E-Stork 4: It's the Journalism, Stupid.

From "precautionary principle", regulators defined export as an action with "suspected risk".  While a case can be made that the risk has been exaggerated, it's too bad that case is being made by me, a self-interested, partisan, biased exporter - one who has no editor and little time to proof-read (cutting too long posts into 4 parts didn't work in college very often, either).

I believe in dialectic, and the "marketplace of ideas", to bring the truth.  But I wish more professional writers would take interest in repair, reuse, knockoff, and tinkering - the true opposite of the "resource curse" in poorer but emerging markets.

The "suspected risk" comes from the same source that cleaned up the Blackstone River.  No, not the Saturday Evening Post.   But journalists.   Ethical journalism provides us a shortcut for proper due diligence, a reason to "suspect" risk.   Until or unless a river has been traced upstream to a repair and refurbishing factory, the journalist can "follow the money trail" and interview people telling both sides of the story.   They have the power to invoke or water down the "populist cognitive bias" against, say, interracial marriage.  Journalists may not be able to tell where our soul comes from, or where it burns when we die, but they have the power to interview people who CLAIM they know.

It's ok that we still believe in heaven and hell as a matter of faith.   As Chaucer said, a thousand times I've heard men tell of joy in heaven and pain in hell... but none of them has been to either place and lived to tell about it.   Faith and crusades are fine for spiritual upstreams and downstreams.   For rivers and environmental policy, we need science.  Journalists accepting statements like "80% of e-waste is exported", without a single fact or figure to go by in ten years, need to wake the heck up.

There has been so much "coverage" of the computer recycling export story that it's difficult to believe that not a single story cites a single source of the "percent exported" statistic.

Simply Google "China Computer Recycling".  The story is overwhelming.  BBC, CBS, Salon.com, USAToday, Treehugger, etc.   In every story, a photos of something bad happening to a computer in China have substituted as evidence that Chinese Refurbishers are upstream of the toxic rivers polluted in Guiyu.  Repair and refurbishing has literally been banned in China.  Tested working used product is called waste.

Therefore, by definition, it is all waste, and when you look up stories about "computer recycling" in China, it's hard not to suspect that the Geeks of Color.  Boycott.  Ban the trade.  End it.  Now.
  1. Photo essay: China's hi-tech toxics - BBC News

    Photo essay: China's hi-tech toxics ... workshops where young teenagers work long hours amid noxious fumes, recycling computers from the US and Europe. ...
  2. ieeexplore.ieee.org/iel5/4555641/4562842/04562927.pdf?...
    by E Williams - 2008 - Cited by 2 - Related articles
    computer reuse/recycling systems in China, India and Nigeria are clearly causing environmental problems [3,8,9]. For example, wires are pulled from computers, ...
  3. Following The Trail Of Toxic E-Waste - CBS News

    Nov 9, 2008 – This is a story about recycling - about how your best intentions to be green .... or "Product of" My computer says China, My house phone says ...
  4. www.salon.com/2006/04/10/ewaste/
    Apr 10, 2006 – More than 50 percent of our recycled computers are shipped ...waste to China for inexpensive, labor-intensive recycling and disposal. ...
  5. www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2002/02/25/computer-waste.htm
    Feb 25, 2002 – (AP) — What happened to that old computer after you sold it to a secondhand ... in southeastern China where computers still bearing the labels of their ... U.S. companies and lawmakers to increase domestic recycling efforts. ...
  6. Video: China's wasteland of toxic consumer electronics revealed ...

    www.engadget.com/.../video-chinas-toxic-wastelands-...Nov 10, 2008
    Any self-respecting gadget hound knows that China is responsible ... While domestic recycling programs are ...
  7. E-Waste - Electronic Waste - Computer Recycling in Nigeria, India ...

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mj4Wd_rmvMMay 6, 2010 - 5 min - Uploaded by TransendNZ
    E-Waste - Electronic Waste - Computer Recycling in Nigeria, India, Mexico andChina. TransendNZ 6 videos ...
  8. The Electronic Wasteland - 60 Minutes - CBS News

    www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4586903nNov 8, 2008
    Where do the millions of computer monitors, cell ...

  9. www.treehugger.com/culture/how-to-recycle-your-computer.html
    Apr 10, 2006 – Computers sure are handy when they are working (TreeHugger would... It's been illegal to import e-waste into China for dirty recycling and ...
  10. www.recyclingfactsguide.com › Computer Recycling
    When most people think about recycling the last thing they stop to consider is dishonest practices and harmful results. In most peoples minds, recycling i.
"Have you stopped exporting?"  When I use an actual, honest-to-god warranty return refurbishing factory, the one with patents on CRT cathode ray guns, the one which produced brand new monitors for 15 years under the names of Dell, HP, Gateway, etc., I cannot get past the ethnicity of the partner.   So for a change from reporters attacking electronics recyclers, let's turn this puppy back around.

Are you asleep on the job?   In 10 years, since BAN has announced the refurbishing business to be "illegal" (despite Annex IX), no reporter went upstream to find how these factories are polluting a river.  In ten years, all we have gotten is pictures of poisoned babies, delivered by the E-Stork.

Basel Action Network should have lost its credibility when they claimed that semiknockdown or SKD factories, which buy and refurbish barebones and white box computers and display devices, were in some way linked, or responsible, or upstream from the toxic piles of burning e-waste in Guiyu.  Instead, their depiction of "semiknockdown" (a term I sabotaged during the California Compromise) is being written into USA law, making it illegal for Americans to sell billions of dollars of used display devices back to the factories that originally produced them!

BAN claimed to PBS Frontline that Ghana technicians were purchasing 80-90% waste for burning... they did nothing to withdraw the statement made to Frontline when the study came out that said 85% of the Ghana imports were being reused.

Having met with me to discuss the "California Compromise", giving these factories incentives to document proper recycling, they wrote letters to officials in those nations protesting their legal CRT import permits, granted under Basel Convention Annex IX.  They did so without a visit, and did so after meeting by skype with factory owners who offered to answer all their questions.  They should have compromised.

That day of reckoning is inevitable.  Media ethics or inevitable discovery...  For here is the 11th ranked link to the google search:

Good Point: Ethical Electronics Recycling "e-waste"

2 days ago – E-Waste Watchdogs say a significant source of Chinese water pollution comes from primitive computer recycling. At least, that's what we are ...
As more and more journalists research the "E-waste Recycling" issue, more and more questions are arising for which the E-Stork Bloggers have no answer.  If you are a reporter new to this "ewaste export" story, and you want to give coverage to the federal bill which would ban my company from continuing to export 22% of the equipment we collect (we recycle 78%), here is a list of questions for BAN.
  • Why has your organization stated "80%" is exported for primitive burning, when a two year study of Ghana shows the waste to be only 15% of imports (and in Peru, only 13%)?  
  • Why did BAN tell the press that CRTs re-purchased for elective upgrade and factory refurbishing violate the Basel Convention, when the Basle Annex IX B1110 explicitly describes that as legal?   
  • Why were Egyptian authorities confiscating containerloads of working computers in 2008 and labelling them "e-waste", and does BAN applaud a 3-year-from-manufacture rule for display devices?  
  • Why does Jim Puckett say that semiknockdown factories pollute... when not a teaspoon of toxic waste has ever been traced to them?
  • How does manufacturer take-back address exports when the Manufacturer is in Asia?
  • How much money does BAN get from companies that shred working devices?
  • Are the Geeks of Color poisoning babies?
Meanwhile, what are, really, the most polluted places on earth?  Answer below.

This blog can be poorly edited, run-on, obtuse industry-speak.  BAN has now enlisted the top brass - Mike Enberg, Lauren Roman, Coby Self and Senor Puckett to launch their own blog, hoping to slow this blog's rise in the google rankings.  Redemtech has launched one as well.  Annie Leonard is producing accessible films of the E-Stork message.  Social marketing of poisoned baby pictures.  Protecting journalists like Ned Flanders protects his sons from heresy, and using black-hat comment link subterfuge to de-rank opposing views.

I for one welcome the new e-waste blog overlords.  I link to them without expecting the favor returned.  The more they say, the more they can be expected to explain.  If the primitive burning in Africa is from AFRICAN used stuff, and the primitive burning in China is from CHINESE used stuff, and the importers are not "waste tourists" but people trying to get good deals on used equipment from nations rich enough to shred their money... How do they explain the massive fraud behind E-Stewards Recycling?  Will you please stop saying my friends kill babies, please?  Will you admit my friends are not upstream?

Woot for the geeks
With all of this firepower, why do they cling to the lie that Geeks of Color are doing something wrong?  Did the monitors circled by CBS in Hong Kong go to Guiyu?  Or did they go to this factory (photo) which I brought BAN pictures of in 2005?  Was any arsenic traced to this factory?  Were any barefoot children inside?  If so, BAN should throw out their own new electronics, because the same owner of the same factory is making cell phones and IPads and laptops today.

If you attend church, or government, or a college football game, and you find out the leader of the group is lying, you need to call a stork a stork.   Western medicine did not evolve by covering up for snake oil.  If a remedy, like an export ban, is bad medicine, we have to have the guts to stand up and speak out.

That doesn't make you an anti-environmentalist.  Hell, it makes you a better environmentalist.

Whenever we go to the source of pollution, we find consumption.  Two types of consumption:  sustainable and unsustainable.   Reuse is sustainable consumption - rescuing a reuse item from the shredder is heroic.

The world's population is now 7 billion.  Bras, cars, carpet, newspapers... mass production centralizes employement and creates pollution and makes goods affordable.  Creating barriers to consumption, by mandating "local", or "organic", or "natural", tends to benefit those who can afford it.

Externalizing Harm:  As the developing world industrializes, there will be more Blackstone Rivers, more Louhajong Rivers, Cape Fear Rivers, and Ok Tedi Rivers.  Textile mills from Massachusetts did flee for North Carolina as the first environmental regulations emerged.   And textile mills from North Carolina fled for China.   Externalizing costs is a problem.  Enforcement against secondary copper smelters (all 7 closed in the past 50 years) drives copper scrap to China.  That does not mean that Chemetco should have been left to pollute water in Illinois (demolition of the Chemetco recycling smelter began 10 weeks ago).   As a former regulator, I know you must be ready to stand by your guns and make unpopular decisions.  But you have to know that the perfect can be the enemy of the good.

Some of the "costs" being applied in the USA - like a ban on export of repairable laptops and display devices - are stupid and wrong.  Driving a business out of your state because it's polluting is painful.  Driving a business out of your state which is a model of fair trade and sustainable production is hideous, and will undermine the environmental authority.  If not one drop of pollution comes from a refurbishing factory, and you tell the press that factory caused the pollution, you are a modern lynch mob organizer.

Cognitive Risk/Dissonance:  Showing photos of poor children at the riverside supplies fight or flight responses in humans.  Environmentalists fight with money, which creates the same kind of perverse incentives that greedy businessmen are pegged to.  With enough pictures of kids, and ju-ju words like "arsenic" and "toxin" and "cadmium", mixed with newfangled technology words like Microsoft and cathode ray and capacitors, we can convince journalists that 80% of used goods purchases are actually waste tourists spending money to buy pollution as a favor to people externalizing costs.   Interpol says the nasty black people are organized criminals, because they inspect and cherry pick working equipment for export to murky nasty dark places.
 (change of ownership = waste)
"Hey, instead of taking computer/clothing/ donations from rich people and externalizing them to poor people, let's collect from other poor people and donate to poor people!"

Environmentalists, we have met the enemy, and he is us.  I grew up in Arkansas, son of a journalism professor, great grandson of an Ozarks newspaper publisher, reading Walt Kelly.
I care where the MOST POLLUTED PLACES really are, and I care where the toxics and arsenic in those places really came from.  Excerpt from SOS-Arsenic below...  Five of the top ten are virgin metal mines and smelters - the opposite of recycling.  Attacks on recycling constitute an own-goal, environmentalists attacking themselves.
World's top 10 most polluted places Where toxic pollution and human habitation collide with devastating effects

  • 1. Sumqayit, Azerbaijan—This area gained the dubious distinction of landing atop the Blacksmith Institute’s list of the world’s most polluted sites. Yet another heir to the toxic legacy of Soviet industry, this city of 275,000 bears heavy metal, oil and chemical contamination from its days as a center of chemical production. As a result, locals suffer cancer rates 22 to 51 percent higher than their countrymen, and their children suffer from a host of genetic defects, ranging from mental retardation to bone disease. “As much as 120,000 tons of harmful emissions were released on an annual basis, including mercury,” says Richard Fuller, founder of Blacksmith, an environmental health organization based in New York City. “There are huge untreated dumps of industrial sludge.”
  • 2. Chernobyl, Ukraine—The fallout from the world’s worst nuclear power accident continues to accumulate, affecting as many as 5.5 million people and leading to a sharp rise in thyroid cancer. The incident has also blighted the economic prospects of surrounding areas and nations.
  • 3. DzerzHinsk, Russia—The 300,000 residents of this center of cold war chemical manufacturing have one of the lowest life expectancies in the world thanks to waste injected directly into the ground. “Average life expectancy is roughly 45 years,” says Stephan Robinson, a director at Green Cross Switzerland, an environmental group that collaborated on the report. “Fifteen to 20 years less than the Russian average and about half a Westerner’s.”
  • 4. Kabwe, Zambia—The second largest city in this southern African country was home to one of the world’s largest lead smelters until 1994. As a result of that industry, the entire city is contaminated with the heavy metal, which can cause brain and nerve damage in children and fetuses.
  • 5. La Oroya, Peru—Although this is one of the smallest communities on the list (population 35,000), it is also one of the most heavily polluted because of extensive lead, copper and zinc mining by the U.S.–based Doe Run mining company.
  • 6. Linfen, China—A city in the heart of China’s coal region in Shanxi Province, Linfen is home to three million inhabitants, who choke on dust and air pollution and drink arsenic that leaches from the fossil fuel.
  • 7. Norilsk, Russia—This city above the Arctic Circle contains the world’s largest metal-smelting complex and some of the planet’s worst smog. “There is no living piece of grass or shrub within 30 kilometers of the city,” Fuller says. “Contamination [with heavy metals] has been found as much as 60 kilometers away.”
  • 8. Sukinda, India—Home to one of the world’s biggest chromite mines—chromite makes steel stainless, among other uses—and 2.6 million people. The waters of this valley contain carcinogenic hexavalent chromium compounds courtesy of 30 million tons of waste rock lining the Brahmani River.
  • 9. Tianying, China—The center of Chinese lead production, this town of 160,000 has lead concentrations in its air and soil that are 8.5 to 10 times those of the national health standards. The concentrations of lead dusting the local crops are 24 times too high.
  • 10. Vapi, India—This town at the end of India’s industrial belt in the state of Gujarat houses the dumped remnant waste of more than 1,000 manufacturers, including petrochemicals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals. “The companies treat wastewater and get most of the muck out,” says David Hanrahan, Blacksmith’s London-based director of global operations. “But there’s nowhere to put the muck, so it ends up getting dumped.” (Source:http://www.scientificamerican.com, December 3, 2009}
    During 1983 and 1987 Dr. K.C. Shaha, Professor of Dermatology (retired) of School of Tropical Medicine, Calcutta conducted surveys in the seven districts of west Bengal of India. In 1983 Dr.Shaha identified patients poisoned by arsenic who had been drinking tubewell water with concentration of arsenic ranged from (0.06-1.25) PPM and a mean concentration of 0.32 PPM.
    If groundwater arsenic contamination had been present for thousands of years, as suggested by the UK report, then both shallow hand-dug wells and tubewells would extract arsenic contaminated water and would have impacted water users with arsenic poisoning before 1975.

    During the 1965 to 1975 period about 4.5 million wells were installed and millions of children and infants drank water from these wells. Prior to 1975 there is no evidence that arsenic poisoning had affected people in Bangladesh, therefore, it appears that the groundwater arsenic poisoning -in Bangladesh is a recent environmental episode and began after 1975.. Therefore, the UK/DFID statement on the age of groundwater arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh is not based on scientific facts but rather it is based on speculation ( Meer T. Husain, Environmental Geologist, Kansas Department of Health And Environment, Kansas, USA.(2000) .
  • As long as you read this far - here again, is Clubbed To Death... What Watchdogs did to Geeks of Color.


    *(Vermont regulators require me today to write down what "tested working" means if I sell to an African... I cannot simply write "tested working" and verify that the African buyer agrees it's tested working and sign a paper and pay me 6 times , I have to have the definition approved lest the black guy and I agree in person as to what he wants and we are both wrong and the regulator in Montpelier can save us from making a mistake using their superior technical schematic understanding).

    No comments: