Poison Apples 2: Profiting from Ewaste Cures

Things that seemed very important to write about 6 years ago (about things like desktop CRT monitor remanufacturing in Asia, and California SB20) now seem less vital.  But while public discussion of the topics in this blog has quieted, and some wins (like Mr. "Fishing as a Boy" Anane being actively edited out of certain documentaries) institutionalized, individual cases of racial profiling of the emerging market's tech sector continue. I receive a lot of thank yous "under the table".

What I have learned over the 11 years of writing this blog is that being passionate about environmentalism is like being passionate about cures for human sickness and disease. It is a hot topic until the disease is cured, but that different populations struggle with different levels of risk.

And the importance of being green is not passeĆ©.  The theme is to improve environmental health the way we improved human health. Sometimes, that means standing up to the liar wearing the doctor's white coat, promising to end suffering by selling a cure they've barely tested....

E-Waste Policy looks a great deal, through the lens of history, like 1960s infant formula sales.  My mom recently recalled that when she was breastfeeding me at the hospital in Harrison Arkansas in 1962, a nurse in the room asked her, "What are you trying to prove?"  Mom was only 19... but thank god she could see past the nurse's labcoat.

What was she trying to prove, indeed.

Uh oh, another Ingenthron
Poison Apples may not be deliberately poisoned. The information on the infant formula label was correct, and the formula did save the lives of babies who lost their mothers in childbirth (leading cause of death of women in Africa for the past few decades). But sold by monied interests, in the absence of context, the money for the "cure", at one point, was killing more babies than it saved. Mothers in Africa and Asia, like mothers in America, were being told that infant formula was a "scientific" and modern choice. They were given free samples (which lasted just long enough for the mothers breasts to harden). And the context of what water was available in developing nations was fundamentally different than the water in Europe and America. Just like the decision of what is "repairable" is an elective decision that made no sense to people in the UK who sold Joe Benson their used electronics was a different context than Lagos, Accra, Cotonou, Kinshasa, etc.

Articles published in 1973 and 1974 provided explosive pushback to the marketers of infant formula (good history here in Business Insider 2012).

The DIY movement, to revive the right to repair, and its practice, is akin to the "return to the breastmilk" of the 1970s.  In emerging markets, the breastfeeding had never gone away in the first place, and the biggest threat was from major formula manufacturers.

The debate over marketing of European Infant Formula in former colonies was summed up in "Babies Means Business" (New Internationalist, 1982), which inspired me to research the topic at the UN in Geneva in 1983.  Essentially, NI 110 argued that the apples themselves may not have been poisoned, but the profits on sales growth in emerging markets was as tainted as the water.

At least, it's now a case study in the marketing of "cures" that did more harm than good, but stubbornly persisted (like mercury based laxatives) based on the profits on poor information.

That is what Basel Action Network is doing with their persistent attacks on the natural activity - Africa and Asia's repair sector.  BAN is wearing the green coat, and lecturing us about the great risks of letting Africans buy and sell stuff.  BAN is charging money for GPS trackers and certifications that would not be newsworthy, if not for the fake statistics and poverty porn that BAN published.
Yes, protecting the environment is a life-or-death struggle. Yes, we believe that protecting the environment, and Earth's diversity of species, will be the most important thing we did or didn't accomplish when our history is reviewed 500 years from now.  Regardless of our organized religion or sect,  our personal behavior should be viewed through the lens of future generations.  What if your greatest grandchildren could see our policies through the wisdom of a 500 year lens?  In the history book of the future, Who among us will be Cortez? Who will be Sequoia? Who will be Mark Twain? - Robin Ingenthron 

In looking at human health research, study, Western medicine, since the 1500s, we see that the most passionate doctors have not necessarily been the ones we'd want to be operating on our ancestors.

I keep hearing tributes to Jim Puckett's passion... Jim himself called Joseph "Hurricane" Benson "collateral damage". That excuse only counts if you admit it in public, declare the risks of the "cures" you've assembled, and don't cover it up.  Joe Benson received the first GPS tracker, and is a case study in racial profiling and seriously biased methodology.

Primum non nocere, "first, do no harm".

When wealthy whites were selling infant formula to impoverished countries with poor water, as a "healthy alternative" to breastmilk, it took about one decade to stop the harm from spreading.  The sales of infant formula were based on pictures of healthy babies (eventually the practice of putting baby pictures on formula was banned under international law), just as E-Stewards progressed under atypical pictures of impoverished children surrounded by junk (allegedly "recently imported" by Joe Bensons) at dumps overseas.

If BAN's "boycott the poor" remedy is poisoning and defaming repair sector workers, how do we learn the lessons of the infant formula action networks to oppose it?

First, we will stop the spread of BAN's "Naivete Formula" through the same asymmetrical tactics BAN used in what they described to CBS 60 Minutes as a big recycling interest with "dirty little secrets".  The blog introduced readers (mostly academic) to the human beings that were buying the stuff that BAN claims is "dumped" on foreign beaches.  Those people got their own role in the screenplay, and we cast the "geeks of color" as heroes, not as victims.

Second, we don't measure success by getting into the news (though we occasionally succeeded). We just had to make BAN's version of the export story too leaky to pass editorial vetting. We can measure our success in the number of journals that did not run BAN's press releases, because there was enough secondary research on the web to cast doubt. BAN was citing statistics that could be traced to Mike "Fishing as a Boy" Anane, who cited BAN.

Third, we provided enough information to seed students and professors to do their own research. When MIT SenseAble City published its GPS Monitour study, we assembled a ten page critique, and monitored coverage of the story through the blog.

What's interesting is that none of this followed the guidelines offered to professional bloggers ten years ago.  I was actually interviewed, and offered a paid blogging role, for a dot-com encyclopedia. They wanted me to put "Ten Best" lists in the headlines of the blog, and put bullet points, and follow all the Jezebel-blog type of steps to gain high "hits" and subscription lists (which draw advertising to the blog, which fund the author).  I tried a couple.

But that's not the role that gets one into the history books.  More importantly, it's not the thing that makes successful outcomes, which may be ignored in the history books.

The final outcome of the Infant Formula Controversy, in the early 1980s, was the subject of my term paper at Carleton College, from the semester abroad, where I studied international law at the United Nations in Geneva. It did not mean demonizing Nestle, but holding Nestle more accountable. Two years later, when I gave a lesson in Ngaoundal, Cameroun's first secondary school, I found another key ingredient.  The girls in the class, like my mom in 1962, already knew better.  I found that I only had to teach the African boys that breast was best, and it was only authority of the males that posed the greatest risk. Many of those lessons were adapted to EPA's research on used electronics practices in the USA, in defending the SKD and reuse markets overseas. 

Primum Non Nocere, dudes.

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