Egypt's Revolution Profiled - Wolman, Stewardship miss 'ewaste' role

DAVID WOLMAN - David Wolman is a contributing editor at Wired, a former Fulbright journalism fellow and a winner of the 2011 Oregon Arts Commission individual artists fellowship. His third book is The End of Money.  (The Atlantic, May 4, 2011)

Wolman's new book, The Instigators, follows how Revolution 2.0 came to a head, and how online and Wired activists were able to communicate and sell the democracy on the Arab street.

I have sent a note to Wolman (though these never seem to get anywhere) suggesting that he go back a little further in his timeline.   As I've said many times, the revolution did not happen on Ipads and Android phones.   Vermont had a role in exporting about 30,000 affordable used computers to Egypt between 2002 and 2008.  In 2008, the Egyptian customs seized $80,000 worth of P4s in three sea containers, and our direct trade was broken.

Two years later, Jim Puckett of BAN was applauding the Egyptians classification of any computer manufactured more than 3 years earlier (i.e., costing less than half your annual salary) was illegal "e-waste", working or not.  The CRT display devices, which are good for 20 years, were banned.

But Mubarak could not put the Genie back in the bottle.  (photos below)  The efforts to "profile" geeks of color as polluters, as terrorists, as primitives, went down in the 9th round.

How the January 25 Egyptian Revolution Was Organized

by David Wolman looks like an exciting read.  But there was a prequel.

I was not a latecomer to the Egyptian revolution party.  When the BAN on used computer sales in Egypt went into effect, I wrote about it (Shredding Vs. Reuse USA E-Waste).  A year ago, as the Revolution succeeded, I wrote about it (Which EWaste Policy To Celebrate Today?).  

Before that, in 2008, when our containers were seized and the internet party declared over for Egyptians, I flew to Cairo, with my wife and children, to meet with our partners, photograph and film the sustainable jobs, the hospitals being wired, the internet cafes, the malls and shops.  We broke bread with our trading partner, the "e-waste dumping victim" profiled by History of Stuff, or the "Organized Crime Waste Tourist" racial profile announced by Interpol a year later.  GERMAN TV NEWS MAGAZINE 3SATE COVERAGE  translation now available in English and French.

I didn't know what was going to happen.  I just felt a pleasure from all the work we had done together, and a desperate need to document it before it was all shredded to pieces by planned obsolescence, accidental racism, and the friendly fire of the Product Stewardship movement - a movement which still documents tons of shredded computers in Washington as a "success", and reused exports from New England as a "failure"... soon to be corrected by Stewardship Legislation, and regulators who for months will not approve an export plan to ship tested working Pentium 4s to Montreal, much less a computer for refurbishing to Cairo.

Here again is a photo of our trip, to the Technology malls, the repair warehouses, the small internet cafes, satellite dishes, and street-repair of electronics by one of the smartest and most educated emerging markets.

Like Ben Franklin buying used printing press parts and lead typesets from London, these "waste tourists" were illegally bringing ideas in reach of the masses.  The Product Stewardship movement is still young, and still has a chance to get this right.  But when they hobnob with planned obsolescence companies, and drink toasts with OEMs and Environmentalists on the halt of trade with black and brown people, they should ask themselves...

Is it possible that we have done something incredibly wrong?  Is it possible we will be remembered for shortening product life, increasing mining, and standing in the way of world democracy?

Nah, just kidding.  You guys are saving the planet.  Really, it's all good.  This whole 85% reuse rate (published in 4 studies, including one commissioned by BAN in 2006), it's just trick photography.  The revolution in Egypt started a year ago.  They did it on Iphones.  Really, I was just kidding about this whole thing.  I never went to Egypt, China, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, Cameroon, etc... I just made this whole "fair trade recycling" thing up to avoid buying the shredding equipment which will save our planet and bring Stewardship to every rich nation.  Thumbs up, you guys.  Perfect.  Give yourselves a big round of applause.  I mean it.  I was just being a bad communicator, I wasn't saying anything important enough to understand.

What I personally think is that for my kids, this is something to tell their kids about... when trade between friends in different nations was controversial, suspicious, something to be outlawed.  Like I tell them, when I was their age, that interracial marriage was controversial.  That we never dreamed of having a president named Obama.  That people could just make numbers up out of thin air - like 80% of used computers exported are burned in primitive conditions by waste tourist organized crime pollution monkey criminals, and that the USA press thought nothing of printing the statistic, giving it credence.

The world of free and fair trade isn't perfect.  There are messes to clean up (particularly in raw material mining and forestry, much less particularly in repair, reuse and recycling... but still).  Banning trade and making up flat lies to cover for your policy is not going to get it cleaned up.  The prohibition won't work as a model, and the harm you do to me as an lifelong environmentalist, by making @#$ up (discrediting our entire movement), is going to hurt us all when the story gets out.

Product Stewardship doesn't have to be about anti-globalization.  Product stewardship can be about alter-globalization and fair trade.  It may be harder to get Planned Obsolescence and anti-gray market industry representatives to fly and speak at your conferences.  But my advice is that WR3A, while speaking the truth, is building a better foundation than organizations with bigger parties, bigger dinners, and flashy conferences who are willing to look the other way as Africans have a foot put to their necks by people trying to take away their internet printing press.

No comments: