Fallacy: Correlation and Causation

The debate about Electronics Recycling is about a correlation with poverty.   From Wikipedia:
"Correlation does not imply causation" (related to "ignoring a common cause" and questionable cause) is a phrase used in science and statistics to emphasize that a correlation between two variables does not automatically imply that one causes the other (though correlation is necessary for linear causation in the absence of any third and countervailing causative variable, it can indicate possible causes or areas for further investigation; in other words, correlation is a hint).[1][2]
The opposite belief, correlation proves causation, is a logical fallacy by which two events that occur together are claimed to have a cause-and-effect relationship. The fallacy is also known as cum hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin for "with this, therefore because of this") and false cause. It is a common fallacy in which it is assumed that, because two things or events occur together, one must be the cause of the other. By contrast, the fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc, requires that one event occur after the other, and so may be considered a related fallacy.
Most of the debate about globalization comes down to trade between "rich" and "poor".  Yes, there are certainly economic incentives to move lower wage and higher polluting activities to places (note a place is not a nation) where unemployment is high and environmental enforcement is low.  Basel Action Network and Greenpeace have this as a foundation in their proposal to ban trade in used recyclables and repairables between OECD countries (roughly 1 billion) and non-OECD (roughly 6 billion) people.

There is a lack of organic waste from food leftovers in poor nations... Perhaps if we waste more food, we will increase wealth.  The fact that the poor eat every scrap of food does not mean that eating increases starvation.  It is a stupid, banal example.  But it also demonstrates ten years of debate about scrap recycling, and why scraps are exported from rich to poor countries.

Here is a link to a site "Poor Economics", which I've found but haven't exploited yet.
Think Again, Again
Poverty and development can sometimes feel like overwhelming issues – the scale is daunting, the problems grand. Ideology drives a lot of policies, and even the most well-intentioned ideas can get bogged down by ignorance of ground-level realities and inertia at the level of the implementer... 
In fact, we call these the “three I’s” – ideology, ignorance, inertia – the three main reasons policies may not work and aid is not always effective.
But there’s no reason to lose hope. Incremental, real change can be made. Sometimes the change seems small, but by identifying real world success stories, facing up to real world failures, and understanding why the poor make the choices they make, we can find the right levers to push to free the poor of the hidden traps that keep them behind. 
The dialogue is refreshing, the discussion seems to be open minded.  I found it while searching for a map of world poverty (by nation, not pixelized by slum-to-ghetto-to-emerging city).  The map is also a pretty good predictor of where someone would invest in hard rock metal mining, and where you'd find scrap recycled down to the bone.

The incentives for the trade / exchange between rich and poor do not necessarily represent the cause the problems associated with poverty any more than medicine causes (correlates to) disease.  When I lived in Africa, the most likely cause of death for children was fever (malaria), and the most likely cause of death of women was childbirth, and the most likely cause of death for men was accident, violence, or trauma.

People recoil from photos of children in poverty, and we recoil from the word "exploitation".

Fundamentally, however, the trade in recyclables and repairables, like the purchase of medicine, originates inside the emerging markets.  People need, people look for, and people find opportunity.  People from over there fly over here and buy stuff with their own money.

If "exploitation" applies at all, the act is initiated by the buyer who, I argue, is "exploiting" a weak repair market in a wealthy nations.  Poor neighborhoods in the USA "exploit" used cars which they purchase from neighborhoods who buy new cars before their other car is worn out.  The car seller is not "exploiting" the used car buyer, nor is the transaction of trading the car causing the poverty of the poor neighborhood.


Children photographed in auto scrap yard, Pakistan
Fair Trade Recycling, which I espouse, seeks to reform problems inherent in the exchange, providing warranty and access to recycling in poor places.  Shredding all the used cars up won't help poor people get to work, and shredding up working computers won't help emerging markets join internet commerce, create internet cafes, or learn how to treat children with malaria.  Dialogue with the people who want to buy, and correct incentives, will work better than economic segregation and boycotts.

During the ten years I've been working in this field, the mainstream press has drunk the kool-aid, accepted the "correlations" of trade exploitation with the "causation" of poverty.  Oprah Winfrey, Terry Gross, and Scott Pelley are smarter than that... but they are busy people, and the photography is so moving...

Most of the pollution and environmental harm in the developing world comes from raw material exploitation - an act, unlike "ewaste" - initiated by the wealthy nations to mine and exploit the forests and natural resources of nations with lower environmental standards.  No matter how rich the copper in Mount Elizabeth (a copper mine / superfund site here in Vermont), no mining company would dare to initiate the cyanide treatment of ores there.  Raw virgin material extraction, initiated by wealthy nations, pollutes, and is arguably an "environmental justice" issue.

Reuse, repair and recycling is the polar opposite of raw material extraction.  The dirtiest recycling is cleaner than the cleanest mining.  And it's the polar opposite of trade, where the instigators are technicians of color in markets which are getting online at ten times the rate of growth of the developed world.  Internet and communication is fire in the wind.

Images of people burning American flags correlates with internet because extremists communicate their extreme ideas quickly and loudly, burning flags, bibles, korans, and e-waste in plain sight of anyone with an internet connection.  It's vital that humans give voice to the truth.  Patiently, but firmly.   Recycling does not create poverty.  Internet does not create extremism. Knowledge increases intelligence and information, and the more information, the more correlations.

Google says "Don't be Evil".   We say "Don't be ignorant".  The bliss of getting brand new devices mined from sensitive rain forests and coral islands, fraught with metal conflicts and enormous pollution, stems only from the ignorance.  If wannabe goody photographers and journalists want to tell the truth, they should stop visiting slums and start visiting places like Indonesia's OK Tedi Copper Mine.   That single copper mine does more damage to the environment than all the e-waste recycling operations combined across the entire world. We need more facts and less "witches brew" ju-ju by piss poor environmental leaders.   I remind them I was very polite for 4-5 years, they burned down the factory of an innocent Indonesian friend, saying they were doing good, and they don't have the guts to admit that contract manufacturing SKD factories are completely different from primitive, wire-burning operations.  They are pulling down otherwise reputable organizations, like NRDC.  The E-Waste Myth is a cancer, and we must deal with it.

"Cause of Poverty" is an interesting online search.  What we find is that poverty is where we begin.  The main source of wealth is exchange.  From parent to child, from inheritance, or from trade.  If your parents are poor, your poverty isn't "caused" by a rich person.  You know that if you have been to Egypt, where 78% of young men are unemployed and looking for something to do.

_ __ -- ~ _ -~ -``~ _ ~~ _ digression

I met them the way many people have met me this year.  We had a visitor who travellled from Brazil on Friday, who met me through the blog, read Vance Packard's "The Waste Makers", and wanted to meet me.  

Note they have never had the guts to respond to my blogs, or to insinuate I'm not a true environmentalist.  They are lost.  They respond only with ten year old photos of out of context children posing by rivers polluted by textile factories which made our clothing.  Children burning wire has become the dominant recycling image, when the virgin smelters are ruining entire watersheds, leaving pollution permanent and visible from outer space.  How does a satellite photo of the OK Tedi Mine compete with the doe eyed child?

The best response I've found is to communicate my ideas to the web, where I'm meeting more and more professors, graduate students, foreign environmental officials... mostly from outside the USA.  The Fair Trade Recycling movement, started by WR3A, was born in America, but it is growing at ten times the rate in emerging markets.   Just like the internet, and just like the highest growth in generation of e-waste.   People overseas love the images of Las Chicas Bravas, they love a hands-on solution to their own dumping problem, and they are relieved to learn the truth, predicted here in 2006 and proven in 2011 by UNEP, that 85% of the trade initiated by emerging market entrepreneurs is a clean and good source of employment in countries with 70% unemployment, no other means of access to internet, and plenty of worse jobs to choose from.

Please support us.  We have planned obsolescence, anti-gray-market, mechanized shredders, and environmental NGO extortionists taking aim at us.  My company was nearly destroyed last year as Vermont ANR, in trying to do the right thing, was nearly convinced to mandate E-Steward standards on my company.  I moved part of our jobs work out of state as a precaution, to protect our out-of-state tonnage from falling under the Vermont rules, and I spent all my political currency to redirect the rifle from my face.  There are still some people who suspect I'm acting from selfish self-interest.  My friends from college and high school know I've been on a path of environmentalism and sustainable world development since I read the Gita, the New Testament, the Tao and Plato.  I'm living my dream, to do well while doing good, and making a difference.  My opponents tried to kill me, with their misspelling of "semiknockdown" markets in correspondence to Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (a mispelling I gave BAN on purpose, to track the use of the information I was giving them in the California Compromise).  The wrote in a definition of how I could do the trade which appeared to be a compromise, but simultaneously told the importing nations it was "hazardous waste" and created standards (remove the bad capacitor in the USA before sending the board back to the original manufacturer for capacitor repair? a certain recipe for shredding)

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