paris, London, New York, Barcelona, etc. can be explained by people fleeing costs rather than pursuing opportunities.
If fleeing costs were really the driver, Joseph Benson would not be shipping to cities like Accra. He could find more remote places to dump toxics, like the illegal dumper of Trafigura, in some out of sight place. The sea containers would go directly to Agbogbloshie and the good items removed and brought to Accra. BAN's hypothesis that junk units seen in reuse markets show the reuse markets to be some kind of staging filter for Agbogbloshie is ridiculous. The reuse shops in Lagos, Cairo, Accra feed reuse markets. Their role in collecting junk is the same as the role of used car markets with junk autos.
People come to these used goods markets with older electronics generated from inside these African cities, with stuff they bought in the 1990s or 1980s, and trade it in for the newer, nicer, repaired stuff that people like #freehurricanebenson buy, transport, repair, and resell.
The presence of a 1980 junk Volkswagon vehicle at a Vermont Volkswagon lot could, I guess, be explained by Germans externalizing the cost of toxic waste oil, antifreeze, lead batteries, etc. But it's more logical that someone in Vermont owned that junk auto and needs a new one and traded it in.
That's what's going on in African and Asian and Latin American markets. And it's incredible that those of us in the know keep explaining it, that The Guardian and Blacksmith Institute and 60 Minutes and Time and National Geographic and PBS keep reporting the E-Waste Hoax, and keep mysteriously failing to interview the accused importers. They get kids in the scrapyards, sure. But those kids didn't import the container, they are posed as "vicitims".
I had hoped that FairTradeRecycling/WR3A's role in getting the UNEP Study (E-Waste Assessment) would have been enough to trigger an "ah-hah" moment. The only evidence is the silence of BAN, NRDC, Greenpeace, and SVTC as Geeks of Color have their lives ruined, their goods seized (in Egypt) by dictators, and are even imprisoned in England for an unproven allegation of "wastecrime" based on guidance documents written by EU enforcement officials who actually believed the 80% Waste stat presented them by a self-interested fundraiser. They didn't talk to the Africans, Taiwanese, Indonesians. They didin't even ask for translations of the interviews with the Techs of Color which WR3A provided on Viddler.com for the past 6 years.
The cultural gulfs, and urbanization, is not "about" you. It's not about your "stuff". It's about people.
Externalization of costs and pollution does happen. Don't put conservative labels on me, except for the ones about conservation and caution over implementation of fixes ("do no harm"). Look at the movement of the most toxic industry on the planet - and the polar opposite of recycling. Copper, Gold, Silver and Tin mining ruin land and so find their investments far away from property values. In this case the economics support the hypothesis. Not so with the "reuse vs. excuse" debate.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
One my flight back from the EU, I had the good luck to find myself seated next to a young woman from Botswana. I learn she's a student of economics (probably) returning for her sophomore year at a very selective small women's liberal arts college in Massachusetts.
As my twins are just starting college life, we had a lot to chat about in the beginning, about the cost of USA tuitions and fees, financial aid, and jobs. My wife teaches at Middlebury, and (I'll call her Mosta, a pseudonym) knew the Cameroon program my wife set up and was considering applying for next year. Mosta described her father as a retired road construction engineer, and her mother ran a nursing program at a Botswana hospital.
Botswana Africa is considered one of the most democratic and least corrupt countries in the sub-sahara, though Mosta and I quickly agreed that it was a low bar. She knew the term "resource curse". Botswana is home to diamond mining (and not much else), and reliant on raw materials contracts. She understood and agreed with my "development" theory. Nations whose path to wealth was mainly tied to being somehow related to someone with the sharpest elbows inside a bureaucracy which controlled foreign access to those raw materials. The curse of natural resources lies in the bullyboy culture within the governments who find themselves awash in cash from resource contracts but don't have much of a private sector in other home businesses.
We talked about how nations which lack natural resources don't all prosper. Haiti and Sudan and Ethiopia don't have oil or diamonds, but they don't bear much resemblance to Singapore, Taiwan, or South Korea. The absence of billion dollar state contracts does not itself explain their rapid development. And the temptation among many is to attribute the cause of the success to other factors like race or genetics.
At this point poor Mosta may have been a victim of politeness, because she'd nowhere to run (though she could have picked up a book or used the pillow to shut me up, I figured). She'd unleashed me to talk about the "Missing Women" theory by Ritesh Singh - which attributes social development to the integration of women in the economy.
Singh's use of statistics and Adam Smith-ish logic to explain how women's rights add huge statistical leverage on things like management. If you can promote staff who are excellent at making spear shafts to making more expensive added-value spear blades, you need to be able to give the shaft making job to someonoe else, Smith explained, and putting 50 percent of your workforce out of the running damages your economy even if it's true they lack the capacity to reach the same level of excellence in spear shaft making. And after a generation or two of allowing any minority - such as women - access to the lower shaft-making job, you will eventually find someone among them who do compete well with men, and over generations you have a better workforce or management force to choose from.
Mosta seemed genuinely engaged with me and to enjoyed the discussion as much as I did. Her perspective from the women's college or from the perspective of Botswana, or because (like me) she was fascinated by statistics classes, kept us going on the topic. I offered that if two resource poor nations are equally lacking in "resource curse" and bullyboy contracts, their relative success could be explained statistically by democratization and equality of women and minorities in access to all jobs in the economy.
Then I sprung on her the "Tinkerer Blessing" theory, which is the most successful economic path to development is fixing rich people's retained value "stuff". Added Value in the economy is well understood (see "value added" taxes on all my invoices from Europe), but "retained value" is targeted and destroyed by planned obsolescence, anti-"market cannibalization" laws, and export bans of added value products which can be repaired, refurbished, repurposed, or recycled.
Mosta was fascinated that my company today was making most of its money by accepting payments from state governments - who receive money from established developed industries - to break stuff, to remove added value, which we used to export. We get more money from OEM and Product Stewardship laws to break an Optiplex computer with a bad capacitor than we can get paid (given the costs of R2 compliance, risk of "exporter" hysteria) by people who know how to fix that capacitor.
That is labelled "stewardship". The "haves" will remain "stewards" of the product, and thus liable, if it's allowed to be exported and reused. (I didn't allude to the ancient Chinese philosophy that if you rescue a man from drowning that you will be forever liable for whatever harm he does, as described to me at 5 years old by Maurice Votaw).
These laws did not exist a decade ago (except to some degree in Japan, as chronicled by Eric Williams at American University a decade ago - where I pointed out they were not "environmental" laws but anti-export-of-Japanese-added-value-electronics-to-competing-repair-economy laws). But today, groups like Interpol appear to put as much emphasis on arresting African electronics repair entrepreneurs as they put on gun-running, ivory poaching, child soldiering, endentured sex trade, illegal forestry, or conflict metal mining.
She wanted to know more about "Hurricane Benson", but I was almost afraid at that point she was letting me gush about my own work. I gave her info on WR3A and we'll see if she follows up. She loved the "Recycling Ambassadors" idea, which I'll be writing about soon (the project of our new WR3A intern Camila Fernandez).
Botswana diamond mine
The conversation with Mosta went on well past a couple of hours, and she had plenty of her own perspectives to share. She sees AIDS as the current focus in Botswana, and as much as she may distrust the "#poverty porn", "#greatwhitesavior", "#parasiteofthepoor" grant and aid based ecoonomies, she reminded me that the chance of death from disease in her country put risk of either "e-waste toxics" or "planned obsolescence" into a certain background that I had forgotten about. (She said she'd speak to her mother about my "clean needles" theory of western syringes, used for treating gonorrhea etc., given HIV transmission via needles and my observation of needle reuse in Africa).
I'll just end with Mosta's frustration with "liberal bubble", and how upset she people get about the commencement speaker, Mdm Christine Lagarde of the IMF, who cancelled her address under the protests. She was so polite at all times... but I was a bit impressed that her most emotional moment was incredulousness when a student "questioned her" about why she, as a student from Botswana, would not protest the commencement address from the IMF. She and I both agreed that globalism has a lot of positives, and Mosta said that even if IMF makes plenty of mistakes she'd like to learn about them and to have a discussion on how the world would have looked had IMF never existed (A "It's a Wonderful Life" I kept to myself, she's more of a Shakespeare expert than a film buff. She'd read the complete works of Shakespeare in high school). Anyway, she was just kind of put off, apparently, by the naked liberal self-righteousness in a 20 year old who would protest a speech by a woman who was head of the International Monetary Fund.
That was excuse enough for me to share my riff on the "One Percenters". Suppose it turned out, I said, that each and every person in the one-percent club had disappeared from the face of the earth three months ago and we only just now learned about it. All their assets and stock had gone into social security, and it appeared that the only effect on our lives was that certain government budget deficits were going to be fixed much sooner than we thought. But given the rich percent's disappearance, how many of us had noticed? Or did it turn out that most of the problems we face, day to day, in our lives come from bullyboys, people much closer to us in income? Are our lives more impacted by Donald Trump, or by a local asshole or bitch we know by name?
After the airplane lunch we went to the restroom and I put on my earphones to listen to music and give Mosta a break. I know I can come off as a firehose in the field I'm most passionate about. I must say I appreciate speaking to a young intelligent female economics student from Botswana, who seems to want to learn so much more than the Vermont officials who chose not to attend - or to allow the Governor to attend - the Middlebury College Fair Trade Recycling Summit of 2013. They did not want to learn from the officials from USITC, NERC, ISRI, OEMs, or techs from Africa, Holland, or university researchers, or author Adam Minter. Like the liberal bubbleheads at the college who got a commencement address from the woman head of the IMF cancelled, they find a kind of chilly victory in making sure that other people don't hear the opinions shared by someone they don't agree with.
Bullyboys, we have them everywhere. Thanks to shared seats on row 51 of the KLM/Delta Flight 641, we have a meeting of the minds between two sexes from two continents, 30 years apart. Maybe if I find myself on a flight next to David Mears or Deb Markowitz, they'll find out I'm an environmentalist who has cared about the emerging markets his entire life, and invested every dime his family had to create jobs in Vermont which would improve the world, save Vermont tax money, improve cooperation with OEMs. But at least yesterday I had a feeling that whatever happens to Good Point Recycling, I've got a big world of people who agree with me and who would have appreciated what I tried to do if they'd had a say.
Denying people a say denies us all the Delta or difference in opinion we'd gain from open discourse. The college could have offered a second speaker at another venue with an opposing point of view. Instead, they made Christine Lagarde a victim, like Joe Benson, of bullyboys.
"By having her speak at our commencement, we would be publicly supporting and acknowledging her, and thus the IMF. Even if we give Ms. Lagarde the benefit of the doubt, and recognize that she is just a good person working in a corrupt system, we should not by any means promote or encourage the values and ideals that the IMF fosters." - Bubblehead Petition
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
On my way to Lyon, France, home of Interpol. Lots of blogging in the draft folders. But let's keep things simple. Joe Benson of BJ Electronics was a technician of color accused by BBC and Skynet and Lord Chris Smith of the EA of wastecrime. He was sentenced after years of appeals (which cost him more than paying the fine, I'm told). And now he's in jail. White environmentalists can sleep easier, knowing the black geeks aren't burning their iPhones in "witches brews" of e-waste toxics stirred by children.
What does Africa see?
1. Teeming cities in the emerging markets generate tens of thousands of tons of municipal solid waste. e.g. Economist 2.2014 "Nigeria’s sprawling megacity, Lagos, with a population of 21m or so, disgorges 10,000 metric tonnes of waste a day."
2. Cities in Africa and China have had CRT televisions and monitors for decades and decades. World Bank 2006 statistics show Nigeria already had 6.9M households with TV.
3. The cost of shipping a containerload of used CRT televisions from England to Africa costs, per television, more than four times the value of the copper that can be recovered from the TV. A trader to Africa loses money on every junk TV shipped.
4. Plastic shrink wrap does not have any significant effect on the damage to CRTs shipped to Africa. It's purely cosmetic.
5. Independent EU and African consultants examined 279 of the sea containers with used electronics seized in African ports and during a 2 year study funded by the UN, found 91% reuse, better than brand new product.
6. Greenpeace and Skynet had to pay 20 times scrap value to get their television with the tracking device back out of the African market.
7. Arrest and imprisonment of THEIR Michael Dell, Simon Lin, Terry Gou... the same tinkerer-refurbishing economy that built Singapore, Shenzhen, Taiwan and Inchion is "forbidden fruit" to Africa under "Project Eden".
I have the documentation used to convict and sentence Hurricane Joe Benson to 16 months is prison. They did NOT test his TVs, did NOT allow repair to be considered.
My thesis is that there is no evidence to justify Benson's experience except the following.
A. Basel Action Network made up a hoax statistic that 80% of the electronics exported were scrapped by "primitive" Africans. B. Interpol in 2009 accepted BAN's statistic, reprinted it as an official guidance document despite 0 evidence of the statistic. C. Interpol did discover (expressing surprise) that the shipments were not paid for by EU waste companies to avoid disposal costs, but that the electronics were purchased by Africans ("waste tourists") for far more than the value of the scrap, that the Africans refused to buy most of the electronics they could have purchased, and that after purchasing the electronics for more than scrap value, the Africans paid shipping and customs duties on each piece. Interpol's Emile Lindemulder described the trade as "organized" and (see A) therefore "organized crime".
Despite the proof that most material photographed by Basel Action Network and Greenpeace at African dumps was generated in African cities after decades of use, after comparison of Greenpeaces own photos showing drastically different years of manufacture in sea containers compared to the white Magnavox black and white TVs filmed at Agbogbloshie, despite the fact that the UK officials who opened Benson's containers (on film) allowed them to fall and break before testing them, despite all this, Benson's prosecutor described him as...
"like a rapist"
A naturalized UK Nigerian TV repairman is like a scary black rapist?? He's not accused of rape, or of any other crime other than exporting used electronics. But the UK proceedings describe it as a "repeat offense" and then used the r word to describe Joseph Benson.
I'm taking this to Amnesty International. This is totally racist, #whitesaviorcomplex, bad math. Basel Action Network's quiet description of "collateral damage" (!!!) does not cut it. It's post-colonial paternalism and it's no longer an excusable mistake, this has been out in the open for more than 5 years, and BAN.org and Greenpeace are curiously silent.
Come out and tell my why I'm wrong and why Mr. Benson deserves to be in jail. Chickens.
@AmnestyUK, @AmnestyInternational Someone is going to break this and it may be the last straw for Greenpeace, which believed Basel Action Network.
Check out research by MIT, Memorial U, ASU, others. This is a case of white fundraisers creating a hoax problem and not admitting to it as people are jailed. Notgoingaway. Mike Enberg has resigned from E-Stewards, if you are a reporter still on the fence about this ask Enberg about "collateral damage" of the geeks of color. Ask IFIXIT. This is garbage.
[postscript] This post got a surprising number of reads. File under key words "friendly fire", "environmental malpractice", "environmental justice", "racism", "whitesaviorcomplex", "PovertyPorn", "geeks of color", "e-waste hoax", "unintended consequences", "planned obsolescence" and "collateral damage". E-Waste Hoax has made me ashamed to be a recycler and ashamed for my fellow environmentalists, but it does show the 50 somethings preaching about "third world" and "primitive African recyclers" got one thing right - don't believe everything from someone over 30. Environmental studies is now officially mature because it can apply scientific method to flush out the false hypothesis. In the meantime, release Hurricane Joseph Joe Benson of BJ Electronics from English jail. Do it quickly, do it now, and apologize to Africa for mistaking them for colonial children. And by the way, Mike Anane (who I met at an Interpol meeting), the Ghana Journalist, is guilty too. He called Agbogbloshie "worse than Chernobyl", mistook aluminum phosphors for "lead poison" and attributed contagious diseases to heavy metals... all on camera. I met him, I'm sure he means well, but he's a one-trick pony. As a journalist, he had a chance to expose the false arrests of Africans, to "follow the trail" and find that the Agbogbloshie scrap comes primarily from Accra city dwellers and not from African importers like Joe Benson. He is an active participant in the BAN.org lynch mob targeting geeks of color. I mention him specifically because I'd like to be attacked by him. Mr. Anane, Come out and tell my why I'm wrong and why Mr. Benson deserves to be in jail. I'd like to introduce you to Eric of Ghana, Fred of Burkina Faso, Miguel of Angola, Hamdy and Essam of Egypt, Wahab of Ghana, Jinex of Peru, Gordon of Taiwan, Fung of Malaysia, and Hurricane Joe, and let you explain the colonial power witches brew toxic export theory to them, and how the money THEY spend to buy used goods is bad, and how you are smarter than they are. I don't export because Vermont believes you guys. I've been banned from international trade. Yet according to FOIA documents, Vermont ANR staff cited my support of "Fair Trade Recycling" in scoring of my company's bid. Thought crime and opinion were weighed in award of a contract paying $477,000 more of Vermont public revenue funds for out of state shredding. It's not enough that my company never sold a Vermont TV to Africa, it's the thought that counts.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
The Economist Babbage Blog and recent Guardian pieces, rerunning the "A Place Called Away" portrait of Ghana Electronics recycling are kinda wow, kinda 2008.
Any true student of urban studies know that these cities are changing day by day.
I was sticking my neck out in 2010, telling folks that the Guardian Newspaper photos of 2 tons of white monitors in Agbobloshie did not prove the thesis that people like Joe Benson were "organized crime" for exporting 500 tons of black hotel televisions. The photos at Agbogbloshie (@Guardian "Sodom and Gomorrah", another exotic biblical reference) practically disprove the allegation on their own. 1990s waste outside an African city does not mean that 2000s product purchased in Essex London is headed for the same place.
This is about People and Geography, not about Stuff. There is no "Hell" on any geography map, and there is no "Eden", and there is no place called "Away". People who describe emerging markets with words like "Hell" and "Eden" have a Victorian Economist view of the world.
Or maybe it's more the Mary Poppins timeline. Saving Mary Poppins and SavingAfrica have a certain theme in common.
Below are 4 Key "World Travellers" of 2014 who are making the great E-Waste Hoax go away. Not with a Bang nor a whimper, but with a Tweet. 1: ERIC PREMPEH and WAHAB ODOI of GHANA
We sent Eric Prempeh, our Good Point Recycling Ghana Tech to Ghana in February. He spent most of the time visiting his own family (with his new Vermont wife), but also went to the tech repair village and to Agbogbloshie (different places) and took photos. I'm working on an article interviewing Eric and showing the problem from the point of view of an African. This is the first time an African technician and repair professional has ever been interviewed first hand.
Eric surprised us by getting a full scholarship to Georgia Tech in April (Earth Week, and the anniversary of the Fair Trade Recycling Summit of 2013 which he spoke at). Good for you, Eric. He is still online supporting our staff at Good Point, still the expert to meet. I scored short internships with my two sons (Jake is scavenging for parts with Eric at right). Jake rebuilt a compute with Eric (the only way I'd let him own one) from parts, and Morgan took over parts inventory to support one of the sales Eric helped prepare for Dubai or Pakistan.
Wahab Muhammed Odoi is now sitting in Eric's chair, he is actually a buyer of PCs for his home in Ghana, lives in Vermont about 80% of the year. He's pictured between Frederique Somda (Burkina Faso), Oscar A Orta (Mexico), and Martign van Englend (Netherlands), a the Summit in the photo above. Wahab goes more regularly to Ghana and has also been giving us lots of photos. He is trying to sponsor a young man from Accra, Musah Abdul Jaleel, to come as our next Fair Trade Recycling Intern. Musah excels at fixing printers and copy machines, would come (like Fred Somda and Yadji Moussa) to learn the recycling side of the business. In the Fair Trade Recycling model, we discount the price of working items we sell to refurbishing markets which take back local (African, Asian, Latino) e-waste, using the value to create solutions.
(Will soon announce our newest intern, Camila Fernandez, who just returned to Middlebury after 5 months in Germany and 5 months in Brazil. On her way back she stopped and visited three recycling and refurbishing plants in Lima and Paita Peru. Will cover her work in a separate blog).
2: @RECYHUB, @AMP and @PANURBAN LIVE @AGBOBLOSHIE @RecyHub and @Amp and "neo-nomad" @Panurban have been busy white people, camped in Agbogbloshie for weeks, getting to know Ghana technicians, interview them, eat with them, and get to know them. They've arranged donations of tech appropriate copper wire shredders and even a drone (not sure whether that's for cutting edge or cutting hedge). It's been labeled a "makers" project.
In fact, the longer I follow the RecyHub tweets, the more people like @AMP and @Panurban and ic.twitter.com/SeWVh9CBC3 Michael @Mistyclench99 I meet. That's how fast this is changing. And that's why the Guardian and Economist and UK press in general's coverage of Geeks of Color is so damn awful, any remote amount of background work would have shown them the story of 80% waste burning exports is economically infeasible.
Now I gave RecyHub a bit of a twitter scolding for advertising the projects in a "Save the Africans" manner and their tweets are still a little bit #WhiteSaviorComplex, for my tastes. But I really must say, they took it like troopers and stayed in touch. When I first lived in Africa, I did my share of the photography of poverty... it's like taking a picture of the Statute of Liberty to "prove" you've been there. I have never returned to live in Africa for as long as RecyHub, PanUrban and @Amp have, and I applaud their work.
I previously mentioned Reassembling Rubbish, the online news source assembled by Dr. Josh Lepawsky and the team at Memorial University (Mostaem Billah, Grace Akese, Charles Mather, Chris McNabb, Erin T, Tamara Tukhareli, et. al.)
I should point out in particular the cartograms which are based on actual data of actual used electronics shipments. Two things jump out at me. First - huge changes in the flows of "waste" over the decades - they paint a very dynamic, almost weather-like picture of trade in sea containers, changing directions and places. Second, they totally reinforce my descriptions of these flows over my 8 years of writing.
Look below at the volumes to Indonesia. Indonesia had the PT Imtech and PT Mag factories, which remanufactured SKD or semiknockdown CRTs to service India's CRT demand market. Those were ISO computer monitor assembling factories, not "primitive wire burning villages" (as described by Allen Hershkowitz of NRDC, when PT Imtech seizures were covered by Beth Daley of the Boston Globe). They are the big brown lines in the "old" decade frame, and have practically disappeared in the modern catrogram. That is largely because their business has shrunk down to just a million CRT televisions per year sold to India (used to be much larger), though it may also be that they learned their lesson, stopped buying from nations (like the USA) who call them primitive, and cause their containers to be seized as "hazardous waste".
In the beginning, I was worried that Memorial U also would be frightened by the White Saviors (Basel Action Network) and pull their punches. They have had some interesting cross-cultural lessons in Sonora, Mexico, having as much to do with proximity to poverty as with language and culture. But what I really love about the Memorial University team is the built-in partnership. Mostaem Billah is from Bangladesh, and Grace Akese is from Ghana, and I forget which woman is from Mexico. Josh may not be the whitest white boy I've ever met, but I'm not 100% sure of that. He's got a terrific sense of humor and no one could accuse him of any bias in his approach to the study of e-waste. Did I just write that? Well, I have to drop these bombs to keep people reading.
4: FRAMED DOCUMENTARY
We made a modest contribution to the Kickstarter Project #Framed with Cassandra Herrman and Kathryn Mathers. #WhiteSaviorComplex is a nicer hashtag than my "#AccidentalRacism?" rhetorical question, but I wrote that in the fog of war in 2009-11 when the press was having its feeding frenzy on the geeks of color.
A few other video projects are charging down the same alley, #RustyRadiator in particular, which attempts to use humor to bring the #WhiteSaviorComplex out in the open.
5: DEPARTURE OF ROBIN INGENTHRON?
Ok, that's a tease. I'm leaving for Europe for 2 weeks.
...But the rumors abound. Since the loss of $1.5M in Vermont recycling business last year (merci a Montpelier), and the drop in payroll (from $26k per week a year ago to $10k per week this week), and our dropping of ISRI, Chamber of Commerce, VBSR and other organizational memberships, people are talking. And we may have to sell or lease our flagship property before next spring. That is psychologically difficult for employees and investors. A major blow to the business' Ego. But the Great White Ego is what this blog is all about.
Look, it has been incredibly difficult not to ride my own high horse into the #WhiteSaviorComplex sunset.
Two years ago this month, I was writing on the beach about the passing of my dear and troubled friend, Yadji Moussa. It was challenging to write about someone who was such a hero to me in 1984 that I called him a Ghandi-like, MLK-like person in Ngaoundal, Cameroon. My Peace Corps replacement found it so true she married him, had two kids, and I was thrilled when they moved to the USA. But I had to also be honest that he was with me in Vermont because he'd failed as a father, spent time in prison for repeated drunk driving, and on the last occasion in prison I basically put him there by calling the police as he drove off, shitfaced and without a license. It was rather difficult to write about, and I was rather emotional, and at least one reader on the blog commented that I was treating him like a child and subtly making myself his savior. #CovertRacism was her hashtag.
PeaceCorps Facebook We can be heroicizing just for one day
You can kind of roll that punch off when you physically lived in the same house with a guy and have been close friends and financially entangled for 30 years. Yadji was with me from the beginning. He and I had deep philosophical discussions in Cameroon (and I never once saw him drink alcohol there, in 30 months) about creating a business out of repair and reuse imports. He told me as a child how his family would save money to travel to Lagos to buy bales of used clothing, bring the bale back to the village, and begin sewing back buttons and torn rips. He moved to New England when I said I was going to start this business, when it was only an idea, and he saw us grow, and was happy to be part of it. He was sharing in the American dream, and at the same time proud of the Technicians, Geeks, and Fixers we were bringing to visit from Africa. While he was not a tech, he was proud of the people coming here to do business with us.
The point is that I was heroicizing Yadji in the 1980s. I was doing it because he was an underdog among thousands of Africans, he was not someone I met in the USA context. But I recognize that in raising him high in my esteem, I was also setting myself up. And I reintroduce it in today's blog because any of our Fair Trade Recycling projects could come to a bad end. There are no guarantees. We are all just human.
Heroicizing is not that far from exoticizing... they are on the same psychological map.
My best lesson, teaching Cross Culture to new Peace Corps Volunteers (was hired as a trainer by PC USA), was to beware "fast friends". People who show up and are overly eager to "have a white friend" or seem to go out of their way to meet you are statistically less likely to remain a true friend than someone you meet naturally, like another teacher at your school, or the man who cooks eggs at your favorite chophouse (that was Yadji). When you actually trade with people, work side by side with people, and rely on each other, that's where racism doesn't really disappear exactly, but is diluted away by so many more relative interdependencies that it just has no leverage. You don't mix it away with photos.
I think all 4 of the shout outs in this blog, Eric and Wahab, the @gbogbloshie Makers, Memorial University, and Framed Documentary, Rusty Radiator, and other filmmakers, are all crossing the line, all going deep enough into the subject to bring the E-Waste Hoax into a state of autocorrect chorus. This hoax is dead, it just does not know it yet. It will be impossible a year from now for me to mention by name all the people making a difference.
Economist's Babbage, The Guardian, and a recent horrible documentary from Australia I won't link to, show that racism still has a market. But it's selling to people in their fifties who still use the phrase "Third World". The young people today who are travelling way to much and seeing way to many Youtube videos, meeting Brazilians like Joe Penna (like Penna, Camila Fernandez moved to the USA from South America in kindergarten. Her father worked in construction jobs in Boston and they spoke only Spanish at the home).
It's just too easy today to meet face to face with people in their twenties who have been to Africa and who have become bored running across the street to snap #I-was-here photos of poor people. As Colin Davis put it, when describing his trip to Penang to audit Net Peripheral, it was a dangerous place... dodging Mercedes and BMWs in the Malaysian parking lots.
But anyway, the theme of this blog is that if RERA advocates think that by putting Joe Benson in prison and costing Robin I his factory building, that they will be able to put the Tinkerer Genie back in its bottle, they are wrong. I no more "discovered" the geeks of color than Columbus discovered India. I can bury my ego in 50,000 years of yin, yang, omm. All the continents have officially been discovered. Yes there are about 2 billion people who don't even have electricity and cannot even use a working computer, some in Western China, some in Ethiopia, etc. They've even discovered a lost tribe in the Amazon this year. But guess what, those are NOT the people in urban Nigeria who buy TVs from Joe Benson. There's a big group between the OECD's rich and the dirt poor, and they are doing business.
That a man like Joe Benson is sitting in a prison cell for shipping working and repairable televisions to Lagos for Africans to watch the World Cup doesn't seem to make anyone quite as mad as it makes me... but that's good, because the danger is that I'll heroicize him. It's just a case of environmental malpractice.
The 4 anti-Hoax happenings above come from many directions. There is a "gold rush" to expose the false pretense of the Basel Action Network E-Waste Hoax.
And they don't need me.
David Tomlinson's voice over as the parrot-handled umbrella, to Mary Poppins, is familiar to every parent of grown children. My twins both turned 18 last month (their birthday is the anniversary of Yadji's drowning, BTW). My daughter is off to college in a foreign country, my son is in the USA, but at United World College, about 300 kids from about 120 nations. My wife and youngest are in France, where I'm headed tonight.
No one who discovers another country owns it. Eric and Wahab don't own the USA, and I don't own Africa.
But I'm imbalanced, Jim Puckett (BAN) told a mutual friend. He said he was worried about my sanity, said I'm unhinged.
Mad, yes. With Interpol drinking his kool-aid, he threatens to ruin Africa for everyone.
There is no "Eden" and no "Hell" on Memorial University maps. There are no "witches brews". There are cities, cities which have electricity, where people are looking for jobs, cities with taxis, with slums, with crime, and sports fans.
Taking recycling and repair jobs off the table in rapidly emerging markets, to force feed shredding equipment with RERA dollars, and telling Egyptian students of democracy to spend half their annual incomes on "brand new" displays that don't work 1/3 of the time, it's just so bloody awful. Now, practically everyone knows.
Let's Go fly a kite.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
In Part I we took a close up of an actual problem - the past decade of managing Cathode Ray Tube televisions and monitors, after briefly introducing the concept that guilt and liability - positive ethical systems - can be twisted into bad law via fear, greed, and envy.
What's the "green scare?"
Same as the red scare. Export Sympathizer is today's "Commie"
The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (RERA), HR2791, was the focus. The bill acknowledges overseas refurbishing and recycling operations if and only if the name-brand company (e.g. Dell of Texas) is shipping there (warranty repair, takeback). That's "responsible". The contract factories overseas are NOT owned by the name brand, there are no Dell employees at the computer display factory. If Hurricane Fung, Hurricane Hamdy, Hurricane Benson, or Hurricane Chiu were OEM employees taking back used goods for repair and refurbishment, they'd be "Stewards". Instead they are "primitive waste criminals".
As the blog got longer, I've cut it into three or four parts. Poor editing, or de Tocquevillian insight? Mostly lack of time to edit, I'm running a business after all. The digression into psychology and ethics is the readers choice, I figure. Just don't hit the "print" key.
My company has contracts for governments or manufacturers which require compliance with export laws, and it's a lot of work to keep track of who allows what. When people are getting imprisoned for shipping 91% working product, the export laws are at best "unclear".
What we are living in is a modern "red scare" or rather "Green Scare". In the 1950s it was dangerous to be seen with "communists", and the term "Communist Sympathizer" was itself a scarlet letter. Today, I feel like I have an "Exporter Sympathizer" letter stitched to my company. The blog is kind of my therapy.
The best cure for paranoia, someone once told me, is to live every moment of your life as if people are watching. But the question is, who is watching... people who associate exports with pollution, or a generation from now, people who will see "fair trade recycling" vs. "export prohibition" as a civil rights issue?
You can certainly understand why someone with enough money to expense a million dollar shredder would just do so and be done with it. I met yesterday with an old partner, a former MA TV repairman, who now practices "zero reuse", though he does so more to avoid the "documentation chain" than anything. I can see why anyone who invested in zero reuse would want join the CAER, just to simplify the rules. RERA is about changing the rules.
RERA takes away the "three point shot" from the electronics recycling game. It's a game for Shaq, not for Ray Allen or Reggie Miller.
My career has been as a "three point shooter", not excelling at the cost of demanufacturing, but getting extra value from the 5%-20% of material which might still have a reuse market far outside the paint.
RERA equates it to "cheating". Cheating is breaking the rules... Whose rules have been unclear, certainly not the Basel Convention - we are only accused of breaking the Basel Ban AMENDMENT, which has not even been passed by Basel Secretariat and probably never will be.
"Perception is reality", however. Many of our clients, such as the State of Vermont or certain OEMs, do not want the APPEARANCE of impropriety. If Vermont's largest electronics recycler exports, I'm told, it damages "Vermont's brand" as a "Green State". That's why they kick us so hard, it's for the "Good" of Montpelier.
In other words, Export Sympathizer = Appearance of Export = Liability.
LIABILITY. The fetish of past ownership which lingers over a device after it has been sold.
It's one of the most powerful spells of "white man ju-ju". A simple dusty piece of Angelsite, a silica ore with high leaded content, blown from the side of a mountain, can be left in the open weather for decades. It's mined material, outside of RCRA, and a different rule applies. But the CRT glass - practically the same material, chemically and physically as mined angelsite - has EPR juju all over it.
Last week my company was actually sent a kind of citation by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources for having sent CRT glass to a CRT glass recycler, in January, when the CRT glass recycler (according to the documents issued us) was cited for outdoor storage in June. My company actually delivered our own material in our own truck - we are also good at logistics - and we know we delivered our material indoors. But we are somehow to be held accountable five months later when someone else's CRT glass is stored outside at the same facility.
Keep in mind, these are the displays we DIDN'T export, but tore down in the USA.
Someone else = 2TRG, BTW. The E-Steward company which sold assets and didn't deal with CRT glass. One of the piles from Yin Yang Om part 1 is glass that was abandoned by the E-Steward and delivered to the Recycling Company without paying for it. The recycling company could understandably leave that stuff outside. But my company gets the derivative citation, because we "failed to do diligence" (the words of ANR) for the January shipment... we should have know.
Screens4Hope - Senegal Community Television
White Man Ju-ju is derivative liability.
If I sample the thousands of TVs that come in and find 80% working (makes sense, they are being replaced by flat screens), and then set aside 10% of those, allow them to be inspected before purchase, and draft a contract warrantying them for an African buyer, I can - unlike 2TRG - afford to pay my CRT recycling bills. The 10% reuse that brings in three to five times the revenue is the "three point shot".
A small portion of reuse can save a lot of money in avoided recycling cost, which is why exporters are suspected of dumping. But the export sympathizers use that money to properly recycle their CRT glass, rather than dumping it as "wind cover" in landfills.
Whenever a business saves money, it's not greed. We pass those savings along... higher pay, more insurance, proper recycling of leftover CRT glass - or (in the Fair Trade Recycling model) give the savings back to the African to establish a hand-disassembly program like mine in Vermont.
Meeting R2 Standards for export should be sufficient for the 3 point score to count. Enforced by civil law referee, if my company doesn't do what the contract said, we lose the business. I have another contract with the African (or Indonesian, whatever) buyer stating what the 10% export must be (and not be). In WR3A, the buyer keeps 20% of the purchase as a guarantee (if anything they have an incentive to over-report bad units). But because of the "export sympathizer liability", more and more contracts simple say "no export" or like California, "no intact units". See the piles of glass, Yin Yang Omm Part 1.
I call this "white man juju" as a joke to explain the point of view of the African trader, the Ghana Tech, the person who just wants a working display to watch Nigeria, Algeria, Cameroon and Ivory Coast in the World Cup, on a small enough TV to fit in the slums and run off a trickle of electric current. The African traders know capacitors, they know flywheels, they know tuner boards, they know types of CRT. They are technology savvy.
Mubarak creates a law saying nothing can be imported more than 4 years after it came off the assembly line. Africans know that Mubarak was just trying to make internet less available. There's no difference between a 2005 monitor and a 2009 monitor except for how common they are. There just aren't many 2009 CRT monitors manufactured. So the African buyer, not understanding the liability issue, sends little 2009 date code labels in Arabic and asks us to tape them over the 2005.
We didn't do that. Discount Computer did. I still have the labels sent to me in my desk drawer, as a reminder. It was technically fraud, though the only person being fooled was the Egyptians Customs agent. But like Joe Benson, the CEO of Discount Computer in Michigan got a prison sentence. Changing the labels is out of bounds.
We instead sent our monitors to be remanufactured in Malaysia, to a company with a legal import permit, and we paid for R2 audits and ISO certification. In 2012 their permit was taken away. Now, we have piles of CRT glass instead, which we made the mistake of delivering to a company which in the future would store glass from 2TRG outdoors.
Yep, the E-Waste rules are pretty hard to follow. But emerging markets are just trying to get affordable computers, cell phones and TVs into fast growing cities. More than 6 billion people will live in these megacities by 2050, and if we won't allow reuse, we have a lot of mining to do.
Thanks to IMF and World Bank, electricity grids are expanding in all the urban areas I call 3B3K (three billion people earning average $3k per year). You know, the people who watch the World Cup in Brazil, the home country of Joe Penna. The people who organized student protests via Twitter in Tehran and Cairo. People for whom a $30 TV-and-monitor-combo which resists heat, resists theft, and works for 20 years, seems a better deal than a new LED screen. The people who drive a 1985 Volkswagen (even if they dream of Neil Peters-Michaud's promised Audi).
The trade between the used electronics business in the EU, USA, Japan, Korea, etc. and the African, South American, or Asian import entrepreneur is pretty simple. Globalization recreates the same dynamic as someone from Southie Boston buying a used car in Newton in 1970. We didn't call it "environmental injustice", we simply knew that Ray Flynn's dad couldn't wait for his new Audi.
What "Stewardship" introduces is that other parties enter the commerce. State governments - like the UK Environmental Agency - now apparently have a say in what the African is allowed to buy. And NGOs have entered from the periphery, raising the "risk" and "liability" to manufacturers and collectors. "It doesn't matter that your company is more environmentally sound than the shredder," an manufacturer representative told me. "We have to protect our brand, and as long as Basel Action Network is making these accusations, the risk is too great for us to allow exporting."
Wait a minute, Ray Flynn's dad... You can't buy that used Volkswagen. It's "A-Waste". It's creating a liability for auto manufacturers, and for the moral stewardship of the original owners in Newton.
Ok, I may need to edit this later but I'm going to hit the "send key". I don't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.
If you follow the ball above, you can begin to understand the concept of "fetish" or "ju-ju" in the Extended Responsibility game. The manufacturer continues to have liability. The collector (e.g. California SB20) feels the liability. Through advertising of "waste crime", the original consumer may feel environmental liability.
But liability for WHAT, exactly? No environmental crime has been committed. The liability above is to shareholders in Manufacturing companies whose stock may suffer if false accusations are made against the African buyer - accusing him of not reusing or recycling the electronic devices, but dumping them in some "primitive, third world" child-labor-wire-burning-cauldron. Nothing too, too, subtle, just google the words "e-Waste Hell."
This is what I call "liability ju-ju". No African really understands what the "wastecrime" is, or the "harm" done. It's assumed that some pollution occurred and some children suffered. And this us based on positive hereditary psychology... nurture, risk aversion, caring, responsibility. The image of "e-waste hell" attracts all the right people. And the outcome is the "high tech lynching" of the weakest player - the African importer.
Et tu, Environmental Justice?
We need facts about the "waste crime", if indeed there is any. How many units can be rejected by brand new sellers from electrostatic discharge? 1/3 warranty returns in Africa, is that illegal waste shipment, or is that ok? The name of the game for Hamdy, Joe, Fung and Chiu is to provide better, cheaper product. They have no share of "avoided recycling costs" allegedly driving the exports, according to Interpol, but they are paying for 100% of the activity.
In Part III of Yin, Yang, or Omm I will demonstrate the logic of the environmental malpractice, to demonstrate how this can be expected to occur again and again if we don't learn from our mistakes. Working title (and I have a lot of editing yet to do): Managed Inequality.
"The juju of managed inequality can divert billions of dollars of trade and income in unintended ways. In Part 1, the CRT glass piles tell the story of stewards who "had to destroy the village in order to save it." For Hurricane Hamdy, Hurricane Chiu, Hurricane Benson and Hurricane Fung, California was off limits. The wealth these tinkerer entrepreneurs created in rapidly emerging markets became a target, in the way of RERA/CAER's plan to take the California obsolescence model nation-wide." (preview)
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill