Sunday, July 11, 2010

Inequality, globalisation, trash and waste

My last post was about Vanessa Baird's 1997 article from the New Internationalist, which talked about the world's ecological classes, the "under-polluted" South, and countries either incinerating their trash, or just simply exporting their trash to other places. As much as technocrats would like to have us believe that inequality across the world is slowly being erased, you should think otherwise. It is absolutely true that the gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider, not only in places like India, but also in the US. This has serious implications for trash generation - who produces it, and who deals with it.

As you may have gathered from previous posts, trash is an environmental justice issue. Most of the trash and pollution of the world is produced by so called "rich" countries, regions and locales through industrial processes and private consumption, and this trash is exported to poorer countries, regions and locales. In most cases, I would think the "rich" will pay a nominal fee to the "poor" to keep the trash away from the "rich." An absolutely wonderful and shocking example of this is the 2006 dumping of toxic petrochemical waste in Cote d'Ivoire by a Swiss multinational company of the name Trafigura. I will copy-paste some sections from the Wikipedia entry on it here:

In 2002, Mexican state-owned oil company Pemex began to accumulate significant quantities of coker gasoline, containing large amounts of sulphur and silica, at its Cadereyta refinery. By 2006 Pemex had run out of storage capacity and agreed to sell the coker gasoline to Trafigura. In early 2006, Pemex trucked the coker gasoline to Brownsville, Texas where Trafigura loaded it aboard the Panamian registered Probo Koala tanker, which was owned by Greek shipping company Prime Marine Management Inc and chartered by Trafigura.

Trafigura desired to strip the sulphurous products out of the coker gasoline to produce naphtha which could then be sold. Instead of paying a refinery to do this work, Trafigura used an experimental process onboard the ship called "caustic washing" in which the coker was treated with caustic soda. The process worked, and the resulting naphtha was resold for a reported profit of $19 million. The waste resulting from the caustic washing would typically include highly dangerous substances such as sodium hydroxide, sodium sulphide and phenols.

On August 19, 2006, after balking at a €1000 per cubic metre disposal charge in Amsterdam, and being turned away by several countries, the Probo Koala offloaded more than 500 tons of toxic waste at the Port of Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire. This material was then spread, allegedly by subcontractors, across the city and surrounding areas, dumped in waste grounds, public dumps, and along roads in populated areas. The substance gave off toxic gas and resulted in burns to lungs and skin, as well as severe headaches and vomiting. Seventeen people were confirmed to have died, and at least 30,000 were injured. The company has claimed that the waste was dirty water ("slops") used for cleaning the ship's gasoline tanks, but a Dutch government report, as well as an Ivorian investigation dispute this, claiming this was toxic waste delivered from Europe to West Africa, after the ship had previously tried to offload at the port of Amsterdam, but was rejected there. During an ongoing civil lawsuit by over 30,000 Ivorian citizens against Trafigura, Trafigura, following an investigative report by the BBC's Newsnight programme, announced on 16 May 2009 that they will sue the BBC for libel. a Dutch government report concluded that in fact the liquid dumped contained two 'British tonnes' of hydrogen sulphide.

Indeed, the "rich" nations are sweeping dust under the rug. It is wrong to believe the "rich" are clean, and that the "rich" live impeccably by consuming. Since many "poorer" nations are in the "rich" nations' "debt," (however you'd like to define debt - "rich" nations giving loans to "poorer" nations via the IMF, World Bank, or "charitable donations" or "humanitarian aid") it would be easy for "rich" nations to take advantage of the situation by offloading the harmful byproducts of their way of life to the "poorer" nations, and pay them a fee to basically keep them quiet.

1 comment:

  1. Although it is true that the gap between the rich and the poor is getting larger, something that I believe could be a serious problem, there is some merit to the idea that poverty in the world is being reduced. Every measure of standard of living that I know of indicates that the standard of living for people in every country at all income levels has increased over the last several decades. Even the UN's human index shows progress (