From Vegetarian to Recycler

I was vegetarian in college.  It was not just about cows and pigs... it was about how demand for beef and pork led to the cropping down of rain forests to make pasture land.  I was avoiding beef to save rain forest critters.

Our purchases (demand) and waste (lost supply) have an impact far beyond our trash cans. When I learned about mining, I realized that the intrusion of mining operations and timber harvesters had an impact far beyond the forest consumption.  Purchases by the world's richest 5% of the population (1980) were paying for roads and infrastructure in the rain forests, and exponentially increasing purchases of bush meat or "bushmeat".

Killing and eating apes and monkeys and other exotic rain forest animals was sustainable when the world's population was about 500 million.  At 6+ billion, even if most of us swear off of it, a few ridiculous people will  order "endangered species platter" just to say they digested chimp flesh before they died.  Even if we run a campaign to increase the awareness of sustainability in Asia, and reduce the number of myths about special properties of organs from endangered species, we can plan on a certain number of ****heads.  If one percent of people are ****heads, then all you can control is access to the perversion, you cannot ever achieve all good people.

The access to bushmeat is roads.  If you build roads into the Congo river basin to harvest rare earth metals, other trade will follow the route.  When legitimate hunters, like ones I met in Cameroon, were first given guns, species were already endangered by the demands of earth's 1 billion population and 1% (1 million) ***heads.  But it was guns and roads, roads into the deepest parts of the forest , to mine coltan for cell phones and gold for circuit boards, or tin for "lead-free" solder, which broke the garden wall protecting bush wildlife.

In the capital of Yaounde, Cameroon, I could avert my eyes and walk on by the rugs of bushmeat.  But I knew that it was the "eaters" of hardwood and non-ferrous metals that brought the hunters to the mothers of these baby chimps.  And the West's contagion of consumption - consume, use, discard - is our most frightening export.

If you are a true recycler, your actions will mean more than vegetarianism for a lifetime.  Because if you are NOT a true recycler, and you don't recycle paper, metals and e-waste, then the gold and copper and tin and silver you "eat" opens the doors to the virgin forest.

I spent an amount of time meditating and trying to choose the best possible career.  If you want to make a difference towards sustainability, jewelry, electronics, and other industries consuming rare earth elements are the way to go. I'm fascinated in the potential for women's rights to reduce consumption of rare earth metals.  On the other hand, there are some tragic directions I see environmentalists taking.  Switching from toxics (like recycled content lead) to non-toxic rare metals (like tin and silver, the lead solder replacement) is probably the most tragic career pursuit an environmentalist can engage in.  Selling recycled mercury, diverted from well regulated landfills, to gold miners in the rain forest, is perhaps as bad.  Following that would be anything environmentalist pursuit that reduces participation (through higher costs or cynicism) in recycling... which we all need to be polite to one another in order to avoid.

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