Lifecycle Analysis: CleanTech, "BrownTech", and Export Markets

What is the tension between "CleanTech" - e.g. a new hybrid car - and (what I'll call) "BrownTech"?  Repairing an older gas guzzler to run another year before mining, refining, consuming for new?

Early adapters proudly display their new CleanTech device.  As they should. By electively upgrading to a newer, environmentally-efficient device, they are sending signals to the market and to investors.  The early adapters are on the front lines, bringing the scalability (lowered cost and efficiency) to the new wind, solar, sustainable, recycled-content, non-toxic, etc. markets.

But being able to afford these elective #CleanTech upgrades is a privilege not shared by poor people, especially those in Emerging Markets (so-called "third world" countries).  For them, they are upgrading from a black and white 1967 television to a color 19" CRT.  From not having a phone at all to a flip Motorola.

The new #cleantech device trade shows are exciting.  So are ghetto repair shops. We are on the same spectrum of Life Cycle Analysis.  The differences are economic and cultural.

It has been well-argued that the emerging market and poor bear a greater cost of inefficiency, and that brown-outs and pollution wind up in the streets of the poor.   But, as I always argue, the value-added by retaining original value, by maintaining and repairing and reusing older #BrownTech, preserves the "original sin cost" of mining, extraction, and production.  Hard rock metal mining is not evil, we all need it.  But it's the most polluting human activity on the planet.  Recycling is the only thing that keeps it from being worse than meat industry.

CleanTech and BrownTech

There's a certain snobbery I used to hear when I described BrownTech and repair at Middlebury College GreenTech and CleanTech and NewTech get-togethers.  "We don't do brown, we do green" one person literally said.

With the efforts of IFIXIT and ReStart Project and WR3A and SNEW and RepairFAQ and ReassemblingRubbish, and their counterparts in China and on the backroads in Ghana, BrownTech and secondhand goods are getting a seat at the environmentalist table. As the World Bank pointed out, two decades ago, affordable used technology creates the "critical mass of users" that make investments in cell phone towers, internet cable, and TV/Radio broadcast feasible.

You can't sell electric cars without paved roads to drive them on, and urbanization costs in developing markets require a critical mass of used cars to finance paving the roads.  The poor aren't cheating the environment, they are taking the same path to prosperity by rationing their resources. It's smart.

Trading up, or "elective upgrade" (when an older device could have been kept in use) isn't bad when the newer device brings Cleaner Technology more market share. But allowing the older device to be resold and reused is better than denying someone with less privileges from a modest upgrade of their own.  A car that's 10 years old is someone else's elective upgrade.  A 5 year old cell phone as well.

Sanctimony is the first thing beat out of us in a mosh pit of ideas.

Being face to face, in close contact, rubbing hands with the reuse markets in Africa and China is good for your soul.  The coughing and nasty stormwater runoff in those countries isn't "Eden", but until we have free CleanTech devices to give to the poor, letting the poor make their own intelligent decisions on use of their limited cash to buy home used, second hand, and refurbished (even graymarket) goods is not the Privileged Sector's choice to make.

#freejoebenson and never arrest another African TV repairman again, please. They are not eating cake.

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