A Modest Moral Proposal: Blow Up Basle

Why the Basel Convention Should be Morally Sunset.

Basel Perspective is Set in Stone
MORALITY DIMENSION 1:  Integrity.   Whether it's from Mother Theresa, or Honor Among Thieves, or Al-Qaeda's word of honor.  This was the focus of yesterday's post on "favors".  You are who you say you are and you do what you say you will do.

MORALITY DIMENSION 2:  Intent.  Distinguishing between the good deeds of Mother Theresa and the bad deeds of Thieves... is the intent good or evil?  Just how moral are the things you intend to do?

MORALITY DIMENSION 3:  Effect/Outcome.  Whether through ignorance, or butterfly effects, did our best intentions (#2) and integrity (#1) result in something we'd judge as good?  And how negligent were we if the "best intentions" go berzerk, or the perfect became the enemy of the good?

On the last, the problems we have in society are pride and ignorance.  Religious believers who believe so intently in their prayers that they feel honor to strap on a suicide belt, that's the worst extreme (assuming God didn't personally tell them otherwise after all).  But the literature also shows how people become vested in their image, their mistaken beliefs, financial motives, groupthink, their causes, and their dissonance, and just bad risk-benefit math.

Here's an idea:  If we set a bunch of rules based on who was rich in 1960 to govern which cell phone factories can take back and refurbish the smart phone e-waste in 2012, maybe we should set an egg timer on those rules?  Maybe ... just maybe.... these no longer "define morality"?  Maybe what seemed moral for a broken black and white TV set in 1960 Dublin, Birmingham, or Athens doesn't still predict the best thing to do with a repairable HTC Evo 4G sold to Singapore, Taipei, or Dubai?

E-Stewards is stuck in time. Static.  It appears to sink as the rising tide of emerging markets renders both the generation and end-of-life recycling statistics of 2002 completely and utterly analog.  Maybe regulations written on typewriters, corrected with liquid paper, are too hard to update when elective upgrades and off-lease purchases and hot capacitor swaps make 4G recycling auto-correcting freedom geeks kneel to dictators' thugs, patent trolls, and anti-gray obsolescence corporations?  Rules written for the classified ads of print news may not sync to with Alibaba.com.

It's not just "the war is over, dad".  This is a totally different war than the Basel Convention waged against drums of toxic waste dumped on the beach in Cote D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast).  This is a patent extention war waged most fiercely against Guangzhou geeks refilling "disposable" ink cartridges, and Cairo fixers swapping blown capacitors off of returned Optiplexes.

Environmentalists of Earth Day 1970 - we are no longer young.   We must see that the dogmas of our elders are not a disease to which we are somehow immune.

Maybe we should just sink the Basel Convention.  If it's going to be used the way its being used, its a textbook case to have all treaties sunset.  If you dropped a television to be recycled in 1960 Greece or West Texas, and define that as more moral than sending the TV back to the original contract manufacturer to be reused and disassembled, because the original contract manufacturer is brown, your Convention is broken, will result in damage to rain forests and coral reefs and human internet access, it's unretrievably flawed, and if anything, we should consider boycotting any group that supports such dogma.

The USA risks signing a treaty which would put us under the chains of non-democratic dictators, when the worlds economy is not MOSTLY in non-OECD nations, which could use these laws to shut us out.  These laws are already being misused for protectionism and censorship.   We need to be in charge of our own surplus property, and not sign a paper that gives our home's paid for possessions to some international landlord.

A modest proposal.

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I write a lot about the Morals of number 3, the Unintended Consequences of Environmental Policy.  Anyone who knows me knows I'm not a defeatist or amoral... I just want Green folks to pursue the best ideas and to cut the purstrings if we are wrong.  There's a limited amount of environmental currency in the economy, and we can't be spending it on "nuclear fusion and laetril".

Green parades my blog rains upon are probably not wrong in their intent (#2).   At times I fault them on their integrity, but only when they have hurt a human being (like the geeks of color).   I ponder what forces (#3) make them feel good sleeping at night knowing that they had a friendly discussion with me personally and then 2 minutes later told an EPA person (unknown to be my friend) that I was "an exporter"... and I think it's healthy for the next generation of environmentalists, like the next generation of health care providers, to learn about unintended consequences in medicine and environmental policy.

Some people on the left, who have never been in business, imagine "profit motives" to be completely immoral.   The Corporate Conscience, guaranteeing repayment of loans, fair wages, and profit to investors, probably doesn't sound far from "honor among thieves" to people who don't buy into the capitalist and globalist system.  But even if you are cynical about corporations amorality, you must admire their avarice, and when a corporation supports your environmental cause, have some humility about whether your campaign has changed the snake's nature, or whether there's protectionism and planned obsolescence and greed behind the sponsorship you accept.

I once had long hair and marched and thought similar thoughts.  But the world's environment is actually being impacted most by mankind's success.  Mankind is prospering.  Mankind is getting wealthier.  Mankind is consuming more and more of the planet because Mankind is helping Mankind.  Mankind is sharing jobs and cooperating, and Adam Smith was basically right in his math and thought experiments.  The result is that more people are able to afford rhino-horn or ivory status symbols, more people can afford cocaine and marijuana, and more people can afford prostitutes and meat in their diets, and electronics manufactured with coltan from rain forests.

Whether there are "toxics" emanating from human activity is important, or it's not negligible, but like DDT used to eradicate mosquitos and malaria, there is probably a different decision making process for people who cannot afford food for their children, and whose daughters are dying by the millions in African hospitals, giving birth in maternity wards without a computerized blood bank.

I write about how cognitive dissonance can elevate a "ju-ju word" or visceral racial reaction or photo to dictate a new national policy, and how corporations which profit from the new policy will pour money into laws pursuing their advantage.

I chose recycling as a career in my teens because I thought that it balanced humility with karma, and actually had potential to save rain forests and energy, depleting the earth a little more slowly.  I was realistic that I personally would not change the world, but that I'd more likely come closer to changing the world with my career than I would change it as a philosopher.   I'd be an Arjuna and not a Siddhartha.

But I always knew that the chances of me personally saving the world were so remote as to be delusional.  Harnessing that delusion, I built a successful scrap recycling business in a leafy state, married an intellectual, and raised my kids as internationally as I could.  And here we are.

It's ok if I die now.  I'm not saying that to be creepy, but at 50 you start to realize how many of your friends have died or are dying, and you watch your parents withering, and your retirement portfolio stops being about "dreams" and starts being about realities.

The forces of conservatives (conserving and being realistic about investments and money, and using strength to maintain the ability to stop the immoral) and the forces of liberals (promoting racial tolerance, helping the poorest, keeping sustainable environmentalism on the agenday, and promoting peace) are both good forces. I don't find any problem having friends and family in both camps, as awkward as it is to "like" competing cousins facebook memes.

My best next move would be to mentor someone with a political skill, someone who keeps their hands clean enough to win an election, but who needs the experience of someone who has taken more risks with his words and his conscience.  My conscience isn't a shiny new car, it's a beat up pickup truck.  I have engaged myself and taken risks and exposed myself to all kinds of moral canyons, I'm not a politician.

It's too bad that people like me, with skeletons and scars, cannot survive in the political marketplace, but this can work if we take a position of advisor.

My political advice is my blog.  If there's a philosopher king out there looking for the right way to set environmental and consumption policy, I hope to make a difference.  I may never meet that person, it may not be in my lifetime.   And that's ok.  If I write something I can hope that someday after I'm gone someone will filter out all the bad writing and rambling and purple prose, find something that means something, and boil everything I've written down into an EPA executive summary, and pass some treaty that would not have been passed.

Or veto a treaty which says that 1960 Ireland and Greece were better environmental stewards than 2012 China, Singapore, and Ghana.

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