This Good Point Ideas Blog has a dandelion in the background. The wind is blowing the seeds. The image isn't random.
Some people consider the dandelion to be flower. Some consider it a salad green. But many consider it a weed. Some of my earliest memories of "ethics" were my parents and great aunt's explanations of why I should be careful about blowing on mature dandelions, the "controversy" or "ethics" of spreading the seeds of a flower that will blow onto other peoples' lawns. My parents told me they don't mind dandelions on their own lawn, but others felt differently. The issue, my dad said, was whose property the dandelion seeds landed upon.
"That is frowned upon here."
That "frowned upon" expression was expressed to me about 18 years later, when I had just thrown a lit firecracker out of a Carleton College dorm window. And I did feel a little chagrin about that, though my friend and future Co-RA Peggy shrugged just afterwards, saying "I smile on it". Using social consensus to define ethics is an interesting tool. Juries do it. And consensus forms the crucible of the most important theme of this blog - Environmental Racism. Accidental environmental injustice. Collateral damage. Friendly Fire...
It matters who we ask. And after about 10 years, the chief "Authority" - Secretariat of the Basel Convention - has recognized that its first foray into screening used electronics sales had not asked enough people about the ethics and effects of used electronics exports. A little pat on the back here - I never attended a PACE meeting. But we were recognized for our contributions by SBC's Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment (PACE)...
The primary comment we submitted ten years ago was that Emerging Markets Technicians (not just regulators) had to be consulted in the drafting of the PACE Guidelines. If OEMs (Planned Obsolescence), Secondary Smelters (Big Shred), and NGOs (White Saviors) were drafting the rules without consulting Africa, Asia and Latin America's Tech Sector, they were likely to do more harm than good. As Emmanuel Nyaletey told the IERC conference in Salzburg, Austria, last month (my paraphrase) "writing rules for used electronics repair without consulting with African technicians is like writing a health manual without ever talking to a doctor." The buyers know what they want, thank you.
Some consider used electronics to be a weed that must be kept on our own lawn. Some consider them a flower. And some consider them a source of income, a way to put food on the family table.
Here's an interview with a man, Olu Orga, who started in Agbogbloshie, and worked his way into Ghana's Tech Sector. If the Secretariat or the Basel Convention has something to thank American Retroworks Inc for, it's for keeping the doors and windows open during an echo-chamber of false claims and ewaste hyperbole. As everyone sought to prove they weren't dumping on the poor, they became ashamed to admit friendships like this, if they were even brave enough to have them.