E-Waste Tragedy 8: Four Questions on Top 10 Pollution (Blacksmith Institute, Jack Caravanos)

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?

"E-Waste Dump among Top 10 Most Polluted Sites

A list of the 10 most polluted places on Earth ranges from nuclear sites to e-waste dumps  

Dec 17, 2013 |By David Biello

Searching for #PovertyPorn
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

E-Waste Tragedy 7: Logical Fallacy ("Something Must Be Done")

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?)

Throughout these conversations, we observe the "Appeal to Desperation".


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.

Tragedy 6: Now for a Balloon Dream And WhitePrivilege

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.

An African Tech Reacts to "The E-Waste Tragedy"

EntertainmentEmmanuel E.P. Nyaletey is an electronics technician, currently on scholarship at Georgia Tech in Marrietta, where he's pursuing a degree in coding.    Emmanuel grew up a few blocks from the alleged largest "e-waste dump" of Agbogbloshie.    He went back to visit Agbogbloshie in March 2014.  Emmanual and I both attended the USA premier of Cosima Dannoritzer's documentary, The E-Waste Tragedy hosted by Jim Puckett of Basel Action Network... the inspiration of my past 6 blog posts.

Nyaletey has written an essay, reacting to the film, and it was posted on the ISRI.org blog last week.
It is worth a humble read.

Link:    My Reaction to the Film 'The E-Waste Tragedy' by Emmanuel Nyaletey.

The urbanization, electrification, and rapid development in African cities and other "emerging markets" is changing not just the landscape of Africa, but the foundations of the Guilt-AID industry.

 Since the BAN.org NGO publicly denied its previous claims that most of Africa's imports are "reuse excuse" junk, destined for "primitive recycling", the internet has begun to explode with exasperation, much of it (like Emmanuel's essay) written as eyewitness accounts.

William Buffett's essay, "The Charitable Industrial Complex", Cassandra Herrman's documentary #Framed, Heather Agyepong's "The Gaze on Agbogbloshie", and the "Rusty Radiator Awards" are well-heeled responses this blog has been inspired by over the past year.   What's harder to document are the less well produced, naturally exasperated reactions by ordinary businesspeople (like Joseph Benson) who trade "good enough" product to Africa's metropoleses (new articles in New Republic and the Guardian at bottom).

Check out the reaction to Bob Geldoff's "Band AID" on this UK talk show program.

Ghana Geek fixes Camera at Good Point Recycling
The lens is turning.  The photographers, and exotic gaze itself, is being examined by a new generation, born decades after "loving vs. virginia".  Touche pas a mon pote, biensur.