Story Lines: Social Myth Pollution

The diagram below traces the storylines of different mythologies, from the ancient Greeks to the Romans, etc.  There probably never was a "Cyclops", but once you get enough people to retell the story, it can take much more than decades to relegate it to myth buster bins.  Greek storylines are NOT a schematic diagram.

Environmentalists are on this dangerous edge...  We want awareness of our concern, about rain forests, pollution, extinction, and unsustainable growth.   The rate of change of all of these fields is alarming, and we are desperate for any news story that boosts momentum for our cause.

Environmental Health, or Ecology, is definitely a science.  But it is a young science.   We have not been able to measure the earth climate and biosphere for as long as we've been able to measure mass and volume (physics) or chemistry or biology.

When there is a new science, the field is open to people declaring themselves "experts".  I would postulate that you get some really good scientists who recognize an emerging field and get into it with great contributions.  But it would be tempting for a scientist who was weak in their chosen field to change games.  And there would be a less mature group of peer reviewers to catch the "Tiggers" (A.A. Milne character, a new stuffed animal who attracts a lot of attention by making lots of pronouncements... it takes a little bit for the other animals to figure out Tigger's angle).

What is especially dangerous is when a non-scientist, e.g. a "social scientist" (I got a degree in Poli-Sci and International Relations, so I'm outing myself here) jumps into the void.   What is incredibly dangerous is when the social scientist or poser gets funding based on headlines.  They become a "headline generator", and this propagates myths.

The best social scientists will explain that Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Shenzhen - all the areas which have seen the fastest social progress in human history - did so by recycling, then repairing, then grey marketing, then contract manufacturing, then... becoming Acer, Samsung, Seagate, etc.

To take the same path of progress away from Egypt and the rest of Africa is major experimental surgery.  Egypt is the most likely Mid-East or African country to emerge as a manufacturing economy.  Islamic superpower democracies of the East - Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia - all began with refurbishment and recycling of electronics and emerged as economic tigers.  

Having lived in Africa, I'm very sensitive to the need to protect the environment.  But I know that mining (the only opponent and opposite of recycling) is the true danger to the rain forests and fauna.  I also know that if you take the boys away from sorting copper wire, that the real choices left to them are not to win on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire".  They are more likely to sell a kidney, or die in a field of nyams at the age of 50.

There is a tremendous opportunity for young environmentalists to study and throw out the Myths.   They are like dangerous unstable cornerstones.   The professors in the field of climate change are quickly learning to be very aware of the double-edge sword of publicity.  They are forming a united peer review front and holding "global warming" and "climate change" essays to the fire, to make sure information is tested and true.

"Eighty Percent of used electronics exports are burned in primitive wire burning operations"... This is a cancerous lie.  This myth has been wrong since it cropped up in 2002, and our field of recycling needs to be ashamed of itself for allowing this myth to hang on as long as it has.   I can name the culprits in a future post, there are plenty of people who believe it, but also many who know it for what it is but repeat it to boost their selfish interests.

My point today is that there is indeed a major need to reform and develop overseas markets.  There is a need to keep poisonous processes out of the hands of children and desperate parents.  But placing a false cornerstone will ultimately undermine the entire field.  E-Steward Certification, Responsible Recyclers, and Environmental Justice are going to be set back if they take the easy path and publish a fake number.

80% is a completely fake number.  Sarah at BAN told me her source was a Ghana journalist.  He told me his source was BAN.   As a peer reviewing friend, truth may sting, but you have to stop telling people that 80% is primitive burning if your actual objection to USA EPA policy is that a tiny 1/2 inch capacitor with no toxic elements is being replaced and properly recycled, and you consider that process of replacing a capacitor and recycling it to be a violation of the Basel Convention, and that therefore the 80% of computers - which yield less than a kilo of replaced capacitors - is illegal and primitive. objects to repair because a tiny capacitor or part might be recycled (properly), and maintains it is a violation of the Basel Convention.  The Basel Convention explicitly allows export for repair and refurbishment.  BAN even objects to the Convention.  It says neither "fully functional" nor "tested working".  And while BAN says that "in the future" Europe will require "tested working", that is nothing less in its claim (true or not) as it is an admission the Convention does NOT say so.

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Robin said...
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