Cultural Gulf Travels: History Videos are about People

Saw this in the Atlantic Online, via Quartz (

It shows how intelligent rural people are attracted to culture, or simply shows urbanization, depending on your take.  It's a little tough to distinguish the two.   But the printing press, during this time, was a city device, and until the internet, literacy was correlated with printing presses, and printing presses were in cities.

In my experience in "emerging markets", aka the "developing world", electricity and internet remain urban magnets.   As aspiring people move to Accra or Lagos (see "cultural gulfs in developing markets" series), they need "good enough" display devices to do things like access the internet and watch World Cup matches and local news broadcasts.

The export of display devices, like those shipped by #freehurricanebenson and other importing markets, is more plausibly driven by reuse than by externalization of pollution.  

The fact is that Americans and Europeans and Japanese and South Koreans and Australians replace CRTs which last 20 years for a "flat" LCD device after 4-5 years.  The simple explanation explains far more export than the theory of "toxic exports" and "avoided disposal costs".   Those cost savings do accrue, but correlation is not causation.  And the pollution costs embodied in the copper and plastic and aluminum are actually positive environmental recovery

The "e-waste hoax" of the past ten years is the hypothesis that if it's more expensive to crush and destroy a TV or monitor than it is to export it, then the cause of the export must be the savings.  Look at the film above.  No doubt the people leaving for the cities were freeing beds and food and displacing their consumption of resources from the rural areas.   In severe cases, that can even be the cause of expatriotization, when refugees flee war or pestilence.

But stating that "80%" of the exports of display devices are explained by avoided disposal costs is like saying that 80% of of the history of Paris, London, New York, Barcelona, etc. can be explained by people fleeing costs rather than pursuing opportunities.

If fleeing costs were really the driver, Joseph Benson would not be shipping to cities like Accra.  He could find more remote places to dump toxics, like the illegal dumper of Trafigura, in some out of sight place.  The sea containers would go directly to Agbogbloshie and the good items removed and brought to Accra.  BAN's hypothesis that junk units seen in reuse markets show the reuse markets to be some kind of staging filter for Agbogbloshie is ridiculous.   The reuse shops in Lagos, Cairo, Accra feed reuse markets.   Their role in collecting junk is the same as the role of used car markets with junk autos.

People come to these used goods markets with older electronics generated from inside these African cities, with stuff they bought in the 1990s or 1980s, and trade it in for the newer, nicer, repaired stuff that people like #freehurricanebenson buy, transport, repair, and resell.

The presence of a 1980 junk Volkswagon vehicle at a Vermont Volkswagon lot could, I guess, be explained by Germans externalizing the cost of toxic waste oil, antifreeze, lead batteries, etc.  But it's more logical that someone in Vermont owned that junk auto and needs a new one and traded it in.

That's what's going on in African and Asian and Latin American markets.   And it's incredible that those of us in the know keep explaining it, that The Guardian and Blacksmith Institute and 60 Minutes and Time and National Geographic and PBS keep reporting the E-Waste Hoax, and keep mysteriously failing to interview the accused importers.  They get kids in the scrapyards, sure.  But those kids didn't import the container, they are posed as "vicitims".

I had hoped that FairTradeRecycling/WR3A's role in getting the UNEP Study (E-Waste Assessment) would have been enough to trigger an "ah-hah" moment.   The only evidence is the silence of BAN, NRDC, Greenpeace, and SVTC as Geeks of Color have their lives ruined, their goods seized (in Egypt) by dictators, and are even imprisoned in England for an unproven allegation of "wastecrime" based on guidance documents written by EU enforcement officials who actually believed the 80% Waste stat presented them by a self-interested fundraiser.   They didn't talk to the Africans, Taiwanese, Indonesians.   They didin't even ask for translations of the interviews with the Techs of Color which WR3A provided on for the past 6 years.

The cultural gulfs, and urbanization, is not "about" you.   It's not about your "stuff".  It's about people.

Externalization of costs and pollution does happen.  Don't put conservative labels on me, except for the ones about conservation and caution over implementation of fixes ("do no harm").  Look at the movement of the most toxic industry on the planet - and the polar opposite of recycling.   Copper, Gold, Silver and Tin mining ruin land and so find their investments far away from property values.  In this case the economics support the hypothesis.  Not so with the "reuse vs. excuse" debate.

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