UN Pixelizes World: Rich City, Poor City

Wealth and population overlays with national boundaries....  The mega-city (combined borders) of Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen now hosts 120 million people!  That's comparable to Japan!  Every IPad, Android, Blackberry, and Kindle are manufactured there.  And Guiyu is their scrap yard for Chinese-grown "e-waste".

Now, as if comparing OECD Greece to non-OECD Singapore was not silly enough, look at the way cities fit in with the definitions of OECD and the Basel Convention.  83% of the world's population which lies in the "non-OECD"...  Many are poor peasants in the countryside.   But many others live in thriving urban environments.   People in the west are equating "non-OECD" with "third world", and they are quite, quite different.  The UN Report shows that cities are growing like crazy overseas, and they have billionaires and subways as well as their own dumps for their own upgraded "stuff".

The OECD, in deciding how to admit new member "nations" onto the club, has to consider the entire country, no matter how crazy the Europeans were when they drew the lines on the map.  Russia, a non-OECD member, has to answer for Siberia to get admitted.   Recent new OECD members (suddenly ok to trade with, as of last year, according to HR2284) Israel, Estonia, Slovenia and Chile have smaller borders, so perhaps it was easier to admit them.

Brazil will be a tough "country" to approve, even if Rio and San Paulo have converged into a booming mega-city.  Penang and Borneo are both inside the national boundaries of Malaysia - as Singapore used to be... expect OECD to get around to them later.  A lot of China may still be "third world-ish" for years, but look at the map of Chinese markets - cities which have converged to smart phone use on a par with USA and Europe.

So cities are growing, and changing, and getting richer, but the countrysides aren't keeping up.  Kind of like our own USA countrysides, the outskirts are where the landfills are.  Meanwhile, the mega-cities already generate most of the "e-waste" in the world...

The distribution of goods, waste, and wealth within districts of those cities of the world accounts for MOST of the trade of e-waste between "rich" and "poor"... without export or import.  The poor of Dharavi slum of Mumbai have virtually NO imports from the USA (India strictly filters and regulates scrap imports), but they have plenty of e-scrap.  The growing wealth of Mumbai creates more than enough used electronics to keep the slumdog recyclers busy.

Indonesian kids at mega-city dump
As the population of the world moves into these mega-cities, some of which cross national borders (like the city of Basel/Basle itself), people become wealthier.  But it is a slow process.   The UN Report shows how poverty remains the norm in the rural areas, and it takes years for the City to absorb the peasants arriving, destitute, into its neighborhoods.

The urbanization of the world population helps explain how internet access is growing so quickly - three billion people in "non-OECD" have gotten internet access at ten times the rate of growth of wealthy nations, because they don't have to run wires very far.  Just as the USA lags in putting rural areas into high speed bandwidth, the rural farmers of the third world might not know what to do with a laptop if they got one.

The recycling centers in the USA's own cities tend to be in areas with lower property values.  That makes sense, recycling is a penny-per-pound bid buiness, and putting your recycling yard in Hollywood or Fifth Avenue of Manhattan just isn't very smart.   So the recycling for these mega-cities winds up in places like Guiyu and Agbogbloshie.

This helps explain why, when BAN goes to photograph recycling operations overseas, the 83% of the world population looks incredibly poor.  But now BAN is exposed for lying about those areas importing directly.

Cities like Guangzhou and Cairo are getting wealthier, and getting internet.  They got affordable display devices from places like California (before SB20).  Then these huge mega-cities upgraded and the used computers they bought ten years ago wind up in their junkyards, just as our junk winds up in our junk yards.

Everyone is getting into the act.  Look at this photo taken by Hong Kong photographer Chan Kwok Hung of children by a dump in Nepal.  Who knows what is in the dump??  We are sad for them, very sad.  But it has nothing to do with imports.  And now we know, Guiyu and Agbogbloshie are recycling material which was used productively for years.  Eliminating exports of "intact units" - the standard proposed by several large supporters of HR2284 - would stop the internet, and stop these mega-cities from their tremendous march towards wealth and development and democracy.  It would not eliminate the dumps, and the pictures of the children will only get worse if they have less and less profitable scrap to dig for.

HR2284, the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act, is a "cure" without a proper diagnosis.  Children will still be found at dumps.   The trade of items like computer display devices, like CRTs that work for 20 years and are discarded by the wealthy after 3 years, would be interrupted between countries.  One of the largest and wealthiest nations in the world, the USA, will be banned from trading intact units with white-hot megacities until the OECD gets around to figuring out the rules for their country club don't jive with a pixelated world geography.  America will take working and repairable assets and run them through noisy shredding machines, because we are as bad at geography as we are at math.  REuse and Recycling are the best ways to equip the growing cities... when those activities are banned, demand won't stop.  The cities will be supplied with new raw material mines in the rain forests, like OK Tedi Copper and Kabwe Zambia...

The key word is "Responsible".   If you don't trade with the fastest growing internet cities in the world, no watchdog will accuse you of exploiting them.   Shredding a monitor into little pieces before it is exported is somehow superior to setting up fair trade recycling standards, and finding ways to work together with cities that will in ten years be more modern than Basel Switzerland.

As Jungle Book Mowgli said in his guest editorial on this blog in December,
"This non-profit takes our picture, they use it to raise money in Seattle, then they license our photos to companies... who pay them for it.  We not only don't get a cut, they actually use our pictures against us.  They call us all kinds of mean names, like dirty, toxic, polluting, and my least favorite, 'primitive'.
The parasites of the poor have a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Unfortunately, their good intentions don't help.  The self-declared "perfect" have made themselves the enemies of the good.


George said...

Great post. I hope the CES Show goes well for you and Robin.

Anonymous said...

This is brilliant. The anti-export storyline has been completely outclassed.