E-Waste Hoax 2015: PKDs Myth Busting Trip To Africa

Ok readers, you know my thing.   Be that guy.  

"All right then, I'll go to hell."  

Winston Churchill Quote that having enemies means you stood up for something once in your life.

Now, how do I announce the trip I'm planning this morning, without setting myself up as the next generation of exotic #whitesaviorcomplex hero, cruising to Africa, to visit geeks of color who've visited me in Vermont?  Visiting People I've done a little bit of business with, though without much profit to show for it.

Actually, this business (both African trade, and "being that guy" who stands up for it) has cost my business and my employees tremendous stress.   And we have to ask ourselves, how seriously should we take junk?  Someone threw it out once already, how long will they want to be forced to think about it again?  And how can my clients support hiring us, having seen the PKDs? (see below).

PKD Africa 2007:   Photo I couldn't resist taking on my last trip to Africa
But I need to make the trip, both because I've been invited for years, I need to do downstream "diligence" on the market, and to offer credibility for my theory that Joe Benson is a sacrificial lamb. Jim Puckett has "been there", Kyle Wiens has "been there", Rafa Font, Jack Caravanos, Josh Lepawsky, Reed Miller... it's becoming a part of a checklist.  

While I had been in the factories that ACTUALLY purchased the ACTUAL computer monitors photographed in Hong Kong, I had not been to Guiyu specifically.  I saw it via google earth, and researched it during Adam Minter's trip (where we found huge textile plants upstream of the river).   And I even got Jim Puckett to admit he'd seen no CRT monitors in Guiyu at his last visit (I asked Jim the question at the same Interpol meeting where I met and argued with Mike Anane, and heard presentations back to back with Jim Puckett and Lord Chris Smith)., but even that was never good enough.  I regret not making the trip, and don't want to make the same mistake with Agbogbloshie.

The upcoming trip to Agbogbloshie and Tamale will also help me to double test the WR3A / Fair Trade Recycling college intern program.   This is what we are promoting as an antidote for 'waste tourism', sending college interns as "Recycling Ambassadors", so they can avoid the counter-guilt-trip of #whitesaviorcomplex.

Making this trip is a little bit #savior-ish.  This is really about Joe Benson, not so much about my business.

PKD 1984:   My career in #povertyporn begins in Cameroon 
People I interview shrug at whether Benson's guilty or not.  And over and over I hear "someone has to do something".  As Jim Puckett himself describes Benson,  he's "collateral damage".  And StEP representatives say that without Jim Puckett and his accusations, they'd be out of a job.  "He's the reason we're all here," a rep told Oscar A. Orta while in Nairobi.

And as American and European environmentalists ignore the #FreeJoeBenson petition, (or the non-hard copy, anyway) they demonstrate that Environmental Authority is as dangerous a tool as any other police authority.  Bringing the petition to Africa will be different - people there know the "Bullyboys" of authority.

Since the first accusation about dumping in Africa (addressed in one of my first, and #1 visited blogs, "Monkeys Running the Environmental Zoo"), the math has never made any sense.   The people paying for the export are the Africans, not the "evil sham recyclers" accused by Greenpeace and BAN.org.   Interpol concluded that payment meant organization, and organization meant "organized crime", and they have actually taken staff away from ivory and rhino horn poaching to investigate TV repairmen in African cities.

It's grotesque, people, and it's us, it's environmentalists, we are the ones behind it.  

Basel Action Network annoyed people greatly by informing them that if they DID recycle their old device in the past, there was an 80% chance they could not feel good about it.  They showed our recycling clients the PKDs:   Pics of Kids at Dumps .   I completely understand those visuals, and could not resist snapping them myself when I lived in Cameroon.  Here kid, put this on your head.  Hold still.  Great, thanks, ciao.

1986  Oh look!  We're so cute!  And I'm sooo exotic!

How is a dry statistic - like the actual number of non-functioning, non-repairable equipment imported to Africa (7%) supposed to compete with PKDs?

Now here's the thing, I keep meeting really decent people who are willing to grant the "nuance" about the African trade story, and willing to say that exports should be allowed under some conditions and supervision by [western] experts.

The PACE (Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment) Group, which I started with in the E-Waste Tragedy Series, was intended to be that group.  But when I submitted comments (including vitally important "elective upgrade" conditions) gathered from WR3A members, it was completely ignored.
Professional studies of sea containers analyzed in West Africa are being ignored.  Or, as my colleague at StEP (Jaco Huisman) explained it, even though he accepted the 91-93% reuse statistic as being the best study and best information available, that "Rules are Rules".  In Benson's case, these "rules" are "Guidelines", not laws, but evidently I'm splitting hairs.

Memorial University's J.Lepawsky's Geography department has traced the "other" statistic, about 50-80% of exports being "pollution".  Though BAN never had a peer review of the statistic, and later disclaimed it in a dialogue captured on Bloomberg (Adam Minter op-ed), Lepawsky traces dozens and dozens of published peer reviewed papers which use the statistic, and use it to support the blossoming term of "e-waste".  Blackstone Institute and CUNY's Jack Caravanos, who used a version of the fake statistic (applied to Agbogbloshie), are not alone.  Use of the 2002 hoax fact actually grows, year by year, polluting scientific debate at universities across the nation (the chart measures use of the term E-Waste, but the link above shows that the "80%" mystery-meat statistic is 15th most cited in all the journal articles graphed.

How environmental studies are polluted by bad data - how the term "ewaste" has grown

So StEP admits the crime statistics are a hoax, and the export business is misunderstood.   Still, "Rules are Rules".   The clanging of the iron cage on African TV repairman Joe Benson is still held by the UK Environmental Agency as a "win".  Chalk one up for the Green Guys.

So let's say that the Guidelines represent "Authority" more generally.  

Do Environmentalists believe that because our mission, our cause, our goal is noble that we are immune from the Milgram Effect?  Because assuming you are immune, I tell you, is half the losing battle.

The Milgram Effect, named for Yale Psychology professor Stanley Milgram, measures how much harm or pain the average citizen is willing to inflict on a test subject based on "rules" and "authority".  Milgram's experiments (held during 1961 Nazi War Crimes trial of Adoph Eichmann) showed that people underestimate how much injustice, pain, and suffering normal people will inflict in the name of authority.   An authority figure tells a test subject that they are to turn an electric current volume up, while watching an actor fake being electrocuted.   The subject thinks it's the actor being tested, but actually Migram was testing just how far the average person will go in inflicting pain based on rules before they stand up and refuse.

In the diagram, E is the "Experimenter" or the Authority, T is the "Teacher" or Subject (who thinks they are dishing out the electric shocks), and L is the "Learner" (the actor pretending to be more and more injured as the Rules dictate higher levels of electricity).

"The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.
"Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.[8]"
-Stanley Milgram, "The Perils of Obedience", 1974.

As explained in SimplyPsychology, Milgram was careful to always use the same encouragements, authorizations, or "Prods" to get people to administer electric shocks of up to 450 (fake) volts.

Prod 1: "please continue."
Prod 2:  "the experiment requires you to continue."
Prod 3:  "It is absolutely essential that you continue."
Prod 4:  "you have no other choice but to continue."
Hmm.  Sounds an awful lot like the responses to BAN's claims about "international law" - which, like their "80% statistic", is bogus.  Basel Convention as ratified specifically makes Benson's exports LEGAL.  It is the "Basel Ban Amendment", unpassed/unratified, which BAN is promoting as "international law".  But based on Basel Action Networks "perceived authority", Benson's in jail.


65% (two-thirds) of participants (i.e. teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts.
Milgram did more than one experiment – he carried out 18 variations of his study.  All he did was alter the situation (IV) to see how this affected obedience (DV).


Ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being.  Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we are brought up.
People tend to obey orders from other people if they recognize their authority as morally right and / or legally based. This response to legitimate authority is learned in a variety of situations, for example in the family, school and workplace.

Now, I'm not anti-environmentalist.  Some tell me that admitting a mistake will be misused by "conservatives", and will work against environmentalists.   Sounds... familiar.

There are real environmental heros, like Shi Lihong (Chinese photographer / activist credited with saving the Snub Nose Monkey species from extinction).  And as I pointed out in the "E-Stork" Blogs, photographing children, triggering nurture, has served pollution laws well... going back to pictures of kids in textile mills in Worcester, MA, published in the Saturday Evening Post, which led to cleanup of the Blackstone River (and export of the textile industry to the Carolinas).

So I'll be taking my camera to Ghana and Angola in a few weeks.   And it could be labelled "waste tourisim".   I'll be there for a reason, with people who know me, probably bringing my son along.

One of the places I'm visiting has been tagged "The Most Toxic Place on Earth".  Agbogbloshie, the Accra scrapyard in Ghana, almost faded from the 2009 news reports.   Oh, but Blackstone later clarified (to me) that it was at the top of the list alphabetically, not based on any scientific measure.  It starts with A.   As does "Angola", so I'll be travelling there next, then on to Vancouver (ISRI Conference), flying over Zambia's Kabwe lead mine (probably the real most toxic place in Africa), changing planes in Dubai.  I'm so very eXotic, in my next #whitesaviorcomplex (3.0).

As long as we are back to the English Lessons, I'm quite aware that N*** Jim, the runaway slave who Huck accompanies, is argued to be the real protagonist in the Mississippi odyssey.  Mark Twain does deal with this in a chapter in which Huck plays a trick on Jim, pretending to drown.   It was Twain's opportunity to show that while Jim struggled to speak proper English, and had even less education than Huckleberry, that he was the grown up on the trip.  I hope to have a chance to speak with my 14 year old on the subject, if he brings a book and can get off his handheld device, and come pose alongside the other Ks in my PKDs.

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