Memorial Day: Fear and Greed Part 1

The more I try to crystallize the issue in this blog, the more it is about trade and exchange between rich and poor.  The exchange is a value, and the fear of exploitation is a value.  Some make their value in the margins of exchanges they make, others make their money through their authority over those transactions.

Whether we draw two big circles on a map and call them "OECD and non-OECD", or seven circles for continents, or 193 nations, or circles which show cities and peasants in those countries, or draw lines within a city between the high property values and the ghettos, it's ultimately about the transfer of wealth and value.   When a rich man employs a poor man, or a poor man buys something from a rich person, or a daughter marries across an economic line, opinions and suspicions sharpen.

Is trade between wealthy and poor exploitation, or opportunity?  Who is the authority or referee?

Jim Puckett says in his interviews in CBS 60 Minutes and Frontline that the deck is stacked against the poor in any exchange.  The economic have-nots will be abused and worse off due to the trade of second hand goods.  This line of thinking has some friendly listeners in the "environmental justice" arena, and the anti-globalization movement of Seattle.

I was a critic of how the USA's most toxic industry - hard rock non-ferrous mining - moved to rain forests where no one complains about the cyanide, mercury, and other toxic runoff.  Those concerns brought me into the recycling field, in fact.  And here I am in a battle of wits with a fellow environmentalist over how our raw material policy should play out worldwide.

My concerns about hard rock mining, however, were never pinned on a false hope of economic segregation.  Boycotting and segregating people we are uncomfortable or uncertain about has led to many "trail of tears", and many burned bridges.  Doing the right thing means doing something, but it isn't to throw a garbage can through the collective window of the recycling industry.  Fair trade makes more sense, and is not something Basel Action Network should try to make people afraid of.

Tech, Toxics, and Ju-Ju:  Leverage fear, create authority
In his editorial response to my first widely published column, "We Shouldn't Have to Make that Choice" (reprinted in E-Scrap in 2009), Jim Puckett said that he didn't think Fair Trade meant "poisoning people".   Toxics is a scare word.  Jim was clearly trying to make people afraid of the economic exchange.   He tells people that replacing or upgrading a part is hazardous, toxic, polluting.  He knows he's wrong, he just doesn't recognize why he's doing it. It is not, as he claimed, about a "loophole" of reuse.  If it's resolved, his authority diminishes, and he's not ready to retire.

Create concern, especially visceral concern (photos of children).  Promote yourself as an authority to reduce this concern. Sell certification.   Profit!

You do not create "environmental justice" by creating a vacuum or boycott of trade.  Justice is, by definition, a judgement call, a negotiation, and a settlement.   You do not stop exploitation by labeling people and segregating them.  

The person with the authority to make this segregation cashes in.  Every time.   You don't stop doing it because you are an environmentalist any more than people stopped doing it because they were democratically elected, or religious figures.  In fact, you are more susceptible to it because you lull yourself into thinking you don't make money.

The power to stop two people from interacting, economically, conversationally, or romantically, is a negative value, the power to hold my freedom hostage to your authority.   Power corrupts.  Basel Action Network, in the end, is no better than someone who would ban gay or interracial marriage.  Using photos of a kid at the dump to describe my engineer friends, and to imply that I'm bringing less environmental justice than a shredder?

I made my own apology on Earth Day.   On Memorial Day, I want a hand written apology from Basel Action Network, which I can scan in and post on this blog.  Is that too much to expect?

More to say about this "fear of exploitation, and greed of authority"...  tomorrow.  

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