Reporting Neither Policy

Why there should be no "recycling policy" and no "mining policy".   

There should only be a "raw material policy".  

In a recent essay, commenters bemoan the fact that national dialogue is increasingly polarized, and "lacks nuance".   I contributed the following in response to the essay, "Edward Snowden and the Death of Nuance" by Dennis Fisher.  (Snowden and NSA debate is to Slashdot what Michael Jackson was to National Enquirer, or Michael Jordan was to Sports Illustrated).
"I'm from 3 generations of journalists, and part of the problem is that news outlets need to a) attract readers (make it interesting and simple), and b) are trying to cover stories that are frankly out of the reporters depth and comfort zone. Reporters want to cover both sides of an issue, and the easiest way to do that is to find two sources who disagree strongly... Opposite + Opposite = "fair and balanced". When "long form journalism" is proposed as an antidote, we still suffer from weak audience attention spans and excuses for writing prose that lacks punch, or remains lazy-sourced.
"This, in turn, rewards "experts" who take a polarized view. If your expertise provides nuance, you have to compete for the reporter's attention. So much easier for reporters to submit black-and-white points of view. Often reporters tell me they are afraid NOT to interview loud and ignorant people out of fear of "not having covered their side".
"In my particular field (electronics scrap policy) I've tried to interest reporters in identifying victims of policies which lack nuance - a "derivative" of the story which fits the black-and-white reporting model. The "victimhood" of un-nuanced policy can sometimes trigger "blame" and "innocent or guilty" coverage paradigm. I realize too that it's not the reporters fault that readers/audience response to nuanced articles is "Whoosh". "Whoosh" doesn't sell papers and tv ads. I fear this is causing erosion of even stronger news sources (The Economist, WSJ, NYT, etc)."   Read the 180 comments
After I hit submit, I was bugged by my reference to "Electronic Scrap Policy".  It has become an "export vs. non-export" policy, largely, or a manual disassembly vs. shredder debate, or a repair vs. obsolescence debate.    Victimhood triggers the "nurture and underdog" responses among readers and reporters alike, and to make any of these points of view "newsworthy", we are all scavenging for victims.

I bring this up in part due to the news coverage of Good Point Recycling, and the policy arguments we had with Karen Knaebel of ANR.  Karen actually wrote in her bidder evaluation (released suddenly yesterday after my posting of the "denial of Freedom of Information Act" letter posted Tuesday) something to the effect that "manufacturers may oppose the Fair Trade Recycling" policy.

Bizarre.  A public official is scoring a bid for a $2M services contract based on her speculation on the opinion of a non-Vermont resident of the opinion of the Vermont company president.   She acknowledges the fact that Good Point "says" it exported less than 10 percent of the material it collected (and most of that actually came from purchases of units outside of the state, pre-sorted by other recycling companies).  We do what the contract says, period, if they want no reuse, write that in the contract rather than scoring bidders.  We respond to the RFP.   ANR frequently judged submissions using the Bilbo Baggins riddle model, "What have I got in my pocket?", with no guidance documents provided to Manufacturers, Collectors, Processors, Transporters, etc.   When I was at MA DEP, we always had publicly posted "Guidance Documents" and never complained if the regulated referred us back to them (or referred their legislators to them) in the course of a negotiation.

Anyway, I'm now convinced that the entire "debate" over "recycling policy" is a bad idea.

There should be no "recycling policy" and no "mining policy".   There should only be a "raw material policy".

Having RCRA only watching waste, and CERCLA only cleaning up copper mining Superfunds, has created a lack of nuance in policy, upon which R2 Certification and E-Stewards certification build their shaky foundations.  Competing for leveraged guilt of consumers who mainly care because they are frustrated by the upgrade and guilt model of unsustainble development, eventually these standards will burn everyone out on the poster child campaign, and join annals of "rankerous debate" over "post consumer recycled content percentages" in federal office paper procurement (a topic that drove millions of dollars in epic recycling conferences in the early 1990s).

Generally the worst form of recycling beats the best form of mining or clear cut forestry.   Generally, both recycling and mining are in a race to the bottom based on the General Mining Act of 1872, which makes raw material extraction "royalty free" and allows miners to abandon pollution on federal lands, for taxpayers to clean up.  In the past, I will grant that this subsidized obsolescence, which has fed innovation through commercialization / commoditization.  So has war.   We have learned to develop technology without racing to war (the funding model for air flight and wireless), and I think we must find ways to advance tech without churning millions of short-lived products into hands of consumers, made of scarce natural resources, mined from rain forests, exposing gorillas to coltan wildcatters.

I think I'll call this new idea "sustainability".

Oh and here's another treat for Pete Seeger fans.   1963 recording of Seeger performing Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram in Calcutta, India, 1963.  Shared with me by the father of a Nepalese student, who was invited home with us to Vermont/Arkansas for Christmas by my son.  They are classmates at

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