Game Theory 2: #EWaste Players and Stakes

Live from New Orleans, International finalists for Recycling Innovator Prize (c: Resource Recycling)

Game Theory continues.    Can the policy over #ewaste, the tiny little environmental niche of electronic device recycling, be assessed best via the individual conflict and cooperation strategy of decision-makers?   Or rather by the environmental risk and benefit of the environmental impacts?

Competition, evolution, survival of the fittest... in societal groupthink, it's called Survivor.

I wasn't.  Ah well.  Neither was my reuse business model.

Over the years, this blog has examined how "legacy display devices" movement is better explained by reuse value than by "avoided disposal costs".  Used CRTs from the USA compete with new CRTs made in Chinese factories in 2002.   Used CRTs provide ten-fold increase in internet access in cities ruled by anti-democratic governments.   Cheap secondary devices compete against new.  The planned obsolescence, or anti-gray-market forces, join an alliance with "parasites of the poor".  The NGOs see the visibility of their "cause celebre" picked up by more journalists, turning donations into enterprise.

The rules in any game are bought into by the players at the table.   The rules are set by environmental officials who don't know an SVGA monitor from a monochrome flat panel display.   The rules are enforced by international police, beat cops who act on the information given by journalists, following the footsteps of Lord Chris Smith.   "I'm reporting on a really big and important story," says the journalist... and "80% exported to primitive wire burning operations" becomes the single critical ruling enforced by umpires on the field to protect Africa and China's Eden-ism (or the value of the primitive imagery to westerners, who seem to almost see huge African city-scapes - development itself - as a loss of vacation habitat).

The story builds interest in the Game.  And public interest in the game is currency.  Every perceived crisis is an opportunity.  Even if the water samples in Guiyu, China, actually measured textile dying factories from upstream, the awareness brought to "E-Waste" can be turned into a game changer.

At the last conference WR3A attended in Africa (UNEP Nairobi conference, 2012), someone from StEP apologized for Jim Puckett by saying, "without BAN, we wouldn't be here".  He meant it in a positive way... he had a job, he had a vacation to an exotic setting.   Without the drama of 80%, the images of unfamiliar children burning familiar-looking scrap, could my company have gotten the funding to collect the electronics?  Would we have these laws, these conferences, these blogs?

Here's a link to a video on "Laundromat Policy" in India.   139 views.  In any game, excitement and economics are driven by viewers, by the crowd.

What will shut this down is the environmental malpractice, as the story surfaces of environmental injustice against "tinkerers" and "geeks of color"... When I go to conferences, I feel like the guy who has the goods on Lance Armstrong.  Jim Puckett and's incredible story about e-waste exports is  - simply - not credible.  This cannot be good for E-Scrap trade shows, for sale of shredding equipment, for booths and press releases, any more than a doping scandal is good news for the Tour de France.

Meanwhile, millions of people are involved in the secondary and recycling market... doing boring work, no more exotic than washing clothes.  What does the scandal mean for the Egyptians, the Ghanains, the Pakistani, the Peruvian, the Taiwanese and Indonesian used goods traders?  What does it mean for people showing up to grade and dismantle old TV parts in Vermont?  My pitch, in writing thousands of pages of blogs about it, is that the lessons of environmental malpractice have meaning for future environmental "crises" and policy.   The use of mercury in laxatives was a sad chapter in western medicine.  But human health in the west is the best because of scientific method.   We made mistakes and made corrections, and improved the medicine and more importantly the method.  Mercury makes great bowel movements, but the value is offset by brain damage (good for excrement is negated by bad for nutrition).  And no doubt the marketing of mercury to scale, to be sold over the counter to millions of people in the 1800s, involved business people and regulators and mining and marketing, the same as e-waste policy today.  The names... forgotten.  It's a past game of Risk, by unfamiliar players.   But by knowing the strategy of the games played today, I feel like I could create anonymous stand ins and predict marketing of mercury as a laxative the same way as the sale of shredders for working legacy display devices became the primary million dollar business in e-waste, leaving piled of ruined CRT glass in its wake.

I look at Benson, and I look at my own small pond fights, here in Vermont's City Hall.  How do I survive in small ponds with bigger fish?  In this small, small niche of scrap recycling, and in the smaller niche of the peoples' republic of Vermont, we see individuals.  We see Bullyboys.  We see hard workers.  We see well meaning #accidentalracism, we see #greatwhitesaviors everywhere.  You could make up an environmental crisis, make up someone with the statistic that drives suspicion, and recreate the dynamic that set major OEMs, environmental police, college protesters, and journalists to roll the dice against Africans.

But the most important thing is not to label people, including UK and the EA and environmental activist.  That's tough to resist in a small pond full of bullyboys.   But my company has succeeded by seeing people for what they CAN do, not for what they CANNOT do.  In a small classroom, a small town, or a small market team, or a small courtroom, the individuals make the difference.

In New Orleans, over dinner with researcher Travis Reed Miller of MIT, we discussed the strategy of writing brief and simple stories to stop the injustices of e-waste.  I've written a few of those.  This is not one of them.   The long series, like Bullyboys and Firehose blogs, and this Games Theory series, are never going to get read by people in business and government.  They are written to help provide a record for graduate research, and hopefully to boil down for a "how to" manual... not "how to" for e-waste, but "how to" for creating environmentally beneficial rulemaking in complex economic systems, without rolling the dice with Planned Obsolescence and Big Shred, taking out affordable internet cafes in Africa, by being part of an exciting game full of loud applause, as environmental gladiators slay hyenas, monkeys, lions, slaves and Christians, singing for the glory of the challenge.  Without the bullshit, we would not have a paying audience, we would not have a nice hotel room in a foreign nation, we would not be the most popular storyteller at the tea party.

I'm amassing my pieces, gaining no cards.

1 comment:

Christos Georgantzos said...

The stakes of this game are going to be a lot higher now
global ceo mag on waste management