Ethical Gravity 2: Producer Responsibility Demandside

In the 1970s Environmentalists all knew that the least sustainable human activity was mining and refining, extracting petroleum and mineral ores and trees from the forests, coral reefs, and mountains. Conservationist knew that to conserve endangered species, we had to conserve habitat. The human activity that digs deepest into the remotest habitats is raw material extraction.

Why are the natural resources in such remote places? Well... they aren't.

No matter how rich in copper ore Mount St. Elizabeth of Vermont might be, the pollution that would occur from the hard rock mining would be unacceptable to neighbors.  The population density in New England had led to more environmental regulation.

Property value is at risk when ore is blasted from veins of ore, smashed with 100 ton tractors, and leached with cyanide in the open air. You cannot obstruct the view of a Martha's vineyard cottage with an oil deck. However rich the vein of gold, you cannot open a Carlin Trend, or Witwatersrand Basin dredge in Central Park.  It is easier to make paper by cutting down 100 small pulp trees in northern Canada, to truck them 200 miles to a hydropulper, than to chop a single rich softwood from the Arnold Arboretum in Boston and pulp it at the James River Paper Mill in the same city.
"Recycling one ton of paper saves 17 trees."
Ok, granted, those are not majestic Sequoia trees. These are low income housing for owls. But the fact is that trees appreciate if they are left to grow longer, and the Forest Industry knows that pulp demand needs both recycled and virgin sources.

Indonesia forests being replaced for pulpwood or palm oil

The more polluting an activity, the farther away the investment. Out of sight, out of the regulator's mind, and out of reach of enforcement. That is why a CRT glass pile in Columbus Ohio is getting more attention than the Kabwe, Zambia mine that produces the same material - leaded silicate (anglesite) - with far more pollution at far greater environmental cost.

This was frustrating to teenage environmentalists at Fayetteville High School in Arkansas in 1979. We knew where our consumption was hurting the planet, and we felt guilty about it, but it was hard to fund the activity to regulate it. Chimps and wildebeests don't vote. The destruction of habitat in Kabwe, Zambia, or the fishing villages of OK Tedi in Papua New Guinea, or the reopened tin mines on the coral islands of Indonesia to produce tin solder for electronics.

Bangka, Belitung, Kabwe and OK Tedi never got the attention of the Mobro Barge. If you survey environmentalist in the 1990, on the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day, only the Mobro garbage scowl was on the lips of the speakers, and only the NIMBY reaction to local dump closures was in the papers.

The ocean tides are driven by a relatively small object in our solar system. The Moon.  It's nothing next to the sun, or even Jupiter, but its gravity is closer to us.  And this has been the weakness of the environmental movement a democracy - we make other voters care about things that are closer and more visible, even when we know that we can grasp at all the plastic straws in the world and never approach the impact of the petroleum spills (BP, or Nigeria, or the oil barge of Valdez Alaska) at the sources that meet our demand - not just for plastic straws, but for oil and gas to heat our planet.

Recycling a single aluminum can reduces enough carbon as would be produced by burning half the can's contents in gasoline. That's because of the energy it took to produce that can out of the bauxite mined in Ghana or Arkansas. So we were willing, in the 1980s and 1990s, to help pay for the cost of collecting that can with a) deposits, b) anti-litter campaigns, c) landfill cap and closures... and in the 1990s, we came up with a fourth source of recycling funding - Producer takeback, or EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) laws.

The point of the Ethical Gravity is that we used EPR to design a Ptolemy System, a "Circular Economy" that revolves around us. We care about Africans if we see that the waste they burn is "ours", and environmental groups created a hoax that familiar stuff is being dumped at Agbogbloshie in sea containers from Western recycling centers, rather than collected from African businesses and household generators who reuse those devices for decades before they discard them.

If you actually want the Producer, the Original Equipment Manufacturer, to pay to recycle the aluminum can in your city dump, one way is to tax that producer to pay people to pick up the can.  That's what Vermont's container deposit system does, and manufacturers hate it, and call it (correctly) a regressive tax on consumers.  

But if we simply renegotiate the General Mining Act of 1872, and the IMF and World Bank mining loan policies based upon it, we'd be taxing the Producers at the beginning of the pipe instead of at the end.  That would direct capitalist investment - quickly - into recycling ventures.

And that is what pictures of kids on piles of Chinese scrap, or kids carrying TVs on their heads at the Agbogbloshie dump, are designed to distract us from.

Photo close ups of kids affect us more than satellite imagery of the Kabwe or Ok Tedi disasers - visible from outer space - because the pics make the damage appear closer to us.  Like the teardrop of an Italian American, Iron Eyes Cody, produced to distract us from the bottle bill which affects us from the begining of the consumption, or the General Mining Act that made the extraction of the bauxite for the can, or extraction of the petroleum to melt and refine it, through raw material subsidies (GMA 1872).

Capitalism, Communism, and Socialism have one thing in common - they don't like up front costs.  They like to defer cleanups to later. They only look at pollution after it has occured, and promote "end of pipe solutions" to address it when forced to.  Which for the 14 of the top 15 CERCLA Superfund cases, at hard rock mines on subsidized mining sites, still has yet to be paid for.  A tax on royalties of the minerals to extract the original material would make that material more valuable, and the aluminum can might never have been thrown out on the road in the first place.

Leaded silicate (anglesite) mined from Kabwe, Zambia

Environmental protection laws are not about protecting the environment.

They are about protecting real estate value.

The real estate that's the most valuable, in cities, is where the recycled feedstock is.

We cannot change that, but we CAN change the value of the copper ore, iron ore, coal, feldspar, gold, bauxite, and lead ore in the ground.  Change the General Mining Act of 1872, and start charging more than $5 per acre to mining companies blasting federal lands. Then encourage Zambia, Indonesia, Philippines, D.R. Congo, Malaysia, and other mining/forest hotspots to do the same. 

Taxpayers will enjoy two benefits - income from the sale of the virgin material and investment in urban ore.  Recycling stocks would quadruple in value overnight if the GMA 1872 is finally changed.

Changing the environmental laws to revolve around the cost of the extraction means that damage done to farway places, and other species, counts as much as if the laws revolve around us.  Like Copernicus and Galileo, we have to see the gravity of the situation.

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