Earth Day 2014 - Searching for Africa's Bobby Fischer

Happy Earth Day.  If you have all day to read environmental blogs, I suggest a revisit to 2010s "Capacitor Heroes".  If you don't understand the last decade's capacitor plague and the good enough markets that replace bulging caps, you won't understand the economics of the export market.  IFIXIT gets it.  StEP and Interpol, I'm afraid, may not understand how supply and demand work, at least not well enough for a good cost-benefit analysis on exports.  

What drives demand in Guiyu?  Chip harvest and reuse.  You can "externalize pollution costs" much closer, in Haiti or west Texas.  Externalized pollution is real, and is a concern, but it's almost never the economic driver of the person paying for the product.

We need to listen to demand, and study it.  

I'm working on the finishing touches for the third critique of European "e-waste problem" solving.  I'd hoped to publish it today.  Instead, I got distracted by youtube clips of "Searching for Bobby Fischer".  If you haven't seen the 1993 movie with Lawrence Fishburn and Ben Kingsley, it has some fine acting.  And it also represents, to me, a kind of European vs. American attitude towards the free market in emerging cities.

The policy debate is about is people, not scrap computers.  The people who fix and tinker and repair and remake stuff, those are the people who represent the opposite of "Dutch Disease", aka the Resource Curse.  If you study the most successful economies, you find people like teenage Ben Franklin of Philadelphia, travelling to "rich" London to buy used printing press gear.  You find Japanese phonograph and radio repairmen, pulling scrap victrolas out of Camden NJ (home of Victrola) scrap metal piles.  You find a young founder of Samsung repairing Japanese audio gear and putting "Samsung" name on the outside.   You find Terry Gou, and Simon Lin, of Taiwan, repairing CRTs to make touch screens for ATM machines, developing touch technology that would bring about the tablet and smart phone.

We have to start with the premise that NO ONE could have recognized Franklin, Lin, Gou, etc in their twenties as being a kind of genius who would take their nations "tinkerer blessing" economies into refurbishing and manufacturing and wealth.

The damage being done via "collateral damage" in misguided e-waste enforcement in Africa is beyond shredding working equipment people need, and beyond establishing safe waste tools for African scrappers, and even beyond the friendly fire of false accusations of innocent traders.  It is fundamentally about the cost to society of taking away tinkerers... the very people who eventually created the backbone of USA's e-waste recycling business.

Africa has a Bobby Fischer.  I will probably never know if I already met her/him.  But that is the beauty of working with geeks in developing markets.  It could be anyone.

The kid in the movie really enjoys, loves, to play chess with Fishburn.  He doesn't love playing with Kingsley.  I'm inviting American and European environmentalists to engage Africa's technicians more like Lawrence Fishburn.  You may meet the next Bobby Fischer.

Happy Earth Day 2014, from Middlebury Vermont.

"Do you know what the word 'contempt' means?  It's to think of others as being beneath you, of being unworthy to be in the same room as you."

"I don't feel that."

"Well you better start.  Because if you don't think it's a part of winning, you're wrong.  You have to have contempt for your opponents.   You have to hate them."  

"But I don't."

"They hate you."

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