I wrote this for an Environmental Studies class when I was just a wee version of myself:
As far as liking Chris Carroll’s High-Tech Trash, well, I wouldn’t say that I particularly enjoy reading about individuals in poverty-stricken areas of developing countries burning our trash to salvage practically worthless scrap metal for a return equivalent to the average American’s pocket change. I am grateful to the author for a vivid reminder that outputs of thoughtless consumerism are no less detrimental to the biosphere than intentional disregard for its consequences, and that claiming ignorance does not excuse one from the health and environmental repercussions of unmitigated waste production and disposal.
“The key to making money is speed, not safety.” I think this statement sums up almost entirely what keeps us in bondage to blind repetition of past transgressions against the earth, and ourselves. When profit and success of a free-market economy solely underlie legislation enacted to determine the outcome of peoples and the environment, separate from which we cannot thrive, corporate bottom line is hastily crowned monarch and what remains eventually becomes royal subjects of its majesty, the mighty Dollar. Developed countries requiring that manufacturers adhere to standards for allowable levels of harmful substances used in production of electronics is a progressive step in the right direction but fails to address mass exportation of consumer waste to developing countries. As important as individual responsibility at the consumer level is to cultivating cautious consumption, more so should the burden fall on those manufacturers with the financial means to influence large-scale change. “But under current policies, pound for pound it is still more profitable to ship waste abroad than to process it safely at home.” Yes, of course it is. I don’t necessarily agree with entrusting disposal of wastes entirely to the manufacturing sources, as private industry is notorious for engineering methods that maximize profit to the detriment of all else, but government regulation is equally useless without voter accountability.
I find it especially humorous when American politicians swear by an invisible regulating hand of the free-market—which to my knowledge has not been possible to test until recently*, as all major sectors have now been drastically deregulated. The result has almost immediately shown to reward corporate giants at the expense of the working class, literally. The funniest part, which really isn’t that funny at all, is that in doing so we’ve nullified generations worth of labor standards fought for by our predecessors, some of whom sacrificed their own lives to provide for us the necessary protections we’ve foolishly traded away on the half-hearted promises of self-interested billionaires. Impressively, Americans exhibit even less conviction over rescinded labor rights than when disposing of our out-dated electronics. The United States has until recently been mostly shielded from experiencing the widespread sub-par living conditions characteristic of developing countries by enough regulatory padding to afford its diminishing middle class with the first-world luxury of apathy.
If the income distribution in the U.S. continues to polarize, we may find ourselves separated from the harsher realities of this world by significantly fewer short-sighted decisions than we are currently aware. The world’s toxic trash will be in our own backyards soon, and there it will have found its rightful place.
*This is more intended as an implication for our lifetime. We can look to the American Industrial Revolution to examine the realities of an unregulated market. Though, I think it goes without saying that current politicians very rarely reference history in proper context because in doing so it becomes impossible to ignore the blatantly contrary results to their unrealistic ambitions.