Carl A. Zimring's "Clean and White", A Premature Review

This is a pre-Review of a book I haven't yet read... on a subject I write about obsessively.  And because I can now be accused - literally - of "prejudice" (prejudging a book about environmental justice is like, a mind trip).

"Clean and White:  A History of Environmental Racism in the United States" by Carl A. Zimring.

Carl A. Zimring is Associate Professor of Sustainability Studies at the Pratt Institute. He is the author of Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America and general editor of the Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage. His new book Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States is available from New York University Press. 

This is all in good fun, I will read the book and hope others will order it too, giving Carl A. Zimring some early buzz should be forgiven...

Carl ZimringCarl Zimring


Trash talk. Some material recycled. Sustainability Professor . Clean and White (NYU Press):

Retorting (or Pre-retort), or surgical strike... I look forward to reading this book, but have some initial reactions to offer this summary. 

Environmental Justice involves Minorities (not just racial) and Real Estate value... The topic is broader than race. For example the tribal and linguistic minorities in Agbogbloshie, Accra, the Hausa and Dagbani migrants, are economic migrants who came to live in a polluted place.  But the land value at Agbogbloshie is not primarily lowered by pollution, it is lowered by fear of crime and flood zones... and by the presence of the Muslim minority - the Dagbani themselves.    

Fear reduces property value. I'm willing to bet there's a Steve Pinker gene which leads to tree dwelling when the Neanderthals or wolves move nearby.  The problem is that being a minority is a predictor of where you live, and property value dictates the enforcement.  If you try to burn wire on the lawn of the fancy Movenpick Hotel in Accra, 9 minutes away from Agbogbloshie, it really doesn't matter what race or ethnicity you are, the environmental police will descend on you in a heartbeat.  The environmental regulators don't police the place less because blacks live on it, they don't police it because the land is less valuable, and that's what attracts economically distressed populations... including minorities.

Another way to separate out "racism" from the correlated property value is to see just how quickly societies to accept a wealthy Muhammed Ali or Richard Prior as a neighbor.  There are anecdotes of neighbors reacting poorly, but pretty much anyone realizes that having a millionaire celebrity live on your street increases your property value.  The attitude changes over an extremely short historical period if the property value doesn't suffer... if it was truly racism, rather than threat to property value, I don't see how that could change so quickly. (Of course you could be a little bit racist and still welcome the new neighbors, but my point is correlation isn't causation).  

It's the property value that dictates where copper mines go, not the ore purity... the mining is so incredibly polluting that it can only be done on federal lands and in emerging markets - preferably in a rain forest with no neighbors at all (OK Tedi Mine in PNG).  Secondary copper smelting from recycled wires is much, much less polluting than primary smelting.  But historically the secondary copper smelters were in cities, close to the scrap.  We had 7 in 1960, we have 0 today, all of them victims of environmental enforcement.  Abutting property value is the best predictor of state environmental enforcement.

It's the effect of "fear of minorities" on property value that drive urban policy.  Racism and fear of the other is very, very real, but that's correlation, not causation.  We don't want a neigbhor we are afraid of next door to our property, and we don't want a brownfield next door to our property, because in either case our property value goes down.  When property becomes more affordable, it's more accessible to disadvantaged races or linguistic minorities or economic immigrants and refugees... it's the affordability that attracts the poor. If it's high labor employment plus pollution, like a paper mill, the effect is doubled... dirty jobs attract labor that can afford the property near it.  Urban paper mills are more likely to be recycled paper mills because that is less polluting than virgin cellulose bleaching... but they also have more regulatory scrutiny because they are urban... and most paper mill employment is minority.

Real estate is a huge investment and a very non-liquid investment. Pollution lowers property value and minorities lower property value, and environmental enforcement goes disproportionately to keep pollution out of the Hamptons. 

Ok Tedi Mine in Papua New Guinea - where no neighbors can hear the environment scream

Racism is about judgement, pre-judgement, or prejudice, literally.  People getting sentenced based on correlations and preconceptions and fear... To Kill a Mockingbird is an obvious sin.  As is prejudging a book, a priori.  But I really hope that Zimring catches the current wave of "accidental racism", the white savior complex, charitable industrial complex, etc.  It has been the "friendly fire" of the environmental movement.  And after 8 years of Obama, I have yet to get a call back from EPA to discuss the preconceptions their environmental justice department I warned them about as they paraded Basel Action Network and Mike Anane into the 2010 Interpol conference.

Once again, I have pre-ordered but haven't read the book yet, and suspect I overlap heavily society's role as jury, and prosecutions.  But the accidental racism I write about is usually wielded by (fellow) liberal and saviors. The most fervently anti-racists, the champions of the "environmental justice" program at Washington EPA, were the fastest to fall the hardest for anti-electronics export hoaxes,  because it was a victimhood of minorities narrative which they took hook line and sinker.  UK's most eager, anti-colonial guilt liberals, were the ones who set Daniels Recycling and BJ Electronics to the execution chamber, thinking they were saving poor, dirty, African orphans...

In falsely assuming that poor orphan children had "e-waste" dumped on them by wealthy countries, the accidental racists see race rather than a very key distinction - competence.  Africa's Tech Sector, repair and refurbishers, "Geeks of Color", do all the export and import.  The scrappers are school dropouts who wind up with the scrap 10, 15, 25 years after it was imported.  "Hurricane Joe Benson" gets put in prison for exporting to Africa in the UK.  He's an African TV repairman who knows which used TVs, computers, and cell phones to buy, but was caught up in an "environmental racism" narrative that lumped all Africans together as "the other" who needed to be "saved".

Pompously predicting the subject matter, I'm sure that's to be viewed as obnoxious by someone somewhere.   I just love this topic.

-Robin Ingenthron WR3A

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