Environment & the World

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Natural Capitalism, Ch. 4

Filed under: Corporate Sustainability, Reading Group, Waste — amirj @ 7:31 pm

Reading this chapter didn’t spark off any strong reactions or deep thoughts for me. In fact, very few–if any–of the ideas in this chapter (as with others) were new to me, and I wonder if that would have been the case had I read the book closer to its publication date. Either way, I’m curious to hear what your reactions were. The basic premise of this chapter revolved around the notion that we can drastically reduce natural resource extraction and waste production by implementing smart processes that will keep the same materials circulating in the economy.

H&L expand the typical call of “reduce-reuse-recycle” to include repair, upgrading and remanufacturing to improve the efficiency of material flow and use. In their typical style, H&L accompany these ideas with concrete examples: design away scrap, reduce the number of parts, improve quality, and on and on. The jist seems to be that “innovations turn trash into cash” (80).

If this innovation thing plays out according to plan, H&L argue that we will move towards an economy that mimicks a mature “type 3” ecosystem (73). Such an economy will be characterized by heavy recycling of materials, little new material inputs, diversity and many niches. I thought this ecosystem comparison was instructive, and it plays into a larger theme of the book–to emulate efficient natural systems and processes when possible.

One other interesting idea they mentioned was the “take-back” laws in Europe and Japan.
These discussions of materials efficiency and waste have a tendency to focus on the role of industry and corporate leadership, so it was encouraging also to see a fruitful and benevolent role that government can fill. In this case, government does not directly lay down hefty fines and taxes. Instead, it simply transfers the burden of product disposal into the hands of the producers rather than onto public lands and waste collection services. True to the capitalist spirit, this sort of policy has spawned innovation in production, design, materials use, etc. and “the market” then rewarded the companies who best responded to the call. The U.S. already has such a policy in place for certain items like car batteries, perhaps it’s time to expand its scope..?


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Natural Capitalism, Chp. 3: Karen’s comments

Filed under: Reading Group, Waste — kwolfgan @ 1:36 am

I am the designated discussion leader for this week’s chapter, and as it turns out, that’s a harder job than I expected. I am writing this on a Saturday night while simultaneously making sure a sleeping nine-month-old doesn’t roll of bed. She’s done it once before, and in doing so quite effectively caused her babysitters’ paranoia level to skyrocket. She knows I am here and keeps checking to make sure I’m not going anywhere…so I won’t. At least not while writing.

I am still a mom-of-the-somewhat-distant-future, thank goodness, and so I have time to compare and contrast models of baby care and see what works and what most certainly doesn’t. At this point, I am putting the pieces together from several wise aunties and grandmas and unrelated advisors, all of whom have something to say about the social-emotional upbringing of their niece/granddaughter/cherished little person. Little or no attention is given (in this baby’s circle, at least, and I have reason to believe that on this dimension she’s representative of a larger trend) to environmental impact or sustainability—to making sure this representative of the next generation at least has something in which to swaddle her own children.

And that’s where baby and Natural Capitalism, Chapter Three intersect. Ours is one of those kids that equals ten other kids—you know, because American moms and dads are consume resources at an astounding rate, making sure their little ones are taken care of. Carseats and cribs and diaper bags (not to mention diapers), oh my! And really, who can blame them? I would do anything to make sure this baby is happy, up to and including sitting here in the dark instead of putting her in her crib, where she would probably cry for an hour. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault, per se, that the next generation in this country is unbelievably spoiled (at least materially); I wish they all received the level of attention our little one gets. But our collective focus is on other things.

H & the Ls don’t say anything I haven’t heard (such seems to be the trend lately, and perhaps I will write on that later), but do provide some food for thought in this chapter, “Waste Not.” For instance, they point out that environmental feedback is constantly occurring in nature, but not in our social institutions: for instance, when’s the last time you heard a parent say “oh, dear, the diapers my baby shat in last week are not decomposing, and I am concerned.” Moms don’t say those things, because along with everything else disposable, diapers get put out on the curb for collection each week—it’s one of the many miracles of modern life. (To be honest, garbage collection never ceases to amaze me; neither does the mail, for what that’s worth.)

The point of this chapter is one that I could explore further, though: the connection between wasting resources and wasting people. What does it mean that the U.S. is the largest penal colony on earth (54) and whatever we’re teaching our children isn’t working (55)? Whatever happened to wrapping the baby up and carrying her on your back while you did whatever you were going to do and then, when she became mobile enough, having her follow you around and showing (not telling) her the essential skills for survival? Why do we farm out that experience? And what change will be effected by the ameliorative measures being taken in (alternative) education these days, when even the best moms and dads don’t consider what the baby’s stroller is made out of, or where it’s made, or who made it?

I’m not interested in bleak statistics or dire warnings or predictions at this point. I am interested in what is compelling about the model of babyhood (and childhood and adolescence and adulthood, for that matter) that we currently work from. Something obviously is, and I can’t condemn folks for being compelled by it. I don’t know the way to fix what’s broken, but I know we’re broken and there has got to be a better way. Pressure’s on to figure something out, though: kids today are depending on us.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Environmental Justice on Navajo Reservation

Filed under: Energy, Environmental Justice, Waste — Cathy @ 12:41 am

I wanted to give some publicity here to a struggle that some Navajo Indians are waging to protect their community from a coal power plant to be built on their reservation.  The Desert Rock power plant would be constructed in the sacred region of Dinetah (in New Mexico), a region which already has 2 power plants and where the air is so dirty that people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses have difficulty breathing.  Moreover, the electricity from power plants on Navajo land primarily supplies non-Indians, so that many Navajos in the region still live without electricity, according to http://www.unobserver.com/layout5.php?id=2951&blz=1.

Last week, local residents started a blockade after learning that water drilling had been started without notifying the local residents. They are refusing to move until they get documents that would prove that the company has complied with Clean Water Act requirements.  In what appears to be an attempt to intimidate the protestors, the sheepdog of an 80-year-old elder protestor was brutally killed, according to http://www.gallupindependent.com/2006/dec/121606lw_dogskinnedalive.html.

It’s too easy to think that the historical injustices that European settlers perpetrated against native populations in the United States were just that – historical.  This incident is a good reminder that we still have a long way to go to make amends for past and current wrongs.  Moreover, this is not an isolated incident.  In Arizona, Native Americans are trying to halt expansion of a hazardous waste site on their land; the Navajo Nation is fighting in federal
court to protect a sacred mountain from a proposed ski resort; etc. More info and suggested opportunities for action on this issue can be found at the Indigenous Environmental Network’s website:

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Toxic Waste Shipment Pollutes Ivory Coast

Filed under: Environmental Justice, Politics, Waste — amirj @ 8:25 pm

Slate has a great article by Jeremy Kahn about the politics of international toxic waste transport in light of a recent shipment of toxic waste that was improperly dumped in the Ivory Coast and resulted in the hospitalization of tens of thousands of locals.

“On Aug. 19, a Panamanian-flagged ship owned by a Greek firm and chartered by a leading Dutch commodities broker docked in Abidjan, the country’s commercial capital. The ship unloaded between 400 tons and 600 tons of toxic petrochemical waste, which was summarily dumped in open-air sites around the city and poured into the sewer system.”

Kahn points out that this incident is merely one example of a broader scheme in which developed countries export their toxic waste to developing nations. While the export is often conducted under the condition that the developing nations will treat this waste, or properly recycle it, the waste often goes untreated. As a result, many citizens of developing nations literally become sick just by drinking water or breathing air that is polluted by trash from economically developed nations. Kahn discusses the Basel Convention–an international “treaty governing the shipment of hazardous waste,” and the role of the U.S.A. in this international waste trading regime. Kahn rightly laments the fact that despite the gravity of events like the one that just occured on the Ivory Coast, Western media mostly fails to report on these issues. Not that this blog is a significant media source, but here’s our little contribution to spreading the word.  

9/26/06 Update: This story is starting to gain some international attention. Eight people have died in the Ivory Coast as a likely result of exposure to the toxic waste, and things are starting to heat up. From the International Herald Tribune:

“Hospitals in Abidjan have provided free consultations to 80,000 people, many of them complaining of nausea, headaches and breathing difficulties caused by the fumes… [The Dutch Company that commissioned the shipment] Trafigura’s director Claude Dauphin and another executive were jailed in Ivory Coast last week and charged with poisoning and breaking toxic waste laws after they went to the country to distribute medicines and assist authorities with an investigation.”

Greenpeace has blockaded the ship, which is now docking in Estonia, that dumped the toxic chemicals in the Ivory Coast. From Greenpeace News:

“At 17.00 local time, the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise moved slowly towards the poison ship. Bearing a banner warning that “Toxic Trade Kills” the Arctic Sunrise dropped anchor at 18.00 local time, some 100 metres away, effectively barring the ship from leaving port. Our demands: Estonia should impound the ship. The European Commission, acting for the European Union, should ensure that the ship is held until a full criminal investigation is carried out and those responsible for the illegal waste export, and ensuing deaths, are brought to justice. … The fact that the toxic waste was dumped openly on the streets of a city is shocking enough. The fact that the waste was delivered by a ship chartered by Trafigura LTD (controlled by Dutch firm Trafigura Beheer BV), who claimed they thought the waste would be ‘properly treated’ in a poor African nation raises serious questions about why they sent it to Africa.”

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