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Last week mine, Olga, and Miguel’s group did a presentation on Cradle to Cradle manufacturing. One of the points I brought up supporting the theory was to avoid the current crisis of e-waste that is occurring around the world. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that burning plastics releases horrible toxins into the atmosphere, and that breathing the smoke is extremely carcinogenic. So how would developed nations around the world allow this to happen?

Actually, the government policy of many developed nations such as the U.S. and most European countries publicly state they will not ship containers of e-waste to be recycled in underdeveloped countries like Ghana. In 1992, the Basel Convention was signed by almost every country in the world, and it was designed to stop the trade of e-waste from developed nations to less developed nations. So, since it is so much cheaper to recycle e-waste in countries without laws governing the matter in how it is done, countries had to find a way to get around this basil convention. The brilliant loophole they developed is renaming the e-waste as “secondhand goods.” The stated intentions of this is that a television that we deem old is perfectly fine for someone in Africa to use, same with computers. In reality, most of the computers and televisions being sent in containers to places like Ghana are not in working order, as they discuss in the video I posted below. The e-waste shows up in containers, and the contents are sold in open air markets to brokers who then can do whatever they please with their purchases, AKA take advantage of poor people and have them burn them down and scavenge the metals such as copper, iron, and aluminum. The people find the metals, and return them to the brokers for a small cash amount. The broker stockpiles the metals, and then sells them in bulk, making a huge profit. Because there is a lack of enforcement in many of these less developed countries, this process is allowed to go on without anyone enforcing the rules of the international agreement. The main countries abusing this process are Germany, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, and of course, the United States.

This is one of the last 100 uncontacted tribes in the world. The majority live in the Amazon near the Peru/Brazil border, others in New Guinea and a small number of groups live in the Indian jungle.  After watching the video for the first time, it didn’t strike me as something I could associate with the theme of the class. If anything, these people live in the LEAST possible toxic world available today. However, deforestation due to mining, cattle grazing, and timber harvesting are encroaching on their territories  They mostly rely on hunting/gathering, because they have to move around so much they don’t have time to cultivate foods anymore.

So how so does this relate to living in a toxic world? Well for one, they are suffering from environmental human rights. They are subjected to pollution without their consent. For every 2.2 lbs. of gold harvested, 2.9 lbs. of raw mercury is left in the environment. (http://rainforests.mongabay.com/0808.htm). Starting with the bottom of the food chain, the mercury works its way up in the ecosystem until it reaches the animals in which the tribes hunt. Although there are no studies yet done because contact with these tribes is impossible(will talk about later) I would think it reasonable to assume these tribes are eating animals with higher mercury content, unknowingly. This is an example of unfair environmental justice, these people live their own lives without bothering us, yet are subjected to the consequences of our actions. If you believe in global warming and look at articles on how it is affecting the amazon rainforest, it is another example of how they are subjected to our pollution without their consent. As Carson says on pollution, “[pollution] is changing the very nature of the world.” How is it fair if we are affecting their home environments in a negative way based on our polluting the earth?

Another thought I had was the definition of pollution: the introduction of harmful substances or products into the environment. To these tribes, are we the definition of pollution? The reason contact with these tribes is impossible is because they do not have immunities against things we find common such as a minor cold. If you are interested in looking at staggering numbers, check out http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/7164. For example, The nomadic Nukak in Colombia numbered around 1,300 when they were contacted in 1988. Only 420 survive today. A single man from modern civilization can bring diseases we are immune to into a tribe and cause a devastating epidemic wiping out up to 80% of the native population, even if his intentions were good. Think of a pollutant being introduced to downtown Los Angeles that killed 80% of the population, we would consider that an extreme toxic event. To these tribes, instead of chemicals or industrial waste, I believe the biggest pollutant is actually us, modern society. A bulldozer flattening forest, a citizen from modern society, or leftover mining mercury are all harmful substances being introduced to their environment. I feel that essentially, to them, the entire outside world would be considered pollution.

The video left a lasting impression on me and I was determined to find a way to connect it to things we have talked about in class.

In the Film Safe, Carol is a housewife living in an upscale neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. She lives with her wealthy husband and his son, and has a very weak personality. It seems she is hesitant even when asked a simple direct question, and lives a very simple lifestyle. You would think that she would be one of the safest people on the planet, she does not drink, smoke, take risks, or doing anything adventurous. Slowly she starts to develop a feeling of chronic sickness, yet she nor the doctors can pinpoint the cause of her bad feelings. Her husband, and the doctors, seem to have doubts that anything is actually wrong with her and the doctor recommends a psychiatrist. She sees a flier and attends some meetings about being chemically sensitive, and starts to think that is the cause of her sickness. After suffering a bad seizure while being exposed to chemicals being sprayed in a dry cleaners, she sees a commercial on tv for a wellness center offering seclusion and healing from the chemicals of modern society. At the center, she moves into the most sterile housing available, a porcelain white igloo, and separates herself from her family and the outside world. Only there can she be safe.

Throughout the film, which is set in the mid 1980’s, many traits of society are portrayed that can be compared to difficulties in today’s effort to promote environmental wellness. The film contained characteristics of an older America, strictly a male dominated society. Carol’s husband and doctor talk to each other like Carol is a child, speaking about her not with her. She is already quite and timid, so she has difficulty standing up for herself and telling people what she thinks. Even though it is obvious she thinks chemicals are the culprit, she is hesitant to tell her husband or doctor, and when she does they are doubtful and don’t seem to take her seriously. Her husband attends a meeting with her about environmental illness, yet seems reluctant to be there. During this time period the environment and chemicals were just starting to be a cause for concern, and many hard headed people refused to believe they were bad. The doctor absolutely denied the fact chemicals could be a cause of her illness, and her husband maintained a suspicious attitude throughout the whole movie.

Today, when more people than ever are concerned about the environment, there is still a significant percentage of the population that is choosing to deny or ignore the fact we have harmed the earth. On a trip to upstate New York over summer, I was blown away by what I saw. My relatives over there simply piled up all their trash, including cans, bottles, plastics, and burned it. When I brought up recycling, I got a few grins about being the hippie from California. This apparently was common with all their friends, who also said they burned everything. I felt helpless in the fact they could not see my reason for concern, much like Carol when the doctor said it couldn’t be chemicals causing her illness.

Growing up in a beach town, a major part of my life was dedicated to being in the ocean. We all looked forward to big waves, and the best big waves would come after a big storm. However, after a storm came through and dropped considerable rainfall, the septic tanks in houses along the rivers would overflow, pollution from roadway runoff would enter the storm drain, and pesticides used in agriculture would runoff as well. Warnings would be issued on local news to stay out of the water, and signs would be posted on all the beaches. However, at certain times the risk of these unseen dangers would be forgotten because of epic surf, and after awhile, it became a normal part of life. The signs were considered a joke and whether they were up or not we surfed. At times, the water would be a murky brown but the waves were worth it, and any thoughts of risks not associated with normal surfing(hepatitis, diarrhea, AIDS? I dunno what was in that water!) would be put far back in your head and thought of as minimal as possible. It was a normal everyday risk we thought nothing of.

As a current environmental studies student, I find myself immersed in thinking about and paying attention to environmental issues around the world on a daily basis. One of the main reasons for this is that I am not currently employed, and my only responsibilities in life are to attend class and complete the homework I am assigned. However, the majority of people in America have much more on their plate. Right now we are in times of economic hardship, when business are failing, homes are foreclosing, and some people are struggling to put food on the table. A normal person in these situations will have a considerable amount of stress, and finding a way out of the red can consume your mind every waking moment. To catch up on world events, a majority of people will turn to the media for updates and news about what is going on around the world. However, some people are not aware that major cable networks are businesses and may not be correct 100% of the time, nor do they have the time to spend thinking logically about the plausibility of some of the statements coming out of the media. Lots of people will believe everything they hear on the news. Is this dependence  on media and government outlets healthy for an average individual?

In the novel White Noise, immediately following the train derailment, Heinrich turned to the radio to provide him with “official” updates of what was happening. At first, the symptoms of exposure were skin irritation and sweaty palms, then officials said it caused nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath. After awhile, they were told it causes heart palpitations and deja vu, then convulsions, comas, and miscarriages. Finally with the last update, it was learned that no one really knows how Nyodene D affects humans. Because the family is not made of experienced scientists with the knowledge to make their own judgments on the matter, much like the majority of the American public, they are forced to rely upon the voice on the radio. When reading the novel, you can sense a tone of panic that comes from each new update, as the supposed symptoms worsen. Maybe it would have been better to tell the public from the beginning that it was unknown how the chemical would affect humans, because I would rather be optimistic in my own imagination if I was already exposed, instead of hearing about convulsions and heart palpitations.

This type of misinformation is currently happening with the nuclear crisis in Japan. Depending on which news provider you are getting your information from, the news can range from warm and optimistic to dark and apocalyptic. In the weeks immediately following the accident, news accounts of radiation leaks and plumes were changing many times a day. Because I am not an expert on radiation, I have no choice but to rely on these so called “experts” and their opinions about the crisis. What they write has an instant affect of my panic level. After getting fed up with the matter and finding contradicting news reports released at the same time, I have made up my mind to not worry about it.

Here is a CBS article I would consider an example of spreading fear:

http://abcnews.go.com/International/japan-nuclear-crisis-officials-grapple-plutonium-leaks-fukushima/story?id=13244418

And a BBC article that lets you have a sigh of relief. Phewww I was worried

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12981243