Fighting Over the Poor (instead of For them)

Watching Hans Rosling's latest presentation at Swedish statistical institute "GapMinder".

"Don't Panic - End Poverty"

It is a bit long and overlaps a lot with his TED Talks, if you have already seen them.  But if you have not, it's interesting how his trips to Malawi, South East Asia, etc. put poverty in a flesh and blood, rug on the floor of the mud hut, context.

He starts with his trademark audience quiz.  This time it's not multiple choice, and only 3 questions.

1. How many people (out of 10) have electricity?

The audience answers average around 40% of people in the world have electricity, which was the rate in 1960.  The actual rate with electricity today is over 80% (I have read it's 87, but he rounds to 8).

2. How many children (out of 10) are vaccinated against measles? 

Highest audience response was 3 (followed by 1, 2 and 4).  The right answer, 83% of the world's children are vaccinated.

3. How many girls (out of 10) go to primary school?

Most of the audience answers range from 3-6.  But it's 90%.

Rosling is facing the same challenge that used electronics traders face in addressing "#ewaste policy".
Simple. The Press reports "if it bleeds, it leads".  Consumers buy bad news.  And one of the biggest concerns those of us working with Agbogbloshie face is that if the "Ewaste Scare" is a hoax, does Agbogbloshie just fall off the map?  Is there a way to harness these western eyeballs to achieve something good for the people who live in or near the slums of Old Fadama?

Rosling is doing a good job of correcting the exaggerated perceptions, but seems to also struggle with the temptation, therefore, to shrug.   So he emphasizes this time that while 12% extreme poverty is an amazing improvement over the past 3 decades, that it still represents a BILLION people.

How would Rosling react if he was in the audience, and the leader of an NGO was on stage, telling everyone the exact opposite of the truth, that things are getting "worse"?  How would he feel if an NGO called him a "poverty denier", comparing him to climate change skeptics?

Fortunately, the discourse over economic statistics is more civil than in the Waste business, where stock in defamation lawsuits is rising faster than scrap metal and plastic prices.

I made a presentation to several colleges and recycling conferences 8 years ago about "3B3K", the three billion  people who earn about $3,000 dollars per capita per year.  That was the group which was getting online at the highest rate.  The measure of their access to internet was an indirect measure of the stats above - electricity and education.  And that vaccination would be available where internet cafes and cell phone towers were erected is not a big stretch of the imagination.

What we have to stop is malpractice, doing harm.  And the message of the Basel Action Network, NRDC, and Greenpeace over the past decade has been murderous.  It has changed forever my perception of my fellow environmentalists.  I don't want to make exaggerated comparisons to Elie Wiesel, or the Catholic church in the wake of its cover ups, but Sanctimony Sucks.

Like the money changer tables Jesus decried at the places of worship in Jerusalem, there is a form of exploitation, driven by money.  As BAN convinced most of the people in the world that 80 percent of the goods exported by people like Joe Benson and Net Peripheral and MediCom "lasted only a year" or were "waste" or "illegal", it was a matter of time before a UK prosecutor spent British Tax Dollars to jail a self made African TV repairman.

Jim's explanation, that Benson is "collateral damage", is a weak excuse for the direct consequences of lies and exaggerations made to sell medicine.  Primum non nocere.   If your snake oil doesn't cure anything, whipping up paranoia and misrepresenting symptoms isn't ok because the money you raise is a tax write off.

I'm an environmentalists.  I want the health of the environment to improve.  I want poverty to improve.  I don't want trade to exploit poverty.  But so far, the billions of dollars at work in normal trade have done far more to explain the improvements in world living standards than dollars donated by Leonardo de Caprio to a small NGO in Seattle, Washington.

They threatened to sue me for writing stuff like this, by the way, years ago.  Bring it on.  They don't because they know it would bring more attention to the outright lies and exaggerations they are selling, and lead to more companies, like Sims, doing the right thing and dropping E-Stewards.  Not because it's a bad standard, it can be a very good standard.  But not so much better than R2 certification that it justifies the tens of thousands that its members pay to a lynching campaign to destroy the lives of African Technicians who, more than any charity or government program, put Facebook on cell phones in the hands of African youth, and indirectly brought the wave of democracy, elections of women, vaccinations, and hope to the Poor we should be fighting FOR rather than OVER.

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