Toxic Indifference: Healing Our World
[ed note: not solar directly, but definiteley a thought provoking
Jackie Alan Giuliano 2002.3.18 via WAPA news
It is easy to point an accusatory finger at a smokestack or other
corporate polluter as the source of environmental problems. And
it is true that industries put out millions of pounds of toxic substances
into our world every year. It is harder, however, to flush out the
destructive indifference that many people practice on a daily basis
in our disconnected world. Unless we somehow find the way
and the will to end this indifference and challenge the assumptions
we all hold dear, the environmental onslaught will continue until
there are no functioning ecosystems left on the planet.
"The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate
them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity."
-- George Bernard Shaw.
"The world is a dangerous place. Not because of the people
who are evil; but because of the people who don't do anything about
it." -- Albert Einstein.
"We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence
of our friends." -- Martin Luther King Jr.
It is vitally important that we all periodically examine our lifestyle
choices and see what level of responsibility we each bear for the
environmental crisis. It is no secret that few polluting industries
would exist if there were not customers for their products. The
amount of goods we consume is staggering.
In the first 12 weeks of the year, you and I spent over $2 billion
buying videos. In 2001, we spent $5.1 billion just on batteries.
We are so afraid of fully accepting the consequences of our purchases,
for to do so would mean that we might have to make another choice,
maybe even decide to not to buy. Billions of dollars are spent on
electronics every year, especially on computers and televisions.
It feels great to get a new TV or computer and many of us take the
extra effort to bring the old equipment into a store that promises
to recycle it.
Recently, I brought some old computer equipment to an office supply
store that was doing a recycling campaign. It felt good to have
made an effort to keep the equipment out of a landfill.
But where did the equipment really go?
About 500 companies and groups in the United States take part in
the electronics recycling industry. Many of these companies are
paid handsomely by major U.S. corporations to keep these old computers,
TVs and radios from polluting ecosystems, making their companies
a target for criticism since their corporate logos are displayed
proudly on the equipment.
The number of electronic items to be recycled is projected to grow
from 12 million in 2000 to 25 million in 2005. Many more than that
are thrown out each year. It is estimated that between 1997 and
2007, 500 million pieces of electronic equipment will be discarded,
containing 1.5 billion pounds of lead, 632,000 pounds of mercury,
and three million pounds of cadmium, all toxic substances.
The United States cannot handle all of this waste, so this hazardous
waste is "recycled" by selling it to countries like China
and India. In New Delhi, India, children are routinely employed
to burn circuit boards. In Karachi, solder is removed from circuit
boards by children with blowtorches, a process that is usually done
indoors with no ventilation. The children breathe the highly toxic
In a poor village in the Guiyu region of China, northeast of Hong
Kong, Seattle activist Jim Puckett filmed what few of us will ever
see or even think about the real destination for many of our
computers brought in for recycling. In that village, Pucket filmed
clouds of toxic gas rising from open vats of hydrochloric acid and
nitric acid tended by the workers. Without any protection for their
lungs, these workers breathed in life shortening gases as they dissolved
the gold out of computer parts.
The leftover gray sludge was dumped alongside the river adjacent
to the site. Puckett, in a special report to the "Seattle Post-Intelligencer"
on February 25, 2002, said he saw very little recycling. Instead,
he saw huge amounts of toxic waste piling up along waterways. A
soil sample revealed toxins at rates hundreds of times greater than
that of a Superfund site in the United States. Puckett¹s report,
released by the Basel Action Network, Asia Pacific Environmental
Exchange, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, and two Asian organizations,
said, "The export of e-waste remains a dirty little secret
of the high-tech revolution."
The report says, "A free trade in hazardous waste leaves the
poorer peoples of the world with an untenable choice between poverty
and poison." But we demand low prices, regardless of the global
cost. Mark Small, vice president for environment, safety and health
at Sony Electronics, Inc., said electronics waste is a small fraction
of the total waste generated by the manufacturing of toys, clothing
and other items made in Asia. "To be blunt," he said,
"we need those low labor rates to get value out of products,
so that you can go to your local store and buy a boombox for $30."
Our indifference translates into a profound disconnection with
the natural world and a loss of our roots and our home. Abusing
our environment and ignoring the cries of pain of our neighbors
is easy if you don¹t feel a connection to the world. Shed your
layers of intentional or unintentional indifference.
Look below the surface of every issue in your life. Don¹t
wonder find out. Don¹t shy away from knowing and don¹t
fear the truth. Knowing the consequences of your choices can¹t
hurt you as much as ignoring them will.