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".
Winston Churchill Quote that having enemies means you stood up for something once in your life.
Now, how do I announce the trip I'm planning this morning, without setting myself up as the next generation of exotic #whitesaviorcomplex hero, cruising to Africa, to visit geeks of color who've visited me in Vermont? Visiting People I've done a little bit of business with, though without much profit to show for it.
Actually, this business (both African trade, and "being that guy" who stands up for it) has cost my business and my employees tremendous stress. And we have to ask ourselves, how seriously should we take junk? Someone threw it out once already, how long will they want to be forced to think about it again? And how can my clients support hiring us, having seen the PKDs? (see below).
PKD Africa 2007: Photo I couldn't resist taking on my last trip to Africa
But I need to make the trip, both because I've been invited for years, I need to do downstream "diligence" on the market, and to offer credibility for my theory that Joe Benson is a sacrificial lamb. Jim Puckett has "been there", Kyle Wiens has "been there", Rafa Font, Jack Caravanos, Josh Lepawsky, Reed Miller... it's becoming a part of a checklist.
While I had been in the factories that ACTUALLY purchased the ACTUAL computer monitors photographed in Hong Kong, I had not been to Guiyu specifically. I saw it via google earth, and researched it during Adam Minter's trip (where we found huge textile plants upstream of the river). And I even got Jim Puckett to admit he'd seen no CRT monitors in Guiyu at his last visit (I asked Jim the question at the same Interpol meeting where I met and argued with Mike Anane, and heard presentations back to back with Jim Puckett and Lord Chris Smith)., but even that was never good enough. I regret not making the trip, and don't want to make the same mistake with Agbogbloshie.
The upcoming trip to Agbogbloshie and Tamale will also help me to double test the WR3A / Fair Trade Recycling college intern program. This is what we are promoting as an antidote for 'waste tourism', sending college interns as "Recycling Ambassadors", so they can avoid the counter-guilt-trip of #whitesaviorcomplex.
Making this trip is a little bit #savior-ish. This is really about Joe Benson, not so much about my business.
PKD 1984: My career in #povertyporn begins in Cameroon
People I interview shrug at whether Benson's guilty or not. And over and over I hear "someone has to do something". As Jim Puckett himself describes Benson, he's "collateral damage". And StEP representatives say that without Jim Puckett and his accusations, they'd be out of a job. "He's the reason we're all here," a rep told Oscar A. Orta while in Nairobi.
Since the first accusation about dumping in Africa (addressed in one of my first, and #1 visited blogs, "Monkeys Running the Environmental Zoo"), the math has never made any sense. The people paying for the export are the Africans, not the "evil sham recyclers" accused by Greenpeace and BAN.org. Interpol concluded that payment meant organization, and organization meant "organized crime", and they have actually taken staff away from ivory and rhino horn poaching to investigate TV repairmen in African cities.
It's grotesque, people, and it's us, it's environmentalists, we are the ones behind it.
Basel Action Network annoyed people greatly by informing them that if they DID recycle their old device in the past, there was an 80% chance they could not feel good about it. They showed our recycling clients the PKDs: Pics of Kids at Dumps . I completely understand those visuals, and could not resist snapping them myself when I lived in Cameroon. Here kid, put this on your head. Hold still. Great, thanks, ciao.
1986 Oh look! We're so cute! And I'm sooo exotic!
How is a dry statistic - like the actual number of non-functioning, non-repairable equipment imported to Africa (7%) supposed to compete with PKDs?
Now here's the thing, I keep meeting really decent people who are willing to grant the "nuance" about the African trade story, and willing to say that exports should be allowed under some conditions and supervision by [western] experts.
The PACE (Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment) Group, which I started with in the E-Waste Tragedy Series, was intended to be that group. But when I submitted comments (including vitally important "elective upgrade" conditions) gathered from WR3A members, it was completely ignored.
Professional studies of sea containers analyzed in West Africa are being ignored. Or, as my colleague at StEP (Jaco Huisman) explained it, even though he accepted the 91-93% reuse statistic as being the best study and best information available, that "Rules are Rules". In Benson's case, these "rules" are "Guidelines", not laws, but evidently I'm splitting hairs.
Memorial University's J.Lepawsky's Geography department has traced the "other" statistic, about 50-80% of exports being "pollution". Though BAN never had a peer review of the statistic, and later disclaimed it in a dialogue captured on Bloomberg (Adam Minter op-ed), Lepawsky traces dozens and dozens of published peer reviewed papers which use the statistic, and use it to support the blossoming term of "e-waste". Blackstone Institute and CUNY's Jack Caravanos, who used a version of the fake statistic (applied to Agbogbloshie), are not alone. Use of the 2002 hoax fact actually grows, year by year, polluting scientific debate at universities across the nation (the chart measures use of the term E-Waste, but the link above shows that the "80%" mystery-meat statistic is 15th most cited in all the journal articles graphed.
How environmental studies are polluted by bad data - how the term "ewaste" has grown
So StEP admits the crime statistics are a hoax, and the export business is misunderstood. Still, "Rules are Rules". The clanging of the iron cage on African TV repairman Joe Benson is still held by the UK Environmental Agency as a "win". Chalk one up for the Green Guys.
So let's say that the Guidelines represent "Authority" more generally.
Do Environmentalists believe that because our mission, our cause, our goal is noble that we are immune from the Milgram Effect? Because assuming you are immune, I tell you, is half the losing battle.
The Milgram Effect, named for Yale Psychology professor Stanley Milgram, measures how much harm or pain the average citizen is willing to inflict on a test subject based on "rules" and "authority". Milgram's experiments (held during 1961 Nazi War Crimes trial of Adoph Eichmann) showed that people underestimate how much injustice, pain, and suffering normal people will inflict in the name of authority. An authority figure tells a test subject that they are to turn an electric current volume up, while watching an actor fake being electrocuted. The subject thinks it's the actor being tested, but actually Migram was testing just how far the average person will go in inflicting pain based on rules before they stand up and refuse.
In the diagram, E is the "Experimenter" or the Authority, T is the "Teacher" or Subject (who thinks they are dishing out the electric shocks), and L is the "Learner" (the actor pretending to be more and more injured as the Rules dictate higher levels of electricity).
"The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.
"Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority."
-Stanley Milgram, "The Perils of Obedience", 1974.
As explained in SimplyPsychology, Milgram was careful to always use the same encouragements, authorizations, or "Prods" to get people to administer electric shocks of up to 450 (fake) volts.
Prod 1: "please continue."
Prod 2: "the experiment requires you to continue."
Prod 3: "It is absolutely essential that you continue."
Prod 4: "you have no other choice but to continue."
Hmm. Sounds an awful lot like the responses to BAN's claims about "international law" - which, like their "80% statistic", is bogus. Basel Convention as ratified specifically makes Benson's exports LEGAL. It is the "Basel Ban Amendment", unpassed/unratified, which BAN is promoting as "international law". But based on Basel Action Networks "perceived authority", Benson's in jail.
65% (two-thirds) of participants (i.e. teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts.
Milgram did more than one experiment – he carried out 18 variations of his study. All he did was alter the situation (IV) to see how this affected obedience (DV).
Ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we are brought up.
People tend to obey orders from other people if they recognize their authority as morally right and / or legally based. This response to legitimate authority is learned in a variety of situations, for example in the family, school and workplace.
Now, I'm not anti-environmentalist. Some tell me that admitting a mistake will be misused by "conservatives", and will work against environmentalists. Sounds... familiar.
There are real environmental heros, like Shi Lihong (Chinese photographer / activist credited with saving the Snub Nose Monkey species from extinction). And as I pointed out in the "E-Stork" Blogs, photographing children, triggering nurture, has served pollution laws well... going back to pictures of kids in textile mills in Worcester, MA, published in the Saturday Evening Post, which led to cleanup of the Blackstone River (and export of the textile industry to the Carolinas).
So I'll be taking my camera to Ghana and Angola in a few weeks. And it could be labelled "waste tourisim". I'll be there for a reason, with people who know me, probably bringing my son along.
One of the places I'm visiting has been tagged "The Most Toxic Place on Earth". Agbogbloshie, the Accra scrapyard in Ghana, almost faded from the 2009 news reports. Oh, but Blackstone later clarified (to me) that it was at the top of the list alphabetically, not based on any scientific measure. It starts with A. As does "Angola", so I'll be travelling there next, then on to Vancouver (ISRI Conference), flying over Zambia's Kabwe lead mine (probably the real most toxic place in Africa), changing planes in Dubai. I'm so very eXotic, in my next #whitesaviorcomplex (3.0).
As long as we are back to the English Lessons, I'm quite aware that N*** Jim, the runaway slave who Huck accompanies, is argued to be the real protagonist in the Mississippi odyssey. Mark Twain does deal with this in a chapter in which Huck plays a trick on Jim, pretending to drown. It was Twain's opportunity to show that while Jim struggled to speak proper English, and had even less education than Huckleberry, that he was the grown up on the trip. I hope to have a chance to speak with my 14 year old on the subject, if he brings a book and can get off his handheld device, and come pose alongside the other Ks in my PKDs.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
When there are Guidelines or regulations, there are reasons to follow them and enforce them.
There is a positive environmental effect to the rules (or negative impact from not following the rule).
"Rules are Rules". If Rules are not enforced, other meaningful (see #1) Rules will also not be enforced.
If it is #1, there should be a science or test to demonstrate and constantly improve on the rules. If for example there is a different rule (Universal Waste vs. EPA CRT Rule) in Vermont vs. NH, MA, NY (our three border states), enough time has passed to know the pros and cons attributable to the differences. It's not about the alleged ego clash between 1990s MA DEP David Struhs vs. EPA Region I's John DeVillars.
If it is #2, I can accept that... So long as the Rules are applied evenly and to everyone. If Vermont has a different rule from NH, MA, NY, and is applying the rule for consistency, you expect to see the same citations to my list of 9 other electronics processors in the state.
If instead you have 101 violations against 1/9 processors in 9 months, one can conclude that either that processor really needs a dunce cap, or that there's something personal going on.
Most people in Vermont, and even more (OEMs) outside, have decided what is going on and it's not good... for Governor Peter Schumlin.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
Not that I'm an expert in foreign affairs, terrorism, or Islamic studies...
Like most of us, my wiser part of valor might stay respectfully silent during the Charlie Hebdo marches. But my wife is from Paris (her brother kissed two of the victims the day before they were killed), and via Facebook I find myself at a crossroads between conservative and liberal friends, from the New England and Missouri/Arkansas, from Christian kin, and Muslim friends in Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, India, Pakistan, Senegal, etc.
I was not really prepared for my first federal job, as a Cross Cultural Trainer for the United States Peace Corps in Ngaoundere (serving under esteemed also-thrown-into-the-fire Judi Brown). But I had to make do. And as I see my French nieces and nephews posting #JeSuisCharlie, and see the Arabic posts from friends in Cairo (now usually images of their messages, posted as JPG, so that they cannot be auto-translated or screened by authorities or NSA), and I hear the pain of Christian Coptic (Zabaleen) friends seeking asylum in Montreal, I feel like writing down a few words, in memory of the staff at Charlie Hebdo. But I also want to offer a different defense for offended Muslims than what I'm hearing from the politically correct press.
Some are accusing the press of cowardice for not reposting the offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed, drawn by the Staff at Charlie Hebdo. I posted it to friends on Facebook, but would also hesitate to post it on the public blog or via Twitter.
My personal Facebook reaction (over the actual image of the cartoon, linked at Huffington Post), stresses the irony. The cartooned Prophet is wincing, covering his face, and in the thought balloon we read "c'est dur d'etre aimé par des cons", which became a Charlie Hebdo documentary about irony of cruelty in the name of a holy man who preached tolerance, and considered Jesus Christ a prophet.
The controversial comic published by French humor magazine "Charlie Hebdo". Irony vs. Piety? Rough translation of the Prophet's quote "It's hard to be loved by assholes". While I understand the idea that this image is Muhammed (rather than an image of some lesser ayatollah) is extremely offensive, we need to translate "The Streisand Effect" into Arabic. I would never have looked up the image, or seen it, or posted it, if not for Les Cons.
From Huff Post article: "The Streisand Effect got its name when Barbra Streisand attempted to sue a photographer, who while documenting California coastal erosion also snapped her beachfront domicile -- which the singer-actress viewed as a breach of privacy. Ironically, it was her lawsuit, and not the photographer's compendium of visual research, that ended up drawing attention to the photos of Streisand's home, as well as getting this "effect" named after her."
The firebombing of the comic magazine's office in 2011 did not reduce comedians interest in the topic. By the way, last night the family watched "The Interview" on demand TV, paying $5.99 we likely never would have paid without North Korea's Kim Jong Un's reaction to the picture. Feel a little sorry for B. Streisand, but the Assholes are giving her name immortality.
But I'm also interested, always, in accidental racism, or profiling, and treating people by different standards according to how similar we find ourselves to them. It seems akin to short-sightedness. Everyone is asking how we don't hear more self-criticism from other groups... like Muslims.
That's a key lesson to this controversy, in my opinion.
I would wager that most of the 1.6 billion Muslims remember Staff Sargent Robert Bales better than most Americans. I confess, I had to go look up his name. He is the US Army uniformed officer who went out at night and murdered 16 civilian women and children. From Wikipedia:
"The Kandahar massacre, more precisely identified as the Panjwai Massacre occurred in the early hours of March 11, 2012, when United States Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales murdered sixteen civilians and wounded six others in the Panjwayi District of Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Nine of his victims were children, and eleven of the dead were from the same family. Some of the corpses were partially burned." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kandahar_massacre
The wikipedia editor for Kandahar Massacre is still open for edits (the word "seargent" is misspelled).
On the other hand, the wikipedia article forCharlie Hebdo Shooting is locked... no additional edits. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Hebdo_shooting. It's interesting that at the end of the CharlieHebdo article, a long list of public official denunciations follows. No such list of disclaimers under the Robert Bales article.
I wouldn't completely disagree with Rupert Murdoch about the importance of speaking out loudly about transgressions from within my own tribe. But who worse at failing to call out transgressions of their own (conservative) tribe than @FoxNews? Not much for climbing out on a limb yourself, Rupert.
The list of disavowals and declarations is most interesting, perhaps, because they drown out a very important public address made the day before the event, on the Prophet Muhammed's observed birthday (New Years Day) by the leader of Egypt, president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
(CNN)Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has called for a "religious revolution," asking Muslim leaders to help in the fight against extremism... "This is antagonizing the entire world. It's antagonizing the entire world! Does this mean that 1.6 billion people (Muslims) should want to kill the rest of the world's inhabitants -- that is 7 billion -- so that they themselves may live? Impossible!"
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi remarked how ridiculous it is to think that 1.6 billion Muslims want to kill the remainder of Earth's 7 billion residents. But he did not dodge the question... if just 5 million of the 1.6 billion Muslims believe in killing non-believers, it's a small minority, and an incredibly large problem.
He could have made the remark I've heard about the USA Marines. It just takes one asshole like Robert Bales to make all American uniforms unwelcome. But el-Sisi kept the focus on his own team, and for that reason, his speech is heard in Europe and the USA.
The two events, in 2015 Paris and 2015 Kandahar, are not directly comparable. But in both cases a source of pride (US military service personnel, or Islamic faith) is suddenly embarrassed by an unasked-for masked killer, acting as the unauthorized representative.
Self-examination is not something any group is famous for. Southern Americans don't tend to call out segregation, African Americans don't want to talk all the time about gang crime, hispanics tire of the subject of illegal immigration, and Africans understandably tire of #Aid #Work #Poverty #Parasites #framing their continents current events.
Thus, it's normal that environmentalists tend to turn a blind eye to the fact Basel Action Network took the Basel Convention out of all context, and lied about #wastecrime, resulting in the injust prison sentence of #FreeJoeBenson... we have to ask ourselves if we are more forgiving because the Environmentalist (Ayatollah of E-Waste") is "one of our own?" Would we prefer the embarrassment be kept out of the press, because it could make the recycling community, and the environmental activist community, look bad? I think we all do that.
After all, we see the western junk in the hands of a Ghana teenagers, and we think, it could have been my television, it could have been my computer...
People can be proud of the US Military, and still be ashamed of people like Robert Bales (who was escorted back to the USA and given a life sentence, not allowed to be tried in Afghanistan). But in the western press, I notice far more interviews and remembrances of Charb than I do the nameless and faceless victims in Kandahar. And it would not surprise me if the opposite is true in the press coverage in Islamic countries. "It could have been me, it could have been my family member", seems to be the silent gravity that draws the reader.
If I were in charge, I'd be tempted to throw Bales and the Charlie Hebdo shooters in a room together and throw away the key, Star Trek Style. Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
If people living in Seattle Washington earned $3,000 per year, and had internet available, I'm pretty damn sure they'd be repairing and reusing CRT monitors rather than shred them into toxic piles and call themselves "Stewards".
But what if Windyasari was working in one of PT Imtech's Big Secret Factories, in Semarang? The factory which Hurricane Chiu sold to? Or the factory across the straight in Penang, Malaysia, where Hurricane Su Fung, Ow Yung worked?
Hurricane Benson has company.
According to Leslie T. Chang, Windyasari would probably use that job to do exactly what she is doing - afford a guitar, get online, and cover Bob Dylan tunes. (See Chang's TED Talk Below).
Leslie T. Chang has worked in a reporter in Donggong City in Guangdong Province, and in Cairo, Egypt. Those are places I visited ten years ago, visiting the factories which purchased 17" CRT monitors from California and made them into affordable displays (a popular refurbished model worked as both a television AND computer monitor).
Asian techs took monitors from Seattle, and turned them into affordable new displays to get around Hosni Mubarak's ban on used computers and monitors, which were being used to play music critical of his thirty year dictatorship.
What about the factories in Asia which bought and re-manufactured those display devices for Egyptian protesters and Indonesian guitarists?
Journalist Leslie T. Chang's parents are Chinese immigrants who sent her in NY City, Leslie went to her parents homeland in 2006-7, the same years I was becoming very concerned about the green anti-globalist "primitive" accusations, and met Chinese workers at tech manufacturing plants like Foxconn and Proview - which were buying back the CRTs from California. As a reporter in Cairo, she has seen 3B3K.
Leslie Chang wrote a book, "Factory Girls", which describes the Chinese factory workers in non-exotic, non-primitive, ordinary terms. Mike Daisy beat her out in the USA broadcasts, but she was right and he was a liar. Adam Minter began to focus on the "off key" descriptions of Chinese workers that year.
Journalist Leslie T. Chang's book Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China traces the lives of Chunming and Min, two young women working in Dongguan, a factory city in South China. Leaving their home villages far behind in pursuit of work, Chunming and Min are part of an estimated 10 million young migrants who work in China's booming factories. These migrants live in a "perpetual present," forging individual and nontraditional lives amid the breakneck pace of manufacturing. Chang lived in China for a decade as a correspondent forThe Wall Street Journal. She is now based in Cairo, Egypt.
Windyasari, Leslie Chang, Joe Benson, Adam Minter, Frederic Fahiri Somda, Emmanuel Eric Nyaletey, Ow Fung Su Young, and a few others should get together. We must figure out how to stop our fellow environmentalists from taking orders from E-Stewards' Jim Puckett, in a friendly-fire bloodbath of screechingly bigoted boycott of the poor.
Adam Minter, Leslie T. Chang, Jim Puckett and myself were all tooling around the same neighborhoods about a decade ago. One of us drew hyperbolic, white guilt waving, anti-globalist conclusions, and raised millions with pictures of workers children. And he's responsible for #HurricaneJoeBenson being in prison, having personally vouched for Africans guilt to Emile of INTERPOL and Lord Chris Smith of UK's Environmental Agency.
Jail. A television repairman is in jail, in England, for trading in fixing TVs, based on fudged up, hoax statistics peddled by the Basel Action Network.
Who are you going to side with? The loud and cocky? Or those of us who see the world is flat, in Tom Friedman's terms? Toli Morilla puts it best (Huracan).
And here, below, is a smug response to my blog, copied and pasted on the anti-globalists behalf. They phone it in these days, having boiled the arguments down to a nuance-free checklist.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
This week, in one of my favorite magazines, The Atlantic, we get yet another "Gaze" on Agbogbloshie to finish the year. Yepoka Yeebo recycles the story that suggest Africans like Emmanuel Nyaletey, Miguel Artur Aziz, Hamdy Moussa, Wahab Muhammed "Project Eden" comes to Africa's rescue, putting African Joseph Benson in prison.
The Tinkerer's Blessing is not "stuff". The Blessing IS The Tinkerers themselves. The reuse, repair, shangzhai, ifixit, repairers made Singapore, all the Asian Tiger economies, out of reuse. They repaired for resale, harvested parts to build around. Why don't we see that Africa's strongest economic growth is grown by GENIUSES in the same reuse/hacker mode?
The TRAGEDY is that we are putting Tinkerers in jail, accusing them of importing junk for burning (economically impossible), drafting Guidelines around "protecting Eden". Bullets to the head of Africa's best and brightest, shot by green do-gooders, in a perverse friendly fire.
"The Crime is Curiosity" (1995's The Hackers)
In E-Waste Tragedy 1-6, we dug into the law - or rather "guidelines" for export of used electronics which BJ Electronics was accused of violating. I believe Joe Benson pleaded guilty (in return for a reduced sentence) because he did not know how to argue that a "Guideline" is not a law. The Guidelines were developed under the PACE committee, which was charged with reducing the alleged 80% bad exports. A statistic which was a lie.
A lie supported by "Soddom and Gomorrah" images, and coverage by Scientific American of a fake, fudged, hoax claim mysteriously given credence by Blacksmith Institute a year ago (December 17, 2013). The Atlantic, ironically, just treads safe ground in Agbogbloshie.
Something had to be done, and the Guidelines were something, therefore Joe Benson had to follow the Guidelines... even though the Guidelines never claim to be law, and the viable recommendations submitted to PACE by the geeks themselves ("elective upgrade") were ignored. The Guidelines were drafted to provide "guidance" to environmental enforcement agencies, like Chris Smith's UK Environmental Agency, not as guidance for entrepreneurs like Souleymane, Wahab, or Hamdy. Beat cops, like Cees Van Duijin of Interpol, needed something to tell them whether a sea containerload of used CRT televisions from a hotel LCD upgrade were evidence of #wastecrime. PACE protected USA and EU refurbishing companies, allowing them to "determine" reuse, with no say from the expert buyers.
In Tragedy 2 I provided (buried the story perhaps) a link to alternative comments prepared for the PACE Committee by WR3A and American Retroworks (my company) following interviews with geeks in Malaysia, Egypt, Mexico, who created the term "elective upgrade" to describe how they could generate "PACE waste" without doing anything wrong, out of "fully functional" devices. None of their comments made it into the PACE Guidelines. Instead, enforcement people were basically told that while export for repair was legal, that white people needed to fix things in rich countries because black people couldn't "determine" whether a good was a waste or not. Under 40 CFR 261, the determination (or "toe tag") that identifies a CRT as "waste" or commodity is color blind; this is what PACE and E-Stewards and WEEE were determined to "fix".
Another blog series this year focused on "game theory". I opened that series with a discussion of how the game of Risk changes between human players when one player has won several games in a row. From there, the series went into the psychological momentum called "groupthink".
For Joe Benson, the fix was in.
So how do I assemble this series of blogs into a weighty enough tome to make a difference? In the conclusion of "Tragedy", I'll channel the philosopher and political scientist who influenced great Supreme Court justices. We're almost there. Then, in 2015, I will start the "Cliff Notes" project, to bird dog and summarize references.
A Random Walk Down Wall Street, West Africa
Over morning coffee I was reading the current edition of Harvard Business Review. In "Making Dumb Groups Smarter", Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie discuss how opinions either polarize or moderate depending upon the diversity of the roots of the group. In a box out, they describe how two focus groups, selected from conservative Colorado Springs CO and liberal Boulder CO, will sharpen their opinions, or gain nuance, after spending time with fellow liberals and conservatives. You can see it happening on Facebook, if you have a friend that has no conservative friends or no liberal friends, they become more and more confident in simpler and simpler explanations and "guidelines". Gerrymandering our democracy makes every politician certain of his/her "landslides", and less nuanced or willing to cooperate.
My opinion on "e-waste export bans" comes from groups I hang out with... Egyptians, Senegalese, Chinese, Malaysian, Peruvian, Colombian, Cameroonian, Guatemalan, Mexican people who come stay at my house and break bread, eat rice and spicy beans, and roast chickens. If you look at the StEP, R2 Solutions, and E-Stewards "consensus" groups, you see Guidelines written by suppliers without any demand side in the consensus. That's a recipe for a guideline to imprison Africans to keep them from selling European goods in African secondary markets.
Were these Guidelines the mistake to be forgiven in a first draft? Perhaps. But it wasn't a first draft. In E-Waste Tragedy One, we saw the link to the document submitted to the PACE committee with comments from "non-OECD" (if you include OECD Mexico) points about parts generated from "elective upgrade". Below is an even earlier suggested Guideline - one I distributed in 2002.
Here, from March 2002, when I had recently left the Massachusetts DEP, and 2 months after I bought my first truck (I was the sole employee, doing mostly consulting), with my first logo, were my guidelines.
It's a much simpler document than the MPPI or PACE, or WEE or Interpol Guidelines. And if these had been the questions posed of Mr. Joseph Benson, he would not have been put in UK jail. There are a lot of things we could do to change and add to it, but it's difficult to image the long MPPI documents surviving the way this one has for nearly 13 years.
Benson was ironically sentenced a year after BAN was caught fibbing about it's "wastecrime" statistics, and trying to explain the Africa REuse Proof Assessments by saying that Benson and others seized containers tested 91% good thanks to BAN's action. They took credit for the quality of the used goods exports, from the samples of the seized containers. I swear, you can't make this up.
The Emporer is still grabbing fig leafs and explaining his royal robe is in the laundry.
BAN has just recently come out and suggested their Ban Amendment Guidelines (never reviewed or passed by any legislature, not even voted in at Basel Convention) may have gone too far, and should be relaxed. But we see BAN still trying to make its case why the Annex IX of the Convention, which explicitly makes export for repair LEGAL, should not be.
It's certainly a more punchy title. And it makes its case that the Guidelines (somewhat less punchily titled "Technical Guidelines on the Transboundary Movements of e-Waste and used electrical and electronic equipment, in particular regarding the distinction between waste and non-waste under the Basel Convention")
This is the task of the "Technical Guidelines on the Transboundary Movements of e-Waste and used electrical and electronic equipment, in particular regarding the distinction between waste and non-waste under the Basel Convention," and at COP11 this draft document is expected to be adopted. It is probably the most significant, far reaching action to be taken at COP11.
"It is very important that we get it right. This document has drawn much from the work already completed by the Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment (PACE), the Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative (MPPI), and the European Union's EEE Directive. COP11 provides the Parties with an opportunity to improve on those earlier influential documents and make them more protective of developing countries. It is vital to ensure in these Guidelines that the Basel Convention must apply to all exports of hazardous electronic parts or equipment that are either untested or tested and found not to be fully functional.
"Export for repair and refurbishment will fall under Basel if parts are non-functional and hazardous or untested. While the words “repair” or “refurbishment” do not appear in the Annex IV lists, equipments sent for repair or refurbishment will, in part, be relegated to Annex IV operations when the repair or refurbishment requires that a part of the equipment be replaced and the old part disposed of or recycled (e.g. bad batteries, mercury lamps, cathode ray tubes (CRT) etc.). Thus such equipment must be considered waste and when hazardous -- hazardous waste. "
Follow this? It is a case against elective upgrade. If one of the 6 billion "non-OECD" technicians in Africa, Asia and South America upgrades a 512K RAM to 1 gig, the elective upgrade, even if properly recycled "must be consdered waste". BAN was in communication with me, read the case for elective upgrade, and went on the offensive.
BAN's still lobbying to make a group of delegates adapt Guidelines which make export for reuse and repair - specifically legal under Annex IX, illegal if the export for repair involves - repair (changing or a part). The Guideline for "export for repair" allowed under Basel is, according to BAN, "fully functional". That is what BAN says makes it illegal for an African or Asian geek to cherry pick their own loads, to make the determination for themselves of what has value. That is what makes Lord Chris Smith the final expert of what Joe Benson, a television repairman with 30 years of experience, can purchase and export.
White guys do the determination. Black guys go to jail. Even when independent Swiss researchers, on UN funding, find that the black dudes are more successful than they are buying brand new product in boxes, and even when Interpol and EA admit on camera that they don't have reuse expertise (and demonstrate as much by "cutting a wire" to "pre determine" an item is waste / BBC-Panorama).
Remember the first Blog in the E-Waste Tragedy series, with links to the Guidelines WR3A submitted to UN representative John Micklethwait... search for the term "elective upgrade". BAN is not describing "bad" parts from non-working items.... they are describing the "BIG SECRET FACTORIES" I showed them film of in 2004. The ones I took Craig Lorch (who once again appears in an E-Waste Tragedy film) to see in China in person.
Africa's Hackers are Good Guys
Actual studies show conclusively that non-working electronics are frequently more valuable than working electronics. And they show that buyers with expertise, like Joe Benson, who selectively buy for their own containers, know what they want. They don't want, and won't accept, and won't pay to export, 80% of the junk at a USA or UK electronics depot.
My 2002 Guidelines were based on interviews of African, Mideastern, Asian and Latino importers.
The people I interview - Hamdy, Wahab, Nyaletey, Aziz, Soulemane, Mariano, Jinex - belong in a remake of 1995's cult movie THE HACKERS. NOT in a jail cell with beat cops from Holland who can't tell a Trinitron R4 tube from a Jack-o-Lantern.
"THE CRIME IS CURIOSITY"
Their TINKERER voices were sadly drowned out by the remarks of ghoulish witches brew, rice paddy shanty town reuse abuse demonizing extremists.
Even very respected journals, like E-Scrap News, reported the opposite of what was happening at this meeting. The Amendment to the Basel Convention was NOT voted in at the meeting. BAN was protesting the Convention, as it is, in the status quo, and asking for Guidelines to define "for repair" as "fully functional". @Economist, @ScientificAmerican, @BlacksmithInstitute... the best and brightest of journalism fell for the GAZE ON AGBOGBLOSHIE.
THIS IS HOW JOE BENSON WOUND UP IN JAIL.
We have seen enough of the impacts of electronics re-use abuse already, and yet the problem is increasing daily. Re-use is a worthy aim, but it must be done according to the normally established rules and obligations of the Basel Convention. Just as we require wastes that are to be recycled to be move according to the Basel Convention control procedures, so too should exports for repair and re-use. The solution for preventing the re-use abuse lies in a proper reading of the Basel Convention, its obligations and definitions. All Parties, and in particular those from developing countries, that are now faced with a daily onslaught of junk entering their ports, need to prevent further re-use abuse by sticking to the principle that electronic equipment that is untested or not fully-functional must be considered waste. If it contains hazardous materials it is hazardous waste. No exceptions.
No exceptions. Kind of like all hackers are hackers, all equally illegal. My importing friends in emerging markets are a lot like the cast of characters in Hackers. Their crime is curiosity. If EA and BAN.org have no response to this blog, or the articles it links to, after several years (like 2014) of calling them out, then they should Boot Up or Shut Up.
Still reading? Go figure. One year ago, this dense blog got 437 hits: http://retroworks.blogspot.com/2013/12/dead-reckoning-cross-cultural-risk-part.html
FINALE: E=Waste Tragedy
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
Like the blacksmiths and coal miners of old, the scrap recycling and secondary products industries touch everyone. Every consumer, in the lowest of middle classes, discards something, and the poorer the generator, the more concerned they are with the value of the material. So far, that's pure economics, not ethical philosopy. But because recycling saves trees, and preserves energy and resources for future generations, recycling companies attract more than our share of do-gooders. I am one of those people who entered this field out of a desire that future generations would consider I made my best effort to be environmentally sustainable.
Little did this recycler realize what a social ethical economic puzzle it would turn out.
Who reads this junk?
The ethical scrapper and agent of conscience looks at social and environmental policy. He finds and magnifies a crack in the morality play, using the commerce in used electronics as a lens.
The Ethical Scrapper coins new terms. Environmental Malpractice, accidental racism, e-waste hoax, and so forth.
For 2015, here's the debut of "Guilt-Staining". It is the polar opposite to "greenwashing": when big corporations shout their environmentally contributions (using advertising budgets) to create green impressions. out of all proportion to their net environmental effects. Guilt-staining is the allegation of "dirty little secrets". It leverages already-activated "agents of conscience" (a term coined in high school) into anger, and threatens to take something ACTUALLY green, and stain it with guilt.
Like all recyclers, the ethical scrapper already does much for the world by saving energy, carbon, and finite resources... by reducing the toxic mining of rain forests and coral reef islands.
All recyclers do that, at all levels of a company. An entire company contributes as a team to win one for the environment. People running the payroll, or maintaining the fork trucks, or filling the balers all earn a moral share of diverting the burdens of man's consumption of finite resources on the planet. The recyclers are a team of village blacksmiths, or blackleg miners, working far harder than any regulator or average consumer, in dirtier and more hazardous conditions. We do much just by being focused on our jobs, collecting material, and recycling it. Politics would seem to add as much value to recyclers as it adds to mining, agriculture, or laundry, or radio repair.
"Something attempted, something done, has earned a night's repose".
It's an economy worth billions of dollars. If remanufacturing and repair are included, it approaches a trillion dollars worldwide, with very high employment per dollar, and it actually reduces mankind's impacts on the planet. It's biggest competitors, hard rock mining and forestry, demand billions of dollars in subsidies, superfund bailouts, and $5 per acre "General Mining Act of 1873" terms exported to dozens of other countries (via the World Bank and IMF loan conditions).
Something must be done.
Guiltstaining. All BAN.org needed was a "dirty little secret". A surprise, a gotcha, a crisis. "Something Must Be Done" to leverage tens of thousands of sustainably employed workers in a trillion dollar scrap/reuse economy. Shabang. Millions of dollars to an organization that helps no one, which arrests the people it claims to help, and actually generates MORE carbon and MORE toxics by interfering in the marketplace.
Shakedown Street. The morality police - who do not know what they are talking about, and are making it up as they go along - can cash in with a crusade, casting themselves as reformers, do-gooders, etc. The priestatollahs are absolutely outraged to have their motives questioned (see Donald Summers Chicago Patch quotes), but they are putting African TV repairmen and internet cafe owners in jail based on a "rhetorical statistic" ... Something I think Socrates may have called, in the original Greek (Plato's Republic) "made completely out of word-vomit."
So... does it add value for the recyclers to be philosophically self aware? Or should we just pay the Crusader's Toll, give a portion of our income to "Stewards", and go about our scrap recycling business?
My hope is that there are fellow philosophers out there who enter the environmental field for the reasons I did 35 years ago. Karma yoga, the practice of doing good works during our life, should attract more of us to recycling, reuse and repair. Finding ourselves not by isolating ourselves in monasteries, but by working side by side with other people. Some like ourselves, others not. But accomplishing, pound for pound, a sustainable period of time to balance our own consumption, our own impacts on the planet.
So here we are, doing that, and bam, egotistic savior-itus strikes.
"After a drought in investment in new generating capacity lasting almost three decades, blooms of new power plants are now sprouting across sub-Saharan Africa like acacia seeds after a rainstorm. A tally by The Economist of announced power projects (under construction or at an advanced stage of planning) suggests that the region's electricity-generating capacity will increase by more than half by the end of the decade." - Economist "Lighting a dark continent", October 3, 2014
Africa has a firehose of new electricity projects coming online - many from renewable resources. When China, India, South America and Indonesia saw electricity quadruple, they met the demand for World Cup matches, news broadcasts, sitcom reruns, and beauty pageants with rebuilt, refurbished CRTs from Europe, South Korea, Japan and the USA. That multi-billion dollar refurbishing and reuse trade made an even more attractive target than the scrap recycling industry.
We don't need to exoticize our compatriots in other countries. American recyclers can be proud of who we are without calling teams from poorer nations rude names like "primitive". When we hear a client say they'd rather throw away material than know it was recycled by an oriental, hispanic, or black person, we don't need to agree with that, much less champion it into a certification or brand.
Export for reuse, repair, and even recycling is no threat to the jobs in the USA than it is a threat to the environment.
Though nine years of blogging would suggest otherwise, there's actually nothing quite so boring as trade in used electronic devices. The people are interesting, and the moral posturing is fascinating. But from an environmental lifecycle, or engineering perspective, nothing could be less controversial and no science could have explained the unintended consequence or Nigerian born television repairman Joe Benson waking up for 16 straight months with his butt in a British prison cell.
Nothing. No statistic, no finding, not a word of truth suggesting Benson did anything remotely wrong. He just found himself on the wrong end of the charitable industrial complex, which teaches us that Something must be done, That Shredding and Export Guidelines are Something, and that therefore Shredding and Export Guidelines must be done.
Certainly the worst forms of reuse and recycling are better than the best forms of mining. Carbon saved by reuse and recycling puts refining, manufacturing, device use and disposal to shame. Exports, free and fair trade over lines on maps, bring repairable goods to places where repair markets thrive, and bring copper scrapping from dumps where it would be shameful to do anything other than recycle it. For all the problems that can be found in free and fair trade, recycling has proven itself not to be among them.
Merry Christmas, fellow recyclers.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
The Tragedy of Agbogbloshie, the scrap neighborhood of Accra, Ghana, has been a "scene of the crime" which Joe Benson is in prison for. Among the most credible sources for Benson's crime suspicions came a year ago this month, via Scientific American. Ghana is not more polluted than any other emerging urban city. So why, in 2014, is Ghana the butt of the Scientific American headline?
Is this the truth? Is this metal scrapyard in Accra, Ghana, among, close to, remotely, being one of the ten most polluted sites on earth? Scientific American is important and credible, as is the original source - Blacksmith Institute.
No. Accra's scrapyard doesn't compare to Chernobyl or mining hotspots like Kabwe or OK Tedi. It's not pretty, but it is pretty similar to dozens of other auto scrapyards in Guangzhou, Mumbai, Detroit, Jakarta, Rio, etc.
How did the headline above place Accra's automobile, white goods, and electronics scrapyard - and only their scrapyard - on a list with Chernobyl, Ukraine, Kabwe, Zambia, and other mining, smelting, nuclear and petroleum disasters?
In this blog, I'll show you where the research by Blacksmith Institute, behind this headline, was accurate and plentiful. Unfortunately, one tragic citation led to false arrests, collateral damage, and potentially tarnished the brand of a really fine organization. As Dr. Josh Lepawsky has described in "Mapping E-waste as a Controversy: From Statements to Debates II", there has been a pollution of non-peer-reviewed "data" in the discussion of export policy. It will lead to the end of "top ten" lists from Blacksmith Institute.
Definition of PRIMUM NON NOCERE:the first thing (is) to do no harm
The tragedy is the amount of solid effort which Jack Caravanos of CUNY put into the Blacksmith Institute research. He visited Agbogbloshie, photographed it, interviewed the people, and even helped win a project (with Swiss funding) to "clean up" the operations with a heroic MakerSpace effort described at http://qamp.net/ And apparently, just as quickly, the European project at Agbobloshie, the $85,000, went to waste. I cannot speculate whether it was from the lack of buy-in, or what. But as I told @RecyHub (who was on the ground for the project), giving that money to a Fixer / Importer like Wahab, Emmanuel, Hamdy, Souleymane, Miguel, or Joe Benson would have been a better bet. Hard to recruit people when they're in jail. And that's the tragedy here... Blacksmith meant well. I don't think they intended to enter Agbogbloshie with a #saviorcomplex, on an Ego-Eco-Safari. But they produced one of the most thorough, impressive pieces of research, and then embellished it with the label of Most Toxic Place on Earth, and on page One, #FRAMED Joe Benson of #WasteCrime. One single piece of bad data may destroy our confidence in the top ten lists... I found it. It's just one minor assumption, properly footnoted. And it took Scientific American down with it. Tragic Fame. For some time, I'd been trying to find out exactly how this "ranking" of hundreds and thousands of polluted sites occurs. How is the lead mine pile in Kabwe, Africa being compared to leather tanneries in Bangladesh (or Guiyu, China)? Is the "threat" measured by toxicity per square meter, or by type of toxic, or by the number of people exposed? There should be a methodology to ranking.
The Top 10 Toxic Threats (per Blacksmith Institute)
Agbogbloshie, Ghana E-waste
Chernobyl, Ukraine Nuclear accident
Citarum River Basin, Indonesia Industrial and domestic pollution
Dzerzhinsk, Russia Chemical manufacturing
Hazaribagh, Bangladesh Tanneries
Kabwe, Zambia Lead mining
Kalimantan, Indonesia Gold mining
Matanza Riachuelo, Argentina Industrial pollution
Niger River Delta, Nigeria Oil spills
Noril'sk, Russia Mining and smelting
Technically, Agbogbloshie leads the list because it starts with "A". GhanaWeb could be forgiven for mistaking the alphabetical order for ranking. But Blacksmith is definitely claiming that out of thousands of mining, dumping, and scrap processing sites, Accra's auto scrap yard is in the top 10.
Scientific American's article from December 2013 implies there is a careful process of rank evaluation.
"The Blacksmith Institute, along with Green Cross Switzerland, compiled the new rankings after surveying more than 2,000 sites in 49 countries. The organizations estimate that toxic pollution threatens the health of more than 200 million people in the developing world." - Scientific American
There are mining spills, mercury-contaminated federal arms sites, uranium mines to compete with. A science and engineering NGO like Blacksmith Institute, which makes every effort to distinguish itself as a science-based environmental think tank, carries a lot of weight. Blacksmith made 2014 the year that "e-waste" in Accra, Ghana, would gain a notoriety which Basel Action Network and Greenpeace could never, on their own, bestow. Six months after publication, Joe Benson of BJ Electronics was locked in a British prison cell.
One toxic footnote.
Blacksmith Institute's go to guy is Jack Caravanos of CUNY. When I called and spoke to Blacksmith earlier this week, Dr. Caravanos's research was the anchor. Professor Caravanos has built a considerable reputation for his Department at CUNY, and for Blackstone. He's currently studying Kabwe in Zambia, Africa, the leaded ore mining city (which would certainly be on my ballot of "Worst Places").
Caravanos published two articles on Agbogbloshie, Ghana, in support of its rank as one of the worst places on planet earth. I don't have time to go into the reports in detail, and don't have expertise or desire to debate Caravanos on his strongest suit.
I agree with 90% of the research. But the introduction! Out of the gate, Caravanos declares the crime scene to be the product of exporters like Joe Benson. Joe Benson's an admitted exporter, and Caravanos, on page 1, says that 75% of the exports by people like Benson are sham recycling, exposing a loophole in Basel, and deserve the blame for the site he measures.
False accusation, relayed from Greenpeace, sourced from BAN. Wrong.
Caravanos' footnote is to a paper which in turn footnotes Jim Puckett's false, fake, abandoned hoax statistic (see Tragedy 2). It's like the best Law and Order forensic lab technician leaps out of character and, after describing boot prints and blood types and DNA, goes on to announce (repeat speculation) of motive, opportunity, and means. He's wearing a lab coat, and he has chemistry evidence, but the whodunnit is coming from hearsay. No. Benson is innocent, and you have one little footnote that you've accidentally given scientific credence... which the source itself does not claim (and now distances itself afar of).
A great chemist normally doesn't mix the chemistry results with third party gossip over motives. If he does, and creates a titillating "ranking" press release, he could wind up in Scientific American... And/Or in the Good Point Ideas blog.
Here's the ifixit/goodpointideas teardown.
1. We grant it's bad. Something must be done.
Let's grant Caravanos the premise that people working in the scrapyard (which manages mostly automobile and white goods waste) have serious health concerns. The major contributions he has made are to take blood and urine and soil samples and assess them for toxics. We have had a gut feeling that the images of kids pushing burning wires around with sticks was not a good thing, and I'll grant Caravanos science that he documented it.
Let's grant that we don't want our teenage sons and daughters burning wire in Agbogbloshie, especially if there's a school or better job available.
2. We ask about the methodology of the "Top 10" ranking.
How the tests he performed establish the difference between the "Top Ten" most toxic (or most exotic?), and the next 1,990 runners up, isn't clear. There are baselines for "healthy" and "EPA limits" which are crossed, but I'd expect to see a comparison chart. How does the arsenic showing in urine levels compare, site by site? We could see how Ghana fares compared not just to the other 9 sites, but to sites with better results, and understand why Accra and not Foshan, or Kinshasa, or Detroit or Torreon deserves the Scientific American headline.
Then we could ask other methodology questions.
Are similar auto scrap yards compared, and are lead and copper mines and smelters compared to other lead and copper smelting sites?
And how many lead mining sites does Blacksmith compare to how many scrap sites?
Are the soil samples given more weight when the population of exposed people is greater? Or younger?
What's upstream? What are other proximate causes?
In Guiyu, that last question would have led to the documentation of the textile mills and tanneries which employ most of the people in that district... something I discovered by comparing BAN's "Exporting Harm" water samples online, and finding the Louhajong River tests with very similar results. Adam Minter later visited Guiyu and confirmed many textile mills upstream of Guiyu... something Greenpeace less than ironically ran with as "dirty laundry".)
The problems with college and university ranking methodology (e.g. US News and World Report) are widely discussed in academic circles (also less than ironically). USNWR has been accused of deliberately "reshaking" the weight it assigns class size, faculty degrees, costs, etc. just to create a sense of suspense. The ranking changes every year, giving USN and WR annual rankings more relevance.
It was just a matter of time before Blacksmith's lists got held to the same scrutiny, and when an innocent African television repairman gets put in UK jail 6 months later, that time may have come.
3. We question specific claims of causality....
The question of "upstream" sources runs even deeper, when correlation equates to causality, which equate to Guidelines, which equate to racial profiling.
Caravanos, deep in the paper, acknowledges that he cannot determine where arsenic in urine actually came from, he can only document it's disturbingly high. As Adam Minter and Greenpeace have pointed out, the textile dying industry in Guiyu (E-Stork Series, "Where Poisoned E-waste Babies Come From") is more closely associated with the river water samples than e-scrap. Arsenic is almost a tag to trigger suspicion that "something else is going on", such as copper mining, or C&D debris, because arsenic isn't related to e-scrap or e-waste. To Caravanos credit, he keeps an appropriate distance from making the claim that the e-waste was the direct cause of the lead in the soil. But evidently he didn't call David Biello at Scientific American, so I have to.
Even if "e-waste" has toxics, are electronics imports the cause of the toxics documented? And even if they are - this is key - are recent imports the cause of the waste electronics? India, as a control group, has almost no imports of used electronics, but would probably be on a Blacksmith map of "informal sector" e-waste lists.
George Walker Bush Motorway, Ghana Morning Commute
Most of the activity at Agbogbloshie is AUTOMOBILE scrapping. Accra and Lagos have TONS AND TONS of scrap automobiles. Freon, motor oil, insulation, gas and diesel.
Does anyone think that the automobile scrap in Agbogbloshie is imported from western nations?
Used autos are, for sure. But everyone knows that the vehicles are maintained and kept running for a decade after they are imported... no one is claiming that 75% of used auto imports "very quickly" go to Agbogbloshie, or that there's any "dirty little secret" about A-Waste.
For some reason, however, the e-junk in the photos is assumed to be recently imported, while the auto scrap is not. Why? The question leads us to the 4th point about Jack Caravanos articles, published by Blacksmith Institute.
4. Repeating proven falsehoods.
Caravonos repeats, and offers Blackstone Institute's credit, for disproven, false, discredited stats. Here are quotes from the two papers, and links to the "sources".
"It is estimated that globally 20-50 million tons of e-waste is generated per year, representing 1-3% of the world's municipal waste."
Here are the problems that make the Geeks of Color wince, quotations taken directly from Blacksmith Institute Journal of Health and Pollution, Vol. 1 no. 1, Feb 2011.
"As stated in a study on e-waste recycling and disposal by Brigden, Labunska, Santillo and Johnston as much as 75% of items produced in the EU and 80% in the US go unaccounted.... Companies use a loophole in the [Basel Convention] treaty that allows for the shipment of second-hand donations as a way to also ship unusable items that will end up in landfills or scrap yards, accounting for 75% of what is shipped."
Both of these citations come into the respected Blacksmith Institute Journal of Health and Pollution, to no doubt be cited again in many university research papers. Brigden, Labunska, Santillo and Johnson publish... For Greenpeace. That's the same NGO which planted the geographic tracking device in a television donated to Joe Benson, after (gasp) "cutting a wire".
The source of Bridgen et. al. data? Go back to E-Waste Tragedy 2, the Non-Profit Sanctimony Source Code.
Distributed on BAN letterhead at Basel Convention meeting COP8
For all its contributions in chemical analysis, mapping, and science, the opening page of the Blacksmith Institute journal is, in effect, laundering bad data. Jim Puckett has denied ever even saying it, claiming recently that the only time he estimated these numbers was in 2002's Exporting Harm (China). You remember... NEVER has BAN ever stated... published here 18 months ago, and still never explained. Jack Caravanos and Rich Fuller should be aware that many people will only read the introduction, and the paper definitely represents the 75% waste as true.
"Despite your reading diligence however, it is unfortunate that you did not start by questioning the baseless assertions made by Adam Minter in his reckless article. Never has BAN ever stated that 80% of US e-waste is exported." (-Bloomberg News)
In July 2013, in one of the most read blogs of the past 5 years, Basel Action Network went to pains to accept the 2011 studies that showed definitively that - like automobiles - most of the used electronics paid for and imported were done so by Africans, not by westerners, that most of what they purchased was working and repairable, and that (like autos) most of the scrap observed in Agbogbloshie had been used for more than a decade before it was discarded. By definition, that is domestically generated e-waste, no more "imported" than the cars in USA scrap yards were dumped by Toyota and Honda. BAN accepted they were wrong, but didn't change their claims. BAN moved the headstones, but they didn't move the graves. And the "ewaste hoax" statistics now haunt the institute, and Scientific American.
Any credible engineer or scientist can trace the footnotes to the letterhead claim to the disavowal. But unfortunately, via Blacksmith's Rich Fuller blog, Caravanos doubled his bet. The guest blog by Caravanos states rather definitively that "all the reports we may have read about this place are true." He has cited the Greenpeace report, which cites the BAN "exhaustive study", so he has to be aware of the allegations against the import-export trade.
I recently returned from the notorious Agbogbloshie recyclers market in Central Accra and all the reports you may have read about this place is true. Where else in the world can you find people dismantling computers, automobile engines, refrigerators and the like mixed in with a wholesale vegetable market, dozens of food vendors, a large mosque and the infamous copper wire burning site, which produces large volumes of toxic black smoke that lingers in the air all day. All this happening in what appears to be a random, chaotic structure (while there are no streets, vendor signs or directory, it is actually quite well organized and profitable to the vendors.) - Jack Caravanos
No. They are not all true. Tragic.
Joe Benson never went to primary or secondary school. But he is self made successful businessman, a TV repairman who is the reason that 6.9 million households in Nigeria could watch the World Cup and the Africa Cup and participate in democratic debate in 2006. He's in a tough spot if it's his word against CUNY and the Blacksmith Institute's Journal of Health and Pollution. But I'd take his side over BAN and Greenpeace, who profit directly from the exaggeration and then move on to the next "cause" (piles of never-exported CRT glass, or dirty laundry from upstream textile mills). Blacksmith Institute is supposed to be different.
Blackstone Institute has a professional website, and a healthy budget, and impressive staff. If I'm not jealous, as founder of WR3A.org, I should be. Fuller's credentials appear impeccable, and I've got no agenda suggesting we question them. The E-Waste Tragedy, in my opinion, is the number of creditworthy do-gooders and agents of conscience who have been sucked into the black hole of E-Waste Fatwah. I'd kill to have the grant they got to establish the Maker Fair project in Ghana! I had to do Retroworks de Mexico with nothing but credit cards.
So I'm here to help the Joe Benson's of the world debate their case. There has been a stampede of profiling, resulting in Environmental Injustice. The tinkerers, fixers, and geeks of color have enough problems fighting planned obsolescence and sham exporters, and environmentalists need to polish their rifle sites and lay off the friendly fire. This was a decade of environmental malpractice, and by writing this, I hope to get Blacksmith Institute to use its amazing intellectual assets to pursue it.
The very photographic evidence in Caravanos papers and the Blacksmith's blog, which shows poor people scrapping, is incontrovertible proof that this site cannot possibly be managing anything close to the the 20-50 million tons generated in the Blacksmith Institute article by Caravanos. Caravanos paper shows satellite imagery mapping the site, and you couldn't park Sims or ERI trucks there. Its clearly a bottleneck which no one would expect could manage a significant quantity of Earth's e-scrap if we weren't distracted by photos of little black kids with wires on their heads.
Moreover, if Caravanos has read the UN source reports, he knows that the 50 million tons are arrived at by calculating the generation of emerging cities like Accra. The main question we have is where else is Ghana managing its scrap, because Agobogbloshie cannot even account for the generation of 24 million people who live in Ghana. I have more truckloads of "e-waste" arriving at my plant in rural Middlebury Vermont every day than we see in the Agbogbloshie films!
Economically, it's impossible to pay for 75% junk with the scrap and 25% reuse, as alleged. And Benson can recycle junk for free in the UK, he has no incentive to load a bad item on a container at all. The theory of motive is a total fail.
Is it needlessly antagonistic to call "ENVIRONMENTAL MALPRACTICE" on Scientific American's coverage of Blacksmith Institute's "Top Ten" list? From my perspective, we challenged these reports in 2009 and 2010 when they came out. A guy's in jail and it could go viral... and if Fuller and Caravanos are reading this, I believe they are smart enough to change bandwagons. Engage us, find out what's going on, and help us get a debate about the #FreeHurricaneBenson petition.
The e-waste tragedy is Collateral Damage. BAN.org makes up a figure to make its cause seem more urgent, Greenpeace repeats it, and Joe Benson winds up in jail, and really cool organizations like Blacksmith Institute wind up discredited, or forced to avoid interviews.
Mike Daisy. Fuller and Caravanos need to take their cue from Ira Glass, This American Life, and get in front of this imprisonment. Sign the #FREEJOEBENSON petition. Come out ahead, guys. Hopefully, Rich Fuller takes my blog as friendly advice. I don't want them to lose scholars, job applicants, or donors. (I gave them 24 hours advance access to this blog, would have offered longer if I asked).
As you may have seen on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart over the past few days, Africa has highways. Trevor Noah, a new comic newscaster on the program from South Africa, made his debut with "Spot the Africa", taking on #povertyporn and #whitesaviorcomplex stereotypes. For a lot of Americans, Noah says, Africa is one giant village full of "AIDS, huts, and starving children, who you can save for just 5 cents per day."
Rich Fuller, Jim Puckett, Steve D'Esposito, Shiela Davis, Ted Smith ... there are a whole bunch of us who were environmental activists in the 1980s, who have made a career out of trying to do what we desperately want to do... make human consumption of earths resources more sustainable.
We must learn the lessons of past do gooders. The church. Western medicine. Police power.
We imagine ourselves immune at our peril. And the collateral damage is ours. Joe Benson does NOT belong in prison, StEP damages itself by defending his prison sentence, Caravanos means well but damages Blacksmith Institute by repeating the hoax statistics (in an otherwise apparently well-researched report). USA generators of working display devices and computers opt to send them to shredders, and to boycott the geeks of color. We are boycotting the very, very, very best jobs that the emerging markets have.
Africa has a lot of real, real problems, and we don't need fake ones distracting our attention. None of us want the progress of emerging urban markets to take our minds off of the need for progress, especially in agriculture, women's equality, and democratic reforms.
As many said about Mike Daisy's impassioned falsehoods about Foxconn (maker of IPhones) in China, China has enough real problems that it certainly doesn't need Europeans and Americans making up fake problems on their behalf. And that goes for Africa, too. I first listened to the NPR This American Life Foxconn story in a rental car with Josh Lepawsky and Chris McNabb, on the evening drive back across the Arizona desert, near Tombstone, as we made our way back from their first visit to Retroworks de Mexico... my own @AMP effort. We're all on the same side here.
Staying on subject. What lessons can the Environmental Activist Community learn from the "E-Waste Tragedy?" Does Joseph "Hurricane" Benson belong in prison? If not, how the heck did he get there, and how do we keep from making the same kind of mistake again?
Turns out, the ancient Greeks had this nailed many centuries ago.
In Orlando, at the E-Scrap 2014 Conference, I actually had a chance to speak to several people on all sides of the "Guidelines" issue. Most, including Jim Puckett, said of course Joe Benson does not belong in prison.
The person from StEP (Jaco) mostly defended the prison sentence for Benson. Jaco acknowledged the probability that 91% of Benson's sold good were actually reused, and acknowledged that most of the stuff filmed at the dump was "Post-Reuse", and generated by Ghanaians. Nevertheless Jaco made the case that "rules are rules". If the Guidelines "suggest proof of full functionality", that Benson should have known the consequences of his export activity, even if those Guidelines were based on eroneous (BAN.org) claims. Even if Benson knew they were being reused, and new he was bringing rejects back for free recycling in the UK, prison was warranted.
(Did you notice the term "Guidelines suggest proof is needed"? How about proving the suggestion is warranted?)
This logical "appeal to desperation" has also been labeled the Politician's Fallacy, and often results in prohibitions, war on drugs, 10 foot fences to foil 9 foot ladders, and many "industry self regulation" standards. There is a lot of money in providing "Something".
Having studied this for a couple of decades, I'm basically hardening in my position. Even Mr. Puckett actually offered to sign the petition, and said of course Benson should be released. Desperate measures
Desperation is demand. Desperation is everywhere. Desperation for internet, desperation for affordable TVs to watch documentaries and World Cup Games, desperation for good tech jobs, desperation for informal scrap work, etc.... these drove the demand for Joe Benson's suppply. Desperation to be part of the emerging world market drives the economics that purchase televisions and computers and cell phones that rich countries discard.
I've stood in lines of Egyptian medical school students waiting to see the latest CRT monitors imported from America. I have been to Africa, Asia, South America, and the Mideast, and I'm cooked in this. I know the truth, I can't forget it just to fit in with my fellow environmentalist friends. If I have a contract that forbids exports, I will fulfill the contract, but I'm not pushing anyone under the bus and I'm not singing racist hymns.
The number one cause of death of women in Lagos and Cairo is lack of computerized blood banks. Two former medical school students in Cairo were buying 2 containerloads of computer monitors in 2008, just to meet that desperate need.
So yes, there are poor people, and huge cities in Africa have dumps. The snapshots of Africa's Desperation have led to "white guilt" which makes European and American "agents of conscience" desperate to escape their guilt, their corporate liability. And the #whitesaviorcomplex and #liabilitycomplex recyclers in the West are desperate not to be associated with that poverty, that blame, and that guilt.
Desperation for internet, television, cell phones and blood banks vs. Desperation not to be accused of liability for a reused device that EVENTUALLY gets scrapped 15 years later. Guess whose desperation is more important?
Something must be done about whites desperate not to be accused.
Shredding and export bans and Guidelines are something.
Therefore, something (export bans and Guidelines) must be done.
Benson is in jail because Lord Chris Smith's UK Environmental Agency places greater weight on the latter "appeal to desperation". The Guidelines were designed without the Africans, Asians, or South American geeks of color in the room, they were done without purchase orders, and the total failure to account for "elective upgrade" and "eventual discard" in the PACE charts shows that White IFIXIT geek jobs are protected, white big shred is protected, and expat Africans like Benson finish last.
It has come to jail. Someone is in jail because of Guidelines drafted in an Appeal to Desperation of do-gooders, in a liability ju-ju culture. And taxpayers in England are paying both to destroy working televisions from hotel upgrades (to flat panel), and are paying to feed and house an innocent man in their prison.
And no one is reporting on this.
Are they all still afraid of the Ayatollah of E-Waste? I no longer think that explains it. I think it's the Money In Something, as in the Something that must be done.
It's a sin to kill a mockingbird, people, and your window of deniability ("We thought we were doing the right thing. We had to do something. Something had to be done. We didn't know...") is closing as fast as the prison cell door.
Sadness and desperation is a human condition which covers all continents, and all centuries of human history. Those who exploit it for profit will come and go. It infected Western medicine, until we developed a system of peer review and scientific method. Do no harm. This is the lesson for the health of the environment, the health of the planet, and curing the ills of pollution and poverty.
The E-Waste Tragedy is rooted in ignorance of geography, of world economy, failure to find root causes, failure in lifecycle analysis, and simple logical fails.
"Something must be done" is nothing new. Virgin sacrifices, scapegoats, and wars have been the result. It's time to trace Benson's unjust jail sentence to its root causes.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
I woke up between 2-3AM last night, from a very vivid dream (and strong acid reflux from trying too hard to reduce the Thanksgiving leftovers).
In the dream, my company was about to make an announcement about our R2:2013 certification. As part of the announcement, I had prepared to release dozens of helium balloons, from the garage of my house (I blog and do accounting from an office over the garage). The balloons were mostly yellow and pink, there may have been a few reds or blues, and they were up against the ceiling of my garage and my office and around the awnings of my home. (Not sure exactly how I was going to "release" them).
Anyway, who should show up in my dream? Jim Puckett, executive director of Basel Action Network, came personally in response to the announcement. He didn't go to the warehouse... he showed up at my home in Middlebury, Vermont... to inspect my balloons.
It was cheerful and amicable, as my conversations with Jim normally are. Still, I felt the same spike in adrenaline I get when an OSHA or Homeland Security or Vermont EPA (ANR) inspector arrives by surprise. I was flustered enough, evidently, not to question why E-Stewards was inspecting my R2 certification, or why Jim himself was coming to my home.
Yes. Jim Puckett was there, at my home garage, to inspect my balloons. It was some kind of a privilege he had, because I was about to celebrate my certification.
Jim wanted to know if the balloons were "fully functional" before I released them. I remember him walking about outside the garage, peering at the helium balloons against the ceiling, and taking notes. No kidding. And this was normal to me.
Well, Jim had come to question whether or not I could verify that these were functional, working balloons. And I told him that obviously they were working, or they would not be on the ceiling, they'd be on the floor. He asked about some balloons that were a little smaller, and whether too much helium had escaped. The more questions he asked about the balloons, the more empowered I felt to push back. These were MY balloons, not his balloons, and they were floating, and if they weren't working then they wouldn't float into the sky, now would they?? I pointed to a flattened balloon on the floor of the garage.
It occurred to me this morning that the entire "release the balloons" dream was some kind of allegory for cathode ray tube sales, and #whiteprivilege. The most important tests for CRTs is whether the vacuum inside the tube is intact. California SB20 actually requires the vacuum to be released, ruining the CRT, prior to export, in a rule which has SCREAMED planned obsolescence since I became aware of it more than ten years ago. There are other tests, like age and size, but the vacuum test is the best test for repairability. Color can be fixed, even cathode ray guns can be replaced. But if the CRT vacuum is popped, the phosphor powder on the inside becomes practically impossible to repair.
There's no way to develop a test for CRTs which is as obvious as "the helium balloon is on the ceiling, it's obviously working unless you think I taped it there, in which case it's not going to release into the sky now, is it?"
But the feeling I experienced, when Jim Puckett came to my home to inspect my balloons that I bought with my own money, has to be similar to the feeling experienced by African, Asian, and South American CRT display traders. They have their tests, and if the tests fail they LOSE MONEY. They lose a lot of money if they buy deflated CRTs. They've been caught flat footed, questioned whether they'd paid money for something which wasn't working or repairable.
CRTs are more difficult than balloons, but this isn't exactly highest tech. While incredibly sophisticated in their original manufacture, Cathode Ray Tubes are like engine blocks in that any mechanic can lift the hood and see the oil running from the head gasket line and know that an engine is going to be worth repairing. That may have required an engineering degree 70 years ago, when CRTs and engine blocks were "high technology". An auto mechanic worth his salt can determine whether a car is a waste of time without revving it up and driving around the block.
The African "e-waste" traders are all worth their salt.
Joe Benson didn't have satisfactory proof that he hadn't taped bad helium balloons to the ceiling. The burden of proof was on him, because Lord Chris Smith, the head of the UK Environmental Agency, hasn't yet read that Jim Puckett has never, ever said that the vast majority of balloons released in to the sky are deflated. His sentence can't be explained by a rush of fear, a sudden judgement call. The UK Environmental Agency had years to consider the fate of Joe Benson. Unlike the case of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, or the two seconds it took for Cleveland police to shoot and kill 12 year old Tamir Rice, this Joe Benson story has been in documentaries and Puckett's slide shows, and on the cover of UK Independent and Guardian newspapers, and even reported by the BBC.
Benson's testimony breaks my heart. He didn't understand why he needed a lawyer. He totally underestimated the widespread white belief that black people are releasing popped balloons into the sky, and the majority of balloons they release into the sky are insufficiently tested for helium content. Benson thought it obvious, he could not have been in business for 25 years selling junk waste TVs to Africans who pay $10,000 per container of 500 TVs.
Tomorrow, back to reality. Inspecting the trade of black African entrepreneurs, and presuming them guilty, and sentencing #hurricaneJoeBenson to a jail cell, the liberal aristocracy fails to notice its #whiteprivilege much. Can you name the quote of the Aristocrat who slummed around a former colony, and found out that the uneducated masses were creating a future Superpower out of underclass democracy?
"In these words, which fell accidentally, and on a particular subject, from an uninstructed man, I recognize the general and systematic idea upon which a great people direct all their concerns."
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill