EPA clams up

Net Impact is a group of young business students from many universities who are trying to change the world without getting fired.  Like the Masons, this group works to do good things and to earn their salaries, but to be around inside the system when something important happens.

This is the EXACT OPPOSITE of what the hippies did - tune in, turn on, drop out.  Why did we hate McDonalds in the 1990s?  Precisely because no one with a conscience would ever apply to work there in the 1970s.   McDonald's was starved of eco-minded people.  Despite that, it serves salads today because the eco-minded did not create businesses big enough to create enough jobs for people with consciences.

NET IMPACT is the next 20-30something generation of do-gooders who learned the lesson of tuning in and dropping out and did the former not the latter.

When I spoke to a group at Net Impact about WR3A.org and our company's mission to do well by doing good in the e-waste export business, a dozen people came down to speak with me after the presentation.

What does this have to do with the title of this blog?  EPA also has a lot of good people but.. they need to hire out of Net Impact and get some people who are not so afraid of losing their position that they don't speak out when attacked for doing the right thing.  EPA did the right thing with the CRT Rule and did the right thing with R2, but they cannot out-voice a 3 person NGO in Seattle.

Report: Wijnen, Research on WR3A Fairtrade Standards

Below is the paper released by the WR3A Intern, Berendina (Brenda) Wijnen, who spent a half year internship from the HES Amsterdam School of Business.  Brenda's background had been in tourism, and she had lived in France and Spain with jobs in the hospitality industry.  She was selected in part to give WR3A links to Europe and the WEEE and E-Waste policy there, and in part because she spoke 5 or 6 languages fluently - especially Spanish.

Brenda interviewed Vermont "Green Mountain Coffee Roasters" representatives about the development of the Fair Trade Coffee movement in the 1980s, and wrote the paper about making the transition from self-regulating businesses (like WR3A) to a certified third party FLO (Fairtrade Labeling Organization) standard, which R2 and RIOS aspire to. The Fairtrade labeling system went through the same fraternal disputes that R2 and E-Stewards are going through now.   What makes the difference is actually spending time in the developing world.  As I have said many times in this blog, the fatal and final flaw of the BAN E-Stewards approach is that entire factories, even the OEM factories which originally made the electronics, are disqualified regardless of their standards and their ability, and can never be E-Steward certified because of their nationality.  BAN's advertising campaign impugns the technical repair and refurbishing ability (and proper recycling ability) of developing nation recyclers with photos and film showing caroonish Al Jolson-esque stereotypes which leverage white guilt.  That is their fatal weakness.  What about WR3A's?

 WR3A has a different weakness, which Brenda's paper deftly examines, which is "self-interest" in certification.  The same accusations of self-interest arose during the other fairtrade (FLO) standard and certification programs, and the term "fairtrade" was trademarked to keep just any old company from claiming to meet the standard, or developing their own standard (as American Retroworks Inc. admittedly did with WR3A).   ISRI acquired IAER which had trademarked the term "certified recycler" for the same reasons.  BAN has now challenged that term in court.  The certification needs to be housed by someone.

Brenda understood that the people in the trenches with a stake in the trade are naturally the early adapters of a standard and are naturally self-interested.   Protesters who have never invested money into a partnership overseas, like BAN, have a different self interest, which is to perpetuate the stereotype that most of the exports are nasty, brutish shortcuts to proper recycling.  They attract their own self-interested shredding companies or cherry-picking off-lease companies (no hair on the meat, Joe says).

So all the standards are initially influenced by the people writing the standard.  My  take as the founder of WR3A is that transparency is the best salve.  By sending a European student to live and work in both the USA and the Mexican partner (as we have done with journalists), and to have her write a paper about what she saw, is the investment WR3A.org has made to making the export for recycling of e-waste fair and transparent, balancing the interests of both nations to achieve the best possible outcome.

I would have liked WR3A to be an organization which itself certified exports.  We found it too difficult to raise funds during the recession, or at least too difficult to fund the trade based on markups in the certified sales (something Fair Trade Coffee also tried).  WR3A could still blossom and achieve this, but ISRI is a stronger organization, and a new organization may take root.  The important thing I contribute, and my company contributes, is face to face contact with Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia, Senegal, Peru, Mexico ETC ETC ETC who are never included in BAN or ISRI or EPA or CBS 60 Minutes interviews.  America always goes through this navel-gazing, scrutinizing its own waste from its own perspective.  There are no numbers except for WR3A's numbers (and ASU's), and no faces, film or translation except for WR3A's partners.

WR3A could be embraced by BAN (which has made encouraging statements about Retroworks de Mexico based on Mexico's OECD status), and could be embraced by ISRI.  (EPA announced a grant of $85k and never delivered or personally called to apologize spiking it).  But everybody right now wants their picture taken next to a brown person, and WR3A has techies and women recyclers who fit that bill.   There was a gig to-do about EPA Administrator Jackson planning a trip to Ghana with BAN, and the trip being cancelled on account of the BP Gulf Oil spill.  I met the Ghana EPA director, he himself works on an imported refurb PC.

BAN said 'boo', EPA froze.  NO DATA.

Here is Brenda's Report on Research on WR3A Fairtrade Standards.

Fourth of July

Part of being an American is to stand still and take it when many people in the world seek to hold USA to a higher standard than they may hold or enforce against themselves, or to make us the chief example of any exchange that illustrates the imbalance between poor and rich nations.   For the most part, those occasions are far outweighed by the strong advantages and privileges Americans have on the world stage, and we are better off listening than turning the volume up on "Rush Limbaugh".

What I have seen, which is not obvious or evident from the "Vermont, Texas" perspective, is that the "poor nations" are themselves more of a mirror to the disparities of rich and poor.  The privileged classes in Cameroon or Zaire, where I served in Peace Corps, use the USA and their "colonial" history to distract from their own daily role in squeezing the poor from every possible angle.  The USA is a scapegoat in some cases, in others our mining and extraction industries take a "might as well be me" approach to up-front dollars in exchange for unsustainable environmental privileges negotiated with bureaucrats or heads of state in air conditioned offices.

This does not excuse the USA from taking unfair advantage of many situations, and profiting from the exchange.  But most of those unfair or disappointing outcome exchanges are in mining and mine-tailing, and drilling and spilling, low-employment, zero-future industries.

The trade between rich nations and repair and refurbishing nations is profoundly different.  The people who buy used computers tend to be very savvy, and enjoy the position in the trade when they can be treated as an equal and given just incentives to raise the standards of operations in their countries.

Those people tend to like the USA.  In part it's because the rich countries are "where the candy is".  They make more money and get better stuff from a rich nation than they get in a truckload from their own cities or neighboring countries.  But I think there is something more than that going on.

If you are sitting in the dust in Africa today, the history of colonialism and victimhood is accepted, but hearing about it constantly from the corrupt and kleptomaniac state government doesn't fool anyone.  Who do you trust at the end of the day, if everything goes wrong?  Who do you depend on in the worst case scenario, a tsunami or hurricane or earthquake of hurt, or if a war breaks out?  On the world stage, when has Russia or China or another superpower ever done jack?

When you trade fairly, after a few transactions of improving misunderstandings and taking responsibility and accountability for one another, trading partners will put your American company in the "friends" column.  If we give the foreign recycling company a financial incentive to become R2 compliant or certified, and find a foreign exchange student, university trainee, or other translator to walk through  the rules for proper ewaste recycling, the foreign recycler will value the relationship as a benefit-giving relationship, in a world where too many hours of the day are spent dodging hurt dished out by powerful people.

In Africa today, nations are banning the import of working CRT monitors, the only $20 display unit that an African internet cafe can afford.   BAN says that those nations are responding to a glut of such devices, or to a 75% junk ratio.  Those are false statements.  The countries embrace BAN and seek to stop internet cafes for a completely different reason.  The same reason countries like Libya and Algeria and Tunisia are scrambling to centralize internet service in a government office.

This is about keeping poor people in the dark.  
This is about keeping internet out of corrupt nations.
This is about the opposite of freedom and transparency, cloaked in a false concern over "CRT hazardous waste" when the nations are selling their rain forests to be nuked with cyanide to extract lead, tin, tantalum, copper, silver and gold.  
This is about blood minerals and exploitation, and the fear that grips the hearts of the bureaucracy when they seek the article in  BBC or USA or French press exposing the fraud and corruption running rampant in Africa.

Take a good look at this 2008 ABC News story about Google putting internet cafes into Africa.  The photos show used CRT monitors (trinitron) which are less likely to be stolen, more durable, and more repairable, in an internet cafe in Kenya.  In 2009, Kenya banned imports of this equipment.  BAN presented the ban at the Interpol meeting as an example of enforcement of the Basel Convention.

Blame colonialism, blame exports of pollution, blame "exporting harm".  But this is about stopping internet from getting in the hands of people who increasingly use it to educate themselves.  Those people in the internet cafes and on the streets are the people Andrew Jackson appealed to in his presidential campaign, they are the people held back by Jim Crow laws.   The total ban on all import of all monitors and computers, working or repairable, is a war I've visited the front lines of since the 1980s.

The deliberate and ignorant misrepresentation of computer exports to Africa as 75% waste, a number which is economically impossible to sustain, and pictures of children weilding screwdrivers to tap a CRT they are obviously unfamiliar with, is the Church of Pious Environmentalism allowing itself to be the tool of a war on the poor waged not by white faces, but by black men on black men and women.

To the young American environmentalists, I encourage you to pursue sustainability and micro-lending and partnership and idealism.  I remain an idealist and believe I am blessed both by my birth into a good family in America and also by my partnership with  Mexicans, Malaysians, Egyptians, Indonesians, and Africans.  But watch out that the flag of environmentalism can be waved with the same ignorance that the stars an stripes can be waved with in Viet Nam. 

"We don't want to have to come after you".   That sentence has been spoken so many times in so many different languages.  I am an eco-patriot, and was shocked to hear it spoken by a pius environmental watchdog, hours after his apparent defense of complete bans of working and repairable computer equipment into several African countries. 

The phrase has been used to intimidate press from Samuel Adams to Michael Servetus, who was burned at the stake for the crime of cartography in Geneva, not that far from Basle.  From the vatican to Ayatollahs to African bureaucrats, people who claim moral authority from historical grievances and use them to increase their power.  Environmentalists, beware.  The same bittersweet flavor of USA celebration of independence may some day taint Earth Day if we embrace everyone who agrees with us.

Happy fourth of July.  I am not ashamed to be an American, and I am not ashamed to be an ecologist, and I am not afraid of fair trade.   The net impact of our activity on earth is all that matters.

Trains and Buses to the city of Vermont, Texas

Adult family discussion in Arkansas... The same old discussion about America should have trains like Europe has.

It started in a political discussion, where I shared my ONE big beef with W Bush.. that we had needed a dollar a gallon tax on gasoline for decades, Carter couldn't do it, Dukakis and Tsongas proposed but couldn't do it.  Taxing a substance people use too much of is difficult in a democracy, even if it makes sense because it is a limited resource (like oil) that will not result in more supply as a result of the over-consumption (the MIT school of economics suggests they will drill deeper, but that is not a multi-generational perspective).

Anyway, after September 11 and leading up to the invasion of Iraq, there was a window of opportunity for a Republican to announce a gas tax which would have been accepted, would have balanced the budget, and would have resulted in far more investment than "stimulus" and government spending on energy alternatives.  During that window of opportunity leading up to the invasion, (which I distinctly remember did include an intelligent argument citing Korea, Japan, West Germany and other cultures which had economic booms following USA invasions - WMD was not the main argument in my mind) Bush could have passed a war tax on gasoline.

Now we are back to people suggesting the government solve the energy independence dilemma with tax incentives and new programs.  The trains idea is always popular.. if there were more trains, there would be fewer cars, right?

It's a liberal idea which seems to market itself based on European vacations and Disneyworld monorails.  In fact, the USA already spent the money on highways which already run from city to city like trains would.  The cheap and easy solution is buses.  I ask why not ride buses, and the glossy European vacation is replaced by images of class intermingling in inner cities.  So people would prefer to spend 10X more on trains than it would cost to make nicer buses and a tax on gas to pay for them.  Liberals like trains, conservatives hate taxes.  The only opportunity to fuse the two towards an intelligent solution is during a war.  Riding a bus is both patriotic for pro-war patriots and green for rainforest liberals.  We could sit together in buses and have the same political arguments I'm listening to now at a picnic table in the Ozarks.

My kids had a different discussion, with the locals standing on the cliff at the Buffalo River.  A 50 foot jump into 9 feet of river, with a great view, is like a bus ride in that it takes a long time to gin up the courage to jump, and talking to the local kids on the same bluff comes naturally.

My son told the kids we were visiting my family in Searcy County but we are from Vermont.

One 14 year old girl, in beautiful drawling singsong, asked my 14 year old son if he was going to go to Yale or Princeton?  She was a good Arkansas student of geography like I was. (My son Morgan deadpanned he was "wating to hear back from Princeton."  I was standing nearby, and asked "About the Janitor job?"  which got a laugh from the girl and a cute smile from my son.)

A different 14 year old boy, when he heard my son say he was from Vermont, had the other Arkansas response.

"Vermont, Texas??"

Both kids will grow up to vote where the rails should go.  I think voting for nicer buses is a safer option.