Earth Day: Pre-Apology to EWaste Watchdogs

I've been working all week on a formal apology - or rather, a "Separate Peace" letter for Basel Action Network.   I'll never try anything like the California Compromise with them again.  Whether the "outing" of the Indonesian SKD factory was the direct result of my sharing the information about them with BAN, or not, they were callous at best and continued to not lift a finger to help my friends...

But I learned last week that the Indonesians are shrugging it off.   They appreciate my attention to righting the infamy.  It hurt, the stupid anti-reuse policy cost them tens of thousands of dollars and forced shutdown of a recycling operation for Indonesia-generated e-waste.

But they are getting over it.  Seeing them calm and laughing and making do reminds me of what I loved about my years in Africa.   People didn't hold grudges so much, didn't take themselves all that way too seriously.

And so the point has come that I need to move on.  If USA wants to keep thinking Egyptians are burning the computers they bought for $30 in a landfill and that Egyptian authorities in 2008 were concerned about the environment, well, we think plenty of stupid things and that's number umpteen on some list.

The trick writing-and-rewriting an apology is that it has to be done well.  If you are not really ready to apologize and are going to work in some blame-deflection, then don't do it yet.

This was my family's hostess, a really beautiful young South American woman.  She used to import used USA electronics, and built a business with 6 employees.  Then she bought used Chinese TVs as Chinese cities all moved to flat screens.  Then she bought cheap Chinese-factory refurbished flat screens.   She'd like to start a factory making new product in Peru... but for now she's helping her brother open a restaurant in the shop they used to sell CRT monitors in.


She likes dancing to "trance" music and goes to discos and parties, and I have laughed in the past and called her our "Zoolander" fair trade recycling partner... she'd communicate urgent messages about customs clearance documents via Facebook Chat with a constantly changing photo of her in urban-ninja-techno-disco-glitter, dancing with friends at parties she obviously lives for.  She tried to do some business with us last summer, but we had to get an export plan approved, and in the end it just wasn't worth it to either of us... but we wanted the business to continue, and maybe we can find a way someday.

Used TV repair was not her life.  It was a way for an unmarried, independent young woman to make her life.  There are a lot worse ways than hiring 6 employees to refurbish and resell TVs and computers.

The people who call exports to people like her "irresponsible", and who use ten year old pictures of dirty children at a landfill to describe her, are still a case study for bad environmentalism.  But I learned a lesson.  Maybe it was from the restaurant, which her brother and sister in-law were really excited and happy about opening.   Maybe it was from the news of the passing of Choma, one of her two TV repair techs.  Maybe it was just the perspective that a city of 9 million people gives you.  Maybe it was the time I took to spend (on high speed internet) to research the statistics about this emerging market.

The door is closing on this used electronics market.  The USA had something really beautiful in its hands, and it was heartbreaking to see green watchdogs scare the market away.  But the analogy of Basel Action Network to a Zimmerman Neighborhood Patrol goes too far.  The Indonesians, Egyptians, Indians, Cameroonians and Chinese we have worked with are not dead, like Trayvon Martin.  They are Obla-di, Obla-dah, in Techno, dancing and Facebooking and Twittering their way into emerging and educated democracies.   Someday OECD may invite them into the country club of rich white nations.

We just don't know if they will be like Singapore - Non-OECD, richer than OECD, more educated than OECD, and evidently not a golf fan.   Peru and Singapore and Africa and Asia and Latin America got the message.  Singapore is invited to OECD's country club, into the gated community.  For some reason, they just haven't gotten around to returning the call....

They will buy their Skittles elsewhere.

In the end, the apology is the apology of one crusader to another.   I know what has happened to Jim.  He embraced a cause he felt and lived and believed in, a niche in the international relations land of Basle Convention and COPA.   He just didn't adapt as the children he photographed in 2002 grew up to be programmers and engineers in Shenzhen.  He didn't change his message when Egyptian dictators tried to make affordable internet into an environmental crime.  And he didn't hear the cries of the unjustly accused "waste tourists" as Interpol followed African Geeks buying reuse products across Europe.

I have to learn from that, and not be so afraid of changing my own message.  I can risk falling in love with my own crusade, of shipping working and repairable items to nations which are emerging, richer, and no longer need them.   I have to learn to stay friends with old partners like JOM (Zoolander...sss), and to keep caring about her techs, without ignoring the fact that they are growing up.

My twins will be 16 this summer, and they are different people every month, without stopping being the children I lived with and raised.   I will always love them, but must learn to love them differently.  And that will be the story for the geeks of color, and its great to see them as survivors able to forgive the people who accused them of being primitives.

And thus must I.

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