Thursday, July 24, 2008


US cancer boss in mobiles warning

The director of a leading US cancer research institute has sent a memo to thousands of staff warning of possible higher risks from mobile phone use.

Ronald Herberman, of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, said users should not wait for definitive studies on the risk and should take action now.

He said children should use mobiles in emergencies only and adults should try to keep the phone away from the head.

No major academic study has confirmed a link to higher brain-tumour risks.

Electromagnetic fields

Dr Herberman said his warning was based on early findings from unpublished data.

"We shouldn't wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry later," he says.

[There is a] growing body of literature linking long-term cell phone use to possible adverse health effects including cancer
Ronald Herberman

"I am convinced that there are sufficient data to warrant issuing an advisory to share some precautionary advice on cell phone use," the memo says.

Dr Herberman's warning to 3,000 staff says children should be protected as their brains are still developing.

He lists tips including switching sides regularly while talking on mobiles.

A major six-year research study in the UK said last year that there were no short-term adverse effects to brain and cell function from mobile phone use.

However, the UK Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme said there was a "hint" of a higher cancer risk in the long term and that its research would look into the effects over a 10-year period.

Programme chairman Professor Lawrie Challis said: "We can't rule out the possibility at this stage that cancer could appear in a few years' time."

An earlier UK report said in 2005 that mobile phone use by children should be limited as a precaution - and that under-eights should not use them at all.

Mobile phones emit radio signals and electromagnetic fields that can penetrate the human brain, and some campaigners fear that this could seriously damage human health.

A US analysis by the University of Utah this year of thousands of brain tumour patients found no increased risk as a result of mobile use, but added that the effects from long-term use "awaits confirmation by future studies".

Research reported in 2006 by the British arm of an international project called Interphone concluded that mobile phone use did not lead to a greater risk of brain tumour.

Recent Danish and French studies also found no increased risk of cancer.

But a study of 500 Israelis found this year that heavy mobile phone use might be linked to an increased risk of cancer of the salivary gland.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/07/24 10:33:42 GMT


Tuesday, July 22, 2008


humanitarian news and analysis
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
GHANA: Dumping ground for used gadgets

Photo: IRIN
Takoradi market in Accra. Everything is on sale, including imported scrap electronics
ACCRA, 22 July 2008 (IRIN) - At one of the many busy roadside shops in the capital, Accra, John Nuagbe displays the used, rusty and mostly broken electrical gadgets he recently imported from the USA.

Old TV sets, refrigerators, computers, fans, cookers - even blenders and electric irons. If it is used and electrical, it is likely he has one.

“Business is good, I just arrange with my business partners in the USA and the goods are shipped to me. They sell like hot cakes,” he explained.

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in 2005 between 1.5 and 1.9 million tonnes of computers, TVs, VCRs, monitors, cell phones, and other electrical equipment were discarded in the USA.

In Ghana, with an annual per capita income of a little over US$600, these goods, which most people would never be able to afford new, are in demand.

“Our own people literally scavenge for these discarded items in Europe and America, package them and then ship them home,” said Adu Darkwa, the chief executive of the Ghana Standards Board. “They are dumped at the country’s ports and find their way… into many peoples’ homes.”

Energy drain

The trade is lucrative for the middle-men who source, ship and resell the goods, but Ghana’s government is concerned the ultimate cost of the trade is being passed on to the state.

Officials at the Ghana Energy Commission (GEC) say most if not all the products are energy inefficient, causing an unnecessary drain on the country’s scarce energy resources.

“The rate at which used gadgets are being imported, and their impact, is reaching crisis point,” GEC spokesperson Victor Owusu told IRIN.

The GEC estimates that a total ban on used refrigerator imports alone could yield an average energy saving of 550 kWh per refrigerator per year, and a monetary saving of over $35 per refrigerator per year.

Even more menacing is what happens to the gadgets once they get beyond repair.

Environmental hazards

In the heart of Accra - in an area called `Abgogbloshie’ - lies one of the most toxic and polluted sites in Ghana. This is where all the discarded electrical gadgets are dumped.

A group of boys aged 15-25 scavenges through the heaps of electronic waste gathering anything they deem useful, especially wiring, which contains copper. Thick black smoke billows from different parts of the site as the boys burn the electric wiring and cables in an attempt to retrieve the copper, which they can sell. In the process they inhale toxic smoke containing lead and cadmium, a carcinogen that damages lungs and kidneys.

“It’s like signing your death warrant,” said environmental campaigner George Ahadzie of the environmental group Green Earth.

Ahadzie is also worried about the emissions of chlorofluorocarbons from many of the old fridges - one of the greatest contributors to ozone depletion, which accelerates global warming and climate change.

The USA and the European Union are signatories to the 1989 Basel Convention, a 170-nation accord which was amended in 1995 into the Basel Ban, which prohibits hazardous waste shipments to poor countries. However, tonnes of old electric and electronic goods end up in developing countries, including Ghana, Ahadzie reckons.

Greater regulation

Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it was now developing guidelines to regulate the import of used electrical goods.

The head of public affairs at the EPA, William Abaidoo, told IRIN the guidelines would serve as a standard for what “we want to have and receive as a country in terms of electronic waste”.

He said there was a proposal to form a Hazardous Waste Committee to look specifically at used electronic gadgets. The GEC will also pass legislation by the end of the year to ban the import of used refrigerators.


ASL Recycling Hits 100 GREENspot E-Waste Locations

With 100 free GREENspot e-waste drop-off locations now available, most Bay Area residents
need drive no more than 5 miles to safely dispose of their old TVs and other electronics

SAN JOSE, Calif.--July 22, 2008--Just six months after launching, ASL Recycling’s GREENetwork has grown to include 100 GREENspot e-waste drop-off locations in California. ASL Recycling is one of the largest state-approved recyclers and continues to expand the reach of its GREENetwork to make it easy for Californians to off-load their e-waste. As consumer awareness of these free and convenient neighborhood locations grows, hundreds of residents and businesses are visiting a neighborhood GREENspot location each month, resulting in seven million pounds of e-waste being diverted from local landfills this year.

The growing network of GREENspots means that most Bay Area residents now have one close by. For the nine Bay Area counties, 87 percent of households are located within 5 miles of a GREENspot, and 96 percent are located within 10 miles.

Percent households located 5 miles or less from a GREENspot (by county)
San Francisco: 100%
San Mateo: 98%
Santa Clara: 97%
Alameda: 95%
Contra Costa: 95%
Marin: 68%
Sonoma: 56%

Carey Levine, vice president of sales and marketing at ASL Recycling, wants to make it free and convenient for Californians to safely dispose of their e-waste. “What we hear is that consumers want to do the right thing and get rid of their e-waste responsibly, but they’re concerned about the security of their personal data or exactly how the e-waste is being recycled. When you select a GREENspot, you can be sure that you’re working with a reputable e-waste collector that is part of the ASL GREENetwork.”

Carey’s e-waste blog:

Additional GREENspots in the pipeline
In the last two months, 11 new GREENspot e-waste drop-off locations were established in Northern California, bringing the total to 100 statewide. Next month, GREENspots are coming to Southern California. New locations recently just added to the GREENetwork:

Casey Moving Systems, Atwater
Teen Challenge, Campbell
Cardinale Moving and Storage, Castroville
Casey Moving Systems, Ceres
Teen Challenge, Concord
Shred-It, Foster City
TOMRA Pacific, Fremont
Galt Recyclers, Galt
TOMRA Pacific, Napa
Cummings Moving Company, South San Francisco
Casey Moving Systems, Stockton

A complete list of ASL GREENspot drop-off locations is available here.

What to recycle, and why
Unlike other recyclable waste, there is no ‘blue bin’ equivalent for curbside collection of e-waste, and most people don’t know what to do with it. ASL Recycling is changing that by establishing a statewide network of dependable GREENspot e-waste drop-off locations, and by orchestrating locally focused public awareness campaigns. Californians can visit to find a local GREENspot. E-waste accepted at GREENspot drop-off locations includes TVs, cell phones, audio-video components, computer equipment, microwave ovens, electronic equipment from offices and labs, and more. These items are potentially toxic to the environment and by choosing to recycle them, Californians can help divert e-waste from landfills. All GREENspot drop-off locations feed their e-waste to ASL Recycling’s state-approved plants, which use an environmentally friendly e-waste recycling process.

E-waste and the law
E-waste, which includes TVs, monitors, computers, cell phones, and other old electronics, is the fastest-growing category of solid waste in the United States. California is leading the nation with its Electronic Waste Recycling Act, the state’s e-waste recycling legislation. The state’s Department of Toxic Substance Control has stated that video display devices are hazardous waste and are covered by the Electronic Waste Recycling Act. This means it is illegal to discard the following devices in household and business trash:
- cathode ray tube (CRT) devices (including televisions and computer monitors);
- LCD desktop monitors;
- laptop computers with LCD displays;
- LCD televisions;
- plasma televisions;
- portable DVD players with LCD displays;
- gaming Devices and consoles.

Many other electronic devices, though not covered by the Electronic Waste Recycling Act, could be considered hazardous waste and should not be discarded in the regular trash.

About ASL Recycling and the GREENetwork
ASL Recycling is dedicated to providing consumers and businesses with the easiest, most accessible, and most trusted e-waste recycling program in the country. Every month, ASL Recycling prevents hundreds of tons of e-waste from being dumped into local landfills by collecting old electronics and preparing it for recycling. All material received at ASL's state-of-the-art plant is dismantled: hard drives are crushed, materials are sorted and then sent to smelters that transform e-waste into salable goods. To become part of the GREENetwork, visit .

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Mumbai to have exclusive site for dumping e-waste
20 Jul, 2008, 1725 hrs IST, PTI
MUMBAI: Mumbai, which tops the list in generating the highest amount of electronic waste in the country, is all set to have an exclusive site for dumping e-waste.

Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) officials would be meeting this week to finalise a site exclusively to treat and dump e-waste, MPCB sources said.

Since e-waste management doesn't come directly under the purview of the municipal corporations, MPCB and MMRDA have come forward for this pilot project, the sources said.

A recent study has revealed that Mumbai is not just the leading generator of electronic waste in the country, but also that the rate at which the commercial capital is throwing away electronic goods is far higher than believed so far, the sources said.

The study shows that besides generation of 19,000 tonnes of electronic waste annually - inclusive of computers, televisions, refrigerators and washing machines- Mumbai receives a good amount of it through clandestine imports from the developed world.

The study also indicates that Delhi and adjoining areas are receiving a substantial part of Mumbai's electronic discards, both internal as well as imported, particularly computer printed circuit boards (PCBs) that are too dangerous to be handled in congested areas of Mumbai.

Besides officials of the two organisations, experts on waste management will also attend the meeting, which will dwell on finalising a site for treating e-waste for the entire Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR).

MMRDA has also mooted a site for construction and demolition wastes generated through projects implemented by the MMRDA, which is the biggest generator of construction and demolition waste due to its several infrastructure projects.

As there is no separate site for dumping such wastes, the sheer volume of waste generated overburdens the existing landfill sites, the sources said.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Review of 'Technology' for the week gone by
20 Jul, 2008, 0000 hrs IST, ET Bureau
India mature spot for offshore IT services

India has emerged as the most matured location for offshored IT and BPO services, though this dominance might be chipping away given the rising costs. Everest Research Institute in its report “Global Sourcing—Market Vista Q1 2008” said that the cost inflation in Indian cities is exceeding the 2007 levels and this has increased the risk of labour arbitrage closing very rapidly.

There has been a constant threat of newer locations such as China, Philippines and Eastern Europe, which are challenging the dominance of India. Everest said that players are continuing to expand and the competitive intensity for talent remains unabated. Further the consumer price at an all- time high since 2004 is potentially creating inflationary pressure on wages.

Though, there has been certain mitigating factors both from the government and industry which is leading to the growth of the sector. The government recently extended the STPI scheme by one more year and this could give some breathing space to the IT industry.

MAIT proposes separate legislation

IT products manufacturers on Thursday proposed inclusion of a legislation exclusively for e-waste management in the existing waste management policy of the Ministry of Environment and Forest. India generated 3.3 lakh tonnes of e-waste in 2007 and is going to touch 4.7 lakh tonnes by 2011, therefore there is a great need for an inclusive eco-friendly recycling process, said a study released by MAIT-GTZ.

"Looking at the current scenario of the growing e-wastes in the country, I think the government should look at framing separate guidelines for the management and recycle of these wastes," said Manufacturers' Association for Information Technology (MAIT) Executive Director Vinnie Mehta.

At present, there are separate policies for bio-medical wastes and municipal solid wastes under the umbrella of hazardous wastes (management and handling) rule, but there is no separate regulation for recycle and management of e-wastes, whereas the wastes from electronic goods are growing at a faster pace, said the study.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


MAIT proposes separate legislation for E-Waste management
17 Jul, 2008, 1915 hrs IST, PTI
NEW DELHI : IT products manufacturers on Thursday proposed inclusion of a legislation exclusively for e-waste management in the existing waste management policy of the Ministry of Environment and Forest.
India generated 3.3 lakh tonnes of e-waste in 2007 and is going to touch 4.7 lakh tonnes by 2011, therefore there is a great need for an inclusive eco-friendly recycling process, said a study released by MAIT-GTZ.
"Looking at the current scenario of the growing e-wastes in the country, I think the government should look at framing separate guidelines for the management and recycle of these wastes," said Manufacturers' Association for Information Technology (MAIT) Executive Director Vinnie Mehta.
At present, there are separate policies for bio-medical wastes and municipal solid wastes under the umbrella of hazardous wastes (management and handling) rule, but there is no separate regulation for recycle and management of e-wastes, whereas the wastes from electronic goods are growing at a faster pace, said the study.
MAIT proposed this at a workshop conducted by MAIT along with NGOs like Greenpeace, Toxics Link and Frankfurt-based GTZ, an international co-operation organisation that works for sustainable ecosystem.
The association along with other stakeholders in the discussion also advocated for inclusion of Extended producer responsibility (EPR) in the proposed guidelines, as it will make the IT component producers more accountable for the entire life cycle of the product.
"EPR should be made mandatory for all the producers of electrical and communication components and a producer's responsibility protocol should be there," said IT department special secretary M Madhavan Nambiar.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008



and for the industry take, see

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Publishing Opportunity

“As the capitalist mode of production extends, so also does the utilization of the refuse left
behind by production and consumption. Under the heading of production we have the waste
products of industry and agriculture, under that of consumption we have both the
excrement produced by man’s natural metabolism and the form in which useful articles
survive after use has been made of them.” Marx, Capital, vol. 3 (195)
As Marx’s provocative definition suggests, multiple forms of waste appear in capitalism’s
uneven development. In this issue of the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, we seek essays
that examine the functions and constructions of waste in a variety of socio-political milieus
and cultural locations. What is waste and how is it produced, dealt with and understood?
What are the survivals of production and consumption? In a modern context, what becomes
of the category of waste in post-Fordist production and under the hegemonic regime of
immaterial labor? How does the growth of the world market affect the geography of waste?
We are looking for an array of interpretations of waste, of capitalism’s refuse, from the fields
of history, anthropology and ethnography, literary studies, film and the visual arts,
communications and media studies, and, of course, cultural studies.
This call is not limited to interests of any century or geographic location.
Areas of interest include:
- Post-Marxism
- Subaltern and post-colonial studies
- The recycling and/or repurposing of culture
- Literature
- Film
- Philosophy
- Visual art
- Ecology
- Waste Management / Recycling
Please submit three (3) printed copies and one electronic copy by September 1, 2008 to the
Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, English Department, 308 English-Philosophy Building,
University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 52242. Please contact Joshua Gooch at Joshua- if you have any questions. We prefer essays no longer than 9,000 words,
MLA format. Please keep discursive endnotes to a minimum.
The Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies is a peer-reviewed publication edited by graduate
students that mixes traditional approaches and contemporary interventions in the
interdisciplinary humanities and interpretive social sciences. Visit the website at

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Report on West-African E-Waste

April 2008
e-waste: West Africa continues to drown in the rich world's
obsolete electronics
· Half a million PCs arrive in Lagos every month, only 1 in 4 work
· Millions of tons of e-waste dumped on developing world despite ban
· Monitoring of export process called in to question
An e-waste dump near Accra, Ghana DanWatch
This investigative report was undertaken by DanWatch, with help from the Danish Consumer
Despite new European regulations to prevent electronic waste from being dumped in Africa
and Asia, a hidden flow of end-of-life electronics is threatening to drown West Africa.
Consumers International (CI) is calling for tighter government monitoring and greater
corporate responsibility to prevent the effective dumping of toxic electronics on the developing
April 2008
The call comes after investigations indicate around half a million second-hand computers are
dumped on Nigeria every month.
Although the exporting of used-electronics is legal, local experts say 75 per cent of PCs that
arrive are obsolete and quickly end up on toxic dumps around Lagos.
This is just the tip of the 6.6 millions tons of unaccounted-for e-waste that leaves EU countries
each year.
Watch 'Hidden Flow', the short documentary feature about the investigation, and other CI
videos at
6.6 million tons of e-waste is missing
Every month, hundreds of tons of obsolete computers, televisions and other household
consumer electronics are arriving at ports in Ghana and Nigeria. From here, the second-hand
electronics are distributed via local networks of dealers throughout the country.
According to local Ghanaian and Nigerian sources interviewed by CI's partner organisation,
DanWatch, as few as one in four of the imports are working, while the remaining electronic
waste, also known as e-waste, often ends up on dumpsite fires.
Mountains of PCs, second-hand electronics for sale Danwatch
"Ghana is increasingly becoming a dumping ground for waste from Europe and the US. We
are talking about several tons of obsolete discarded computers, monitors etc. We don't have
the mechanism or the system in place in this country to recycle these wastes. Some of these
items come in under the guise of donations, but when you examine the items they don't
work," said Mike Anane, Director of the League of Environmental Journalists in Ghana.
The arrival of flat-screen televisions and TFT-monitors on consumer markets in the USA and
in Europe has set off a flood of old CRT-television sets spilling into Africa.
In Accra and in Lagos, the capitals of Ghana and Nigeria, the change in European consumer
habits is clearly visible as old-fashioned CRT-television sets are lined up along the streets by
their thousands.
April 2008
Each year, European consumers are producing 8.7 million tons of e-waste. Despite the Basel
Ban Amendment under the Basel Convention, which forbids the export of e-waste from
developed to developing countries, only 25 per cent of this e-waste is recycled. Approximately
6,6 million tons is unaccounted for - and a significant part of this is dumped in countries
outside the rich world.
Local experts, politicians and campaigners fear the enormous influx of obsolete electronics is
posing a serious long term threat to the environment and to human health.
In West Africa, refuse is often disposed of in fires. It is not unusual that waste collectors will
destroy the cathode ray tubes, and burn the wires and circuit boards inside, to get to the
copper wires and other metals, which can be resold.
However, the costs to the environment and to human health are too high, says Professor
Oladele Osibanjo, Director at the Basel Convention Regional Co-ordinating Centre for Africa.
"We have about half a million computers, used computers, coming into the Lagos port every
month, and only 25 per cent of these are working. 75 per cent is junk. The volume is so large,
that the people who trade it, just burn it like ordinary refuse. Our studies have shown that the
levels of metals in this waste are far beyond the threshold limits set by Europe."
Unwitting contributors
As part of investigations in West Africa, DanWatch visited dumpsites, where computers from
institutions such as Westminster City Council and The World Bank were piled up together with
computers from numerous European, American and Asian companies in literally mountains of
e-waste dump sites in Nigeria and Ghana DanWatch
At one site on the outskirts of Accra, clouds of black smoke rose from several fires, as boys,
some as young as ten years old, ignored the toxic fumes to get to the precious metal scraps
beneath the melting e-waste:
"The lead, the mercury and all the other toxins bio-accumulate. That is to say, they stay in the
food chain. The people that break open these CRT-monitors tell me that they suffer from
nausea, headaches and chest- and respiratory problems. As a result of breaking these things
April 2008
and burning the wires they inhale a lot of fumes. Sometimes you even find children breaking
these cathode ray tubes apart just to get the wires and other metals to sell," said Mike Anane.
Exporters are able to ship e-waste by exploiting a loophole in European legislation which
allows 'end-of-life' electronic goods to be exported as working products. Even NGO's are
sometimes unwillingly involved in the trade, when large quantities of mobile phones and
computers are donated to help schools and institutions.
In one case, a UK-based organisation offered to donate 10,000 computers to a Nigerian
NGO. However, only 2,000 of the computers proved to be functioning: "This is why we believe
there is a need for tighter regulation in the EU and USA," said Professor Oladele Osibanjo of
the Basel Regional Centre.
"The adverse effects override the potential gain. We are being made a dumping ground for
electronic waste under the guise of bridging the divide and trying to make the poor have
access to ICT," he said.
Professor Osibanjo at the Basel Convention Regional Co-ordinating Centre for Africa calls for
urgent measures to stem the tide of obsolete electronics flowing into Africa: "I think that
countries within the EU and other developed countries have to put in place a mechanism
whereby only tested and certified computers that can actually offer some useful life are
allowed to come in here."
The hidden flow of e-waste from Europe to Africa mounts by the day. Unless EU countries
enforce regulations that are set aside in the Basel Convention, the environmental pollution
from toxic dump sites in Ghana and Nigeria will simply continue to grow.
What can be done?
Toxic electronic dumping on the developing world is outlawed in countries signed up to the
Basel Ban. As a first step Consumers International calls on non-signatories such as Australia,
Canada and the US to ratify the Basel convention and implement it in national legislation.
However, the 6.6million tons of e-waste from the EU that cannot be accounted for appears to
be ending up in places like Ghana and Nigeria. Much of this waste is coming in to these
countries under the guise of legitimate used-computer donations, which bypasses the Basel
It is clear that exporting countries need tougher monitoring to ensure donated electronic
goods are in meaningful working order. Obsolete electrical equipment should be disposed or
recycled in the country of origin using environmentally sustainable methods.
Electronic manufacturers and retailers also have a responsibility to stop using hazardous
material in the production of electronic equipment. In many cases, safer alternatives currently
exist and these should be actively sourced.
April 2008
Furthermore, consumers should not be expected to bear the cost of recycling old electrical
goods. Manufacturers should take full life cycle responsibility for their products and, once they
reach the end of their useful life, take their goods back for re-use, safe recycling or disposal.
Consumers should be able to trust manufactures and government legislation to ensure that,
when they do the right thing and hand in used electronic equipment, it is not dumped in the
developing world.
Research and fieldwork for this report was carried out by DanWatch. DanWatch is a corporate
watchdog working to document the exploitation of labour, environment and natural resources in
developing nations hosting western workplaces, investments, trade and production. The
organisation is co-founded and co-funded by the Danish Consumer Council.
DanWatch is currently looking for donors, who would be interested in supporting their
work on this issue. For more information, please contact editor Benjamin Holst on +45
31771100 or
Consumers International (CI) is the only independent global campaigning voice for consumers.
With over 220 member organisations in 115 countries, we are building a powerful international
consumer movement to help protect and empower consumers everywhere.
Consumers International is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, registered in England
(reg no. 4337856)
Ó Consumers International

Business Daily Africa Story

Tackling the electronic waste menace
Written by Achim Steiner
Achim Steiner
July 3, 2008: A new report by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, supported by Unep, and The Climate Group estimates that ICT could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent globally by 2020.

Firstly by contributing to energy efficiency in buildings up to the automobile industry, and also by what is known as dematerialisation (or substitution) of existing physical goods and processes.

But the rapid growth and also rapid redundancy of ICT equipment also represents a major challenge to the international community in terms of human health and the environment.

An estimated 20 to 50 million tonnes of electronics waste is generated annually which, according to one estimate, if loaded on railway trucks would produce a train that would stretch once around the world. The growth in electronics is unlikely to abate any time soon, especially as disposable incomes rise in the rapidly developing economies.

Thus, it represents a major challenge to the work of Unep. There are reasons for optimism, however. Many developed countries have established take-back; refurbishment and recycling schemes and in turn are generating profits and new kinds of green jobs.

Similar developments are also occurring in many developing countries. We must take forward the Nairobi declaration on the environmentally sound management of electronic and electrical wastes via the Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment.

Long distance dumping
The detailed work plan is expected to include developing guidelines and orchestrating activities in the areas of environmentally-sound refurbishment and repair of electronic equipment including criteria for testing, certification and labelling.

Indeed, the focus on e-waste at the Basel Convention in Nairobi in 2006 generated a great deal of interest. I am happy that the parties to the convention sent a clear and unequivocal message that the international community will no longer tolerate the kind of toxic waste dumping that occurred in Cote D’Ivoire and which also captured our attention in 2006. In 2006 the spotlight fell on shipments of e-waste in Lagos, Nigeria.

Shortly afterwards evidence emerged of similar shipments coming into East Africa through the port of Mombasa with some ending up in the Dandora dump site in Nairobi. Some of the shipments contain usable electronics but often they can be mixed with a great deal of dud and even obsolete equipment including items such as old Commodore games consuls.

This is effectively long distance dumping. It must be stopped.

Steiner is Unep’s executive director.

Monday, July 7, 2008

New Report on Media Workers and Environmental Health

Unions to take action on climate change

7 July 2008

Unite representatives working in electrical engineering, electronics and IT are calling for statutory rights for union representatives to gain access to environmental impact information on companies.

The sector is also calling for company executives to have their pay and bonuses linked to meeting environmental targets. The union has published a report entitled 'How Green Is My Workplace? The publication gives guidance on how union representatives can raise awareness of environmental issues to make workplaces greener.

In a survey of 10,000 Unite members in the electronics and IT sector, 83% believed that their workplace wasted energy and resources and 87% believed unions should be involved in designing and implementing measures that help to improve the impact of workplaces on the environment.

Workers can contribute to the preservation of the environment through raising awareness of environment issues and challenging their employers to take action. Through identifying the links between good environmental practice and getting a better deal for workers, unions can put climate change on the bargaining agenda.

Union representatives are already making an environmental difference in their workplaces but much more could be done with statutory rights. Unite members at Cummins have helped to establish an environmental committee, to reflect the eco-credentials of the employer. The company manufactures wind turbines and aims to recycle all waste produced in the manufacturing process. At Fujitsu, Unite members take part in the company's Green Team initiative and have introduced environmental training for employees.

Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: "Climate change is the greatest environmental challenge facing the world today. The Government is acting to tackle it, in particular through the Climate Change Bill.

"The commitment of industry to deal with climate change is growing in the UK. I believe that trade unions and their members have a vital role to play. I very much welcome the contribution that Unite, Britain's biggest union, is making to this important debate. Trade Unionists can really help change to happen in the workplace as part of the move to a lower carbon economy. I hope that this publication will be widely read and will raise awareness of climate change."

Unite national officer, Peter Skyte said: "More Co2 is emitted by processes in the workplace than at home, and half of the energy used in the UK comes from workplaces. It makes perfect sense that unions should challenge employers to take action on climate change and the environment. Our members in IT and electronics are calling for statutory rights for union representatives to put the preservation of the environment on the bargaining table.

"We believe workers can contribute to the preservation of the environment. Innovative and dynamic changes are already taking place in workplaces because union members are getting involved.

"The outlook is very clear. No employer will make money from a dead planet and no worker will gain from being part of a poisoned population."


1. There should be statutory rights for union representatives to gain access to environmental impact information on companies and an attendant statutory duty for employers to report on their carbon footprint, including that of their supply chain and transport costs.

2. In cases of offshoring, companies should be made to report on the environmental impact of relocation to ensure that companies are not avoiding robust environmental regulation or labour standards by relocating.

3. Employers should seek to reduce travel to work transport emissions through increasing cycle facilities, providing loans for public transport costs, encouraging car pooling schemes, and allowing workers to be home based for part or all of their working time where appropriate. Flexible working should be a right for all workers, not simply a right to request.

4. Time off and access to learning and education should be available to all workers in order to raise awareness and understanding of environmental issues.

5. There should be statutory rights, facilities and recognition for the work of trade union environmental representatives and activists in the workplace.

6. Trade union representatives should have consultation rights on purchasing and supply decisions which can affect the environmental impact of the workplace.

7. Company executives should have their pay and bonuses linked to meeting environmental performance targets.
8. Corporate social responsibility should include duties to report on practices throughout the supply chain and to source materials and services from suppliers who adhere to core labour and environmental standards.

9. Government and industry must promote cleaner and greener manufacturing and employment in environmental services and technology sectors through increased public funding for research.

10. There should be a positive procurement strategy for government departments embracing environmental responsibility and respecting core labour standards.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Excellent YouTube Videos

Can be found using the following titles (also see YouTube images at the bottom of this site)

cowboys herding cats
e-waste: dumping on the poor
eWaste Video
GOOD Magazine: E-Waste
PC World: The Dangers of E-Waste
Where does e-waste end up?
Burn it, Use it, Break it, Junk it, it's Toxic
Illegal e-waste exposed


New Scientist Tech
PC population reaches a billion as e-waste piles up

* 13:27 23 June 2008

The number of personal computers in use around the world has surpassed one billion, research firm Gartner reports.

Mature markets such as Western Europe and the US account for 58% of the first billion installed PCs, but will only account for about 30% of the next billion the report says.

Emerging markets such as India and Brazil are driving rapid growth that will see the number of PCs double to two billion by 2014, thanks to both continually falling prices and the perception that computers are indispensable for economic advancement, says Gartner.

But the rapid growth in the number of new PCs also translates into fast-growing numbers of obsolete computers. Gartner estimates more than 180 million will be replaced this year. Some will be sold on or recycled but large numbers will simply be buried.
'Toxic content'

"Some 35 million PCs will be dumped into landfill with little or no regard for their toxic content," said Gartner analyst Meike Escherich. "It will become an even more pressing issue, especially in emerging markets, as the number of retired PCs grows with the continuing expansion of the PC installed base," she said.

Seventy per cent of the world's discarded phones and computers are exported to China. Earlier this year it was shown that dust in areas near Chinese e-waste recycling centres had raised levels of lead, with some school grounds harbouring levels that would be illegal in Western countries.

Last year it was found that dioxins from Chinese electronics recycling centres were finding their way into breast milk.


Saturday, July 5, 2008


Preventing the Digital
Dump: Ending “Re-use Abuse”
Today, as electronics consumption skyrockets and obsolescence
renders equipment useless in a matter of a few short
years, we are increasingly faced with mountains of toxic
electronic waste. For a variety of motivations, both good and
bad, this e-waste is increasingly sold and exported from rich
developed countries to developing countries for the stated
purpose of re-use. Such re-use exports have been touted as a
means to bridge the “digital divide” and satisfy the great desire
and need in the developing world to become a part of the
information age through access to information technology.
However there is a very ugly side to this “re-use” trade as well
and it is time that we begin to be able to tell the difference.
Re-use: The Good
Re-use, directly or via repair or refurbishment is usually the
preferable option over recycling and disposal from an
environmental perspective. Re-use can extend product life and
means less environmentally damaging extraction, less energy
consumption, less waste. Re-use of second-hand equipment
can also often mean a lower price for products, thus increasing
accessibility for more people who might not otherwise be able to
afford the product. But, as shall be shown, these worthy goals
alone, without a good measure of “responsibility” backed up by
law, can perversely become, instead of a bridge over the digital
divide, a highway to a “digital dump.”
Re-use: The Bad
In late 2005, BAN conducted an extensive 10-day investigation
in Lagos, Nigeria to better understand the burgeoning reuse/
repair trade. That investigation revealed a major and
growing influx of e-scrap that was not being controlled by the
Basel Convention despite the fact that as much as 75% of the
material was strictly waste, as all or part of it could not be
repaired or re-used even in a country with excellent and
affordable electronic engineers. Consequently this toxic ewaste
was simply dumped and burned in waysides in Lagos,
leading to serious environmental and health impacts.
We fear that what we documented in the report and film The
Digital Dump represents just the first ripple of a tsunami of such
re-use exports, which are often cloaked by the seeming intent of
“helping the poor” and exploiting an arena of trade which has
not been well controlled by customs authorities. Already
journalists now are finding similar scenes in other African ports.
The glimpse at how this trade really occurs today has led us to
the following unfortunate conclusions:
• Without mandatory testing and controls, “re-use” can
be a pretext (intentionally or not) for exporting junk and
give legitimate re-use a bad name. Most e-waste is
hazardous by definition and the Basel Convention is meant
to control the export of hazardous waste. But with “re-use”
destinations creating illusions of good intent and legal
ambiguity, enforcement has not been as diligent as
necessary. Mandatory testing, certification and labeling are
a necessity to remedy this “disguise” effect.
• Export for repair can involve export for disposal:
Export for repair can involve immediate disposal of
hazardous parts when bad parts are replaced. Thus by
Basel definitions (Art. 1, Annexes I, III and IV), export for
repair can involve transboundary movement of hazardous
waste. Testing then is necessary prior to export.
• Re-use is a less preferable waste management option
for a technology that undergoes rapid obsolescence:
The “digital divide” cannot be defined by the difference
between those with computers (no matter how old) and
those without, but rather by those with state-of-art
computers and those without. A hand-me-down solution to
the problem of the “digital divide,” then, will never
completely eliminate the gap. And due to the very rapid
obsolescence of IT technology today, this gap occurs very
rapidly. Seen in this light, it is not always so charitable to
provide hand-me-down technology which will become
outdated in but a few years, particularly when that
technology carries with it a substantial environmental
burden. This is particularly true when weighed against
other policy options, such as demanding toxics use
reductions and investing in indigenous IT industries in
developing countries.
• Exporting toxic equipment for re-use to poorer
consumers equates to “passing the toxic buck” and
environmental injustice: If the solution of handing-down
toxic technology from rich to poor becomes the norm on
this finite planet known for its very inequitable economic
turn back the toxic tide
geography, a very convenient world is created for some. In
this world, in effect, the rich northern countries most
capable of managing a hazardous waste problem can
wash their hands of the global toxic burden for electronic
waste by passing it to countries least able to deal with the
problem. This would create a world where global pollution
burdens from certain industrial sectors would effectively be
transferred to the producers and last users – the lowwaged
poor. Indeed, even if, by some miracle, developing
countries had the very best waste management
technologies, such management is not without substantial
risk to human health and the environment and entails
sacrifice of land and air to accomplish waste management.
It is the very definition of environmental justice that
developing countries or poorer communities should not
receive a disproportionate global toxic burden.
Re-use: The Illegal
Much of the e-scrap that is exported today is not being
controlled as a Basel waste despite the fact that it falls well
within Basel definitions. Some claim that if the material is
destined for re-use, repair or refurbishment it is a product and
not a waste. Yet this is not likely to be true.
Direct Re-Use Does Not Fall under Basel if Tested. Certainly,
direct re-use (without any work or processing required) does not
involve Annex IV recycling or disposal operations. Thus, used
electronic equipment that is functioning and is intended for direct
re-use is not considered to be a waste, regardless of whether it
is hazardous or not. However, from a regulatory point of view,
this is not ascertainable without testing, certification and labeling
to assure and make transparent that a) the material functions
as-is and b) that it is destined for a re-use destination.
Repair and Refurbishment. While the word “repair” or
“refurbishment” does not appear in the Annex IV lists, this does
not mean that such equipment is non-waste. In fact, very often
materials sent for repair or refurbishment will, in part, move to
Annex IV operations, when the repair or refurbishment requires
that a hazardous part of the equipment be replaced and the old
part is disposed of/recycled while the rest of the equipment is reused.
Thus, it is clear that repair and refurbishment are very
likely to involve a recycling or disposal destinations.
The logic of considering a hazardous, non-functioning part that
must be replaced during repair as a Basel-controlled waste
becomes clear when looked at in another way. Exporting a nonfunctioning
circuit board by itself destined for recycling is clearly
a hazardous waste export. Yet this is very much the same as
exporting a hazardous, non-functioning circuit board as part of a
computer sent for so-called repair/refurbishment. In both cases
a waste circuit board is involved in a transboundary movement.
The MPPI Guidance Document’s Decision Tree
Annexes VIII and IX were meant to help determine which
wastes streams possess Annex I constituents and are likely to
possess an Annex III characteristic. Unfortunately, footnote 13
of Annex IX in defining electronics re-use (“to include repair,
refurbishment, upgrading, but not major reassembly”) caused
more confusion than solutions. This was the subject which the
Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative (MPPI)’s working group on
Collection and Transboundary Movement addressed.
One of the results of that work is a procedure to apply the Basel
Convention by use of the Decision Tree below. In sum the
Decision Tree indicates that whenever a hazardous part is
replaced during the repair or refurbishment operation then
the export of the used equipment to that operation must fall
under the Basel control procedures.
MPPI Decision Tree for Exports for Re-use Following Repair
Conclusion: Testing and Labeling Prior to Export
Must be Part of Diligent Enforcement
It is clear that it has become far too easy for waste brokers
to simply make a claim of re-use and all manner of useless
junk can then be exported while customs officials are
forced to simply take their word for it. That has got to stop!
Use of the MPPI Decision Tree Procedure is the only proper
way to implement the Basel Convention with respect to
export of used electronic equipment.
The Basel Action Network
C/O Earth Economics
122 S. Jackson St., Suite 320
Seattle, WA. 98104
Phone: 1.206.652.5555, Fax: 1.206.652.5750
E-mail:, Website:


Some useful pieces of writing:

Arias-Maldonaldo, Manuel. “An Imaginary Solution? The Green Defence of Deliberative Democracy.” Environmental Values 16, no. 2: 233-52.
Curry, Patrick. (2006). Ecological Ethics: An Introduction. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Dean, Hartley. (2001). “Green Citizenship.” Social Policy & Administration 35, no. 5: 490-505.
Dobson, Andrew. (2003). Citizenship and the Environment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dobson, Andrew and Derek Bell, eds. (2006). Environmental Citizenship. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Eckersley, Robyn. (2004). The Green State: Rethinking Democracy and Sovereignty. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Grossman, Elizabeth. (2006). High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health. Washington: Island Press.
Latta, P. Alex. (2007). “Locating Democratic Politics in Ecological Citizenship.” Environmental Politics 16, no. 3: 377-93.
MacGregor, Sherilyn. (2006). Beyond Mothering Earth: Ecological Citizenship and the Politics of Care. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
Miller, Toby. (2007). Cultural Citizenship: Cosmopolitanism, Consumerism, and Television in a Neoliberal Age. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Latest on Basel Convention

Bali talks tackle toxic e-waste

An international meeting on waste management has begun in Bali, Indonesia, to highlight the risks of hazardous waste.

Ministers from nearly 170 countries will be considering setting up a new body on electronic and computer waste.

The five-day meeting is expected to focus on the impacts of hazardous waste on human health and livelihoods.

It will also look at the disposal of massive amounts of electronic waste such as old mobile phones.

Reports on all types of hazardous waste - from ship-breaking to mercury poisoning - are also on the agenda of the more than 1,000 delegates attending the meeting.

Opening the conference, Indonesian Environment Minister Rahmat Witoelar said his country was particularly exposed to the illegal dumping of toxic waste.

"Due to its archipelagic nature, with the second longest coastal line in the world, Indonesia is vulnerable to illegal traffic of transboundary hazardous waste," he said.

The meeting is organised under the UN Basel Convention, an international treaty regulating the global trade in hazardous waste with the aim of minimising its generation and movement across borders.

China's waste

The talks come as Greenpeace has been campaigning against the flow of US computer waste to China.

The group says unprotected workers in China melt circuit boards to retrieve precious metals, risking their health.

China has ratified the Basel Convention, but Greenpeace says a large volume of shipping traffic into southern China - often via Hong Kong - makes smuggling into the country easy.

Hong Kong has laws against e-waste, but fails to include circuit boards in its definition, the BBC's Vaudine England says.

The US has not ratified the convention.

Participants at the meeting are expected to adopt a "Bali Declaration", highlighting the importance of health and waste management for global development strategies such as reducing poverty.

"As we are all too often reminded, hazardous wastes continue to pose serious risks for human health and the environment," said Basel Convention Executive Secretary Katharina Kummer Peiry.

"It is especially important that this meeting reaffirms the undeniable interdependence between environmentally sound waste management and the achievement of sustainable development, especially for those who need it the most."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/06/23 10:08:39 GMT


Images of Workers and Electronic Waste from Basel Action Network, Getty, and National Geographic

Reviews of Cultural Citizenship

Laurie Ouellette, Review. International Journal of Communication 1 (2007): 62-63

Darin Barney, Review. Canadian Journal of Sociology August 2007: 1-3

Chris Sterling, Review. Communication Booknotes Quarterly 38, no. 2 (2007): 138

Darren G. Lilleker, Review. European Journal of Communication 22, no. 3 (2007): 377-78

R. Cathcart, Review. Choice July 2007

Symposium in Contemporary Sociology 37, no. 3 (2008): 197-209

Cultural Citizenship

Warmly socialist.
—Anne Cooper-Chen (2002)
From the time the term “politics” was invented, every type of politics has
been defined by its relation to nature, whose every feature, property, and
function depends on the polemical will to limit, reform, establish, shortcircuit,
or enlighten public life.
—Bruno Latour (2004, 1)
Because my job as a private investigator lent itself more toward the
mundane and realistic, I didn’t have much use for theory.
—James Crumley (2005, 24)
This book takes its frames of reference from cultural studies, but without
neoliberal or reactionary rapprochements. We simply must address the destructive
implications of the fact that “consumption is now virtually out of control
in the richest countries”—that the wealthiest 20 percent of the world consumes
over five times more food, water, fuel, minerals, and transport than their parents
did, and that the annual expenditure on advertising in the United States
alone is heading towards US$275 billion, close to half the global total. In the
last two centuries, the world’s population has increased by a factor of five and
goods and services by a factor of fifty (Beck 1999, 6; Klaasen 2005; Sanders
2005b; Sattar 2001, 12).
Of course I am not arguing for an absolute choice between pleasure and
politics, leisure and labor, or consumption and citizenship. It is as absurd to
ignore markets as it is to reduce society to them (Martín-Barbero 2001b, 26).
In pondering communications scholar Liesbet van Zoonen’s productive provocation,
“Can citizenship be pleasurable?” (2005, 1), I endorse the stress on freedom
to choose, and the use of commodities to build culture. Yet, I abjure the
model of the consumer, audience member, or artist as the center of politics
and theory, in favor of a commitment to difference, understood through disability,
religion, class, gender, race, and sexuality.
Unlike many within cultural studies, I do not focus primarily on fictional
media. Instead, I concentrate on the factual deficit that neoliberal deregulation
and its associated moral panics have generated. Clearly, popular art is
22 | introduction
enormously important in the world constructed for citizens; both in the
themes it investigates and the formal and stylistic tropes it pioneers. But my
intention is to shed light on who owns the knowledge that animates society,
how they define and communicate that knowledge, and the complex imbrication
of politics, economics, and culture that colors our barrio. This is a work
of tendency, designed to assist leftist politics via the reassertion of a democratic,
internationalist state that ensures citizens know enough to comprehend
and change relations with others, by reducing the risks of everyday life and
their distortion as moral panics.
It is obvious that media coverage of terrorism and militarism poses key questions
for citizens, and that media deregulation has led to a consolidation and
rationalization of ownership and practice that militate against adequate public
knowledge about foreign policy—hence the centrality of terrorism and war
to Chapter Two. But why are food (Chapter Three) and weather (Chapter
Four) here? They concern the problems identified by the first demographers,
and listed by the economic critic Will Hutton as our “great global public
goods—peace, trade, aid, health, the environment, and security” (2003b: 3).
Cultural Citizenship uncovers how these goods are privatized, transforming
the citizen into a consumer governed via cultural niches, and the cost of such
developments to progressive politics. Utilizing Hutton’s categories:
• Under peace and security, I look into terrorism and war—how the
media and the state externalize and export risk.
• Under trade, aid, and health, I consider food—how the media and
the state regulate and corporatize risk.
• Under the environment, I turn to weather—how the media and
the state govern and commodify risk.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Face up to tech waste

America should work to ban the global export of electronic debris

Download story podcast

12:00 AM PST on Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that U.S. residents own approximately 3 billion electronic devices. The Consumer Electronics Association says we spent $145 billion on them last year. That's a 13 percent increase from 2005. The association celebrates what it calls a "consumer love affair with technology."

We are all supposed to applaud the uptake of this new technology. After all, doesn't it represent clean and green business -- a post-manufacturing utopia for workers, consumers and residents, where the byproducts are electronic code rather than smoke?

Toxic Trash

Story continues below
AP photo
The U.S. practice of shipping dangerous electronic waste to poor countries is just another example of the federal government's failure to take a serious or leading role in protecting the environment.

But electronic waste (e-waste) is the fastest growing part of municipal cleanups in developed countries. Pollution from today's electronic media includes such highly toxic contaminants as trichloroethylene (a probable carcinogen that can enter groundwater, pass into soil, then return to waterways) and heavy-metal sources such as lead, zinc, copper, cobalt, mercury and cadmium. About 70 percent of heavy metals in the world's landfills are e-waste.

More than 80 percent of electronic scrap is being exported to the poorest quarters of the world. A hundred thousand PCs entered the port of Lagos, Nigeria, each month in 2006 -- 75,000 of them unusable other than as scrap. California alone shipped about 20 million pounds of e-waste last year to Malaysia, Brazil, South Korea, China, Mexico, Vietnam and India.

Across the United States, perhaps 60 million PCs and their detritus are seeping through our own landfills or being burned in incinerators, while the transition to exclusively digital broadcasting in 2009 will see an e-waste hurricane of 270 million outdated analog TVs hitting landfills across the nation and the world.

E-waste salvage yards have generated serious concerns regarding worker health and safety as plastics and wires are burned and circuit boards are leached with acid or grilled. They are then dumped into streams after first being stripped of valuable items such as nickel or copper.

Young Chinese, Nigerian and Indian girls do a lot of electronic recycling, picking away without protection at discarded televisions and computers from developed countries. Their hope is to find precious metals, leaving the remains in landfills.

The city of Guiyu, China's principal dump, boasts more than 5,000 electronic recycling businesses. Eighty-two percent of the city's children younger than age 6 have lead poisoning.

Tragically, the United States has failed to ratify the key international accord on this matter, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, or its subsequent updates. The Basel agreements seek to prevent the export of e-waste.

We are all too used to the federal government failing to take a serious role on the environment, let alone a leading one. But we are also used to vibrant environmental critiques and innovations deriving from our civil society and local government.

Be Accountable

Let's honor the latter tradition and pressure the federal government to join other developed economies in working to outlaw the international export of e-waste, and to require corporations to act more responsibly at home and abroad by adopting the principle that they are responsible for the post-consumption fate of technology.

In the meantime, keep buying those 3 billion electronic gadgets. But when that sleek new flat-screen TV arrives in your living room, you might ask yourself, where did your old fat-screen TV end up?

Toby Miller is chairman of the department of media and cultural studies at UC Riverside.

Ecological Ethics and Media Technology

International Journal of Communication 2 (2008), Feature 331-353

Copyright © 2008 (Richard Maxwell,; Toby Miller,
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives (by-nc-nd). Available at

Ecological Ethics and Media Technology
Queens College-CUNY
University of California, Riverside
After seeing electricity, I lost interest in nature. Not up to date enough.
~ Vladimir Mayakovsky1
Brought along some gadgets for you to see
Here’s a crazy little thing we call TV
Do you have electricity?
We're humans from earth
We're humans from earth
You have nothing at all to fear
I think we're gonna like it here
~ T-Bone Burnett, “Humans from Earth.”
Ecological ethics barely figures into the way media and communication researchers think about
media technology. By ecological ethics, we mean the subset of ethics concerned with “how human beings
ought to behave in relation to non-human nature” (Curry, 2006, p. 47). The environmental impact of
electronic waste (e-waste) is just now starting to gain traction in media and communication studies
(Sterne, 2007; Parks, 2007; Ellis, 2007, pp. 217-219; Maxwell & Miller, in press; Miller, 2007b). Here the
ethical response focuses on the environmental (including human-bodily) harms associated with disposal,
dismantling, and recycling of media technologies. However piecemeal, this interest in e-waste is a salutary
advance toward an eco-ethics in media studies; it is one among many environmental issues that pertains
to the study of media technologies. The essay aims to alert media and communication scholars and
students to the ecological context of the technologies that the field has expertly studied during its halfcentury
But why should media studies develop an eco-ethics at all? The answer is hammering hard from
outside the academy. We inhabit an ecological crisis that demands rethinking of first principles, research
frameworks, methods, activism, and policy work. Among other interconnected problems, this crisis
consists of climate change (global warming) caused by: 1) overproduction of carbon dioxide (CO2); 2)
1 Quoted in Macauley, 1996, p. 114.
332 Richard Maxwell & Toby Miller International Journal of Communication 2 (2008)
pollution in the over-developed world; 3) industrial dumping in less-developed regions (disrupting the
biological development and immune, endocrine, and hormone systems of “virtually all organisms”); 4)
rapidly diminishing biodiversity, the Earth’s “sixth great extinction,” unique for being caused by one
species (guess who?); and, 5) the rapid decline of habitat (50% of the Earth’s forests are gone, as are
25% of sea habitats) (Curry, 2006, pp. 10-13). The public response to this crisis in the U.S. has seen a
doubling in membership of environmental groups between 1980 and 2000, with numbers rivaling
membership in political parties (Dalton, 2005). Meanwhile, calls for interdisciplinary efforts to confront the
eco-crisis have grown within the academy (Rose & Robin, 2004).
There is a spectrum of relevant ecological concerns that the field of media studies could confront
as ethical challenges in the near future. Note these examples: Media owners are numbers 1, 3, 16, 22,
and 39 among the top 100 polluters in the U.S. (Political Economy Research Institute, 2004). An
estimated 2% of all carbon dioxide emissions come from the global information and communication
industry, or about the same as the aviation industry (Gartner Estimates, 2007; cf. Corbett & Turco).
Approximately 1.5% of the U.S. electrical supply (about US$4.5 billion worth) is consumed by server
“farms” powering our network society (Wald, 2007). High-end magazine publishing in the U.S. needs
about 35 million trees annually to produce 18 million titles, 90% of which are trashed within a year of
publication (Independent Press Association et al., 2001, pp. 5-10). Communication towers and wires kill
up to 50 million birds annually in the U.S. alone (in the past, the FCC required annual reports on this
problem) (“Avian/Communication Tower Collisions,” 2004).
In addition, we should be confronting other imposed health effects such as the following
phenomena: wildlife gradually being poisoned by toxic emissions; a rising body burden of toxins caused by
discarded electronics (Grossman, 2006; Rydh, 2003); radiation exposure from TVs, computer monitors,
cell phones, laptops, telecommunication and electrical towers, power lines, etc. (Cox, 2007; Lean, 2008);
space junk from communication satellites (more than 330 million pieces orbiting earth) with messy
discharges of toxic chemicals and compounds, as well as nuclear waste (Broad, 2007); and now mediarelated
nanotechnology, whose toxic byproducts and waste are not well understood at the atomic scale
(Center for Responsible Nanotechnology ; Schoenfeld, 2007).
International Journal of Communication 1 (2008) Ecological Ethics and Media Technology 333
Generic electronics supply chain in an ecological context
Source: Modified from Linden et al., 2007: 3.2
Understanding the ecological context adds a new level of complexity to the study of media and
society. The sheer materiality of the technology begs the question about the neglect of its environmental
impact in the key writings of our discipline. In 30 years of growing awareness of a global ecological crisis,
where has the environment figured in the histories of media technology, in our industrial and institutional
research/political-economic work? We have analyses of symbolic environments in the metaphors of
McLuhanites and media ecologists and in notions of “new” media-environs (cyberspace, interface, etc.).
We have analyses of environmental policy as an information and cultural phenomenon (Felleman, 1997).
And we have some valuable engagement with media coverage of the environment (see an account in
Miller, 2007a, chaps. 3 - 4), and critical writing on environmental themes in popular culture (Carmichael,
2006; Cubitt, 2005; Hochman, 1998; Ingram, 2000). But none of these reach into the material
environmental impact of media technologies.
2 This table was modified to correct the impression that this value chain exists outside a real, material
ecosystem. The authors called the iPod the latest triumph of Apple’s “thriving ecosystem”—i.e., the New
International Division of Cultural Labor—by assemblage across Korea, Japan, China, Singapore, Taiwan,
and the U.S., in keeping with a US$8 billion corporation that has half its liquid assets held by overseas
subsidiaries from Ireland to Singapore (Linden et al., 2007, pp. 2, 6; Schaefer & Durham, 2007, p. 49;
for an approach to the New International Division of Cultural Labor cf. Miller et al., 2005).
334 Richard Maxwell & Toby Miller International Journal of Communication 2 (2008)
What would happen to game studies if, rather than rehearsing debates about ludological,
narratological, and effects approaches, it confronted the fact that millions of cartridges of Atari’s game
adaptation of E.T. The Extraterrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1981) were buried in a New Mexico landfill,
broken up by a heavy roller, and covered in concrete to consign them to history; or that cables in Sony’s
PlayStation 1 consoles were found to contain deadly levels of cadmium, a fiasco that cost Sony US$85
million to fix (Engardio, 2007)? What would it mean if film studies were required as an ordinary part of its
work to evaluate motion picture production ecologically?3 What would it make, for example, of The Beach
(Danny Boyle, 2000)? Thai environmental and pro-democracy activists publicized the arrogant
despoliation they experienced when Fox was making this movie in Maya Bay, part of Phi Phi Islands
National Park. Natural scenery was bulldozed in late 1998 because it did not fit the fantasy of a tropical
idyll. Sand dunes were relocated, flora rearranged, and a “new” strip of coconut palms planted. The
producers paid off the government with a donation to the Royal Forestry Department and a campaign with
the Tourism Authority of Thailand to twin the film as a promotion for the country. Meanwhile, the next
monsoon saw the damaged sand dunes of the region collapse. Natural defenses against erosion had been
destroyed by Hollywood bulldozers. All the while, director Boyle claimed the film was “raising
environmental consciousness” among a local population that was allegedly “behind” U.S. levels of
“awareness” (Miller et al., 2005). Is this question on our agenda when we examine the film industry? If
not, why not?
Rather than glibly respond that It’s the Hardware, Stupid! we recognize that media and
communication scholars have had no problem in the past dealing with a range of critical insights to other
ethical problems, including those related to social harms (violence), cultural harms (prejudicial
stereotypes), economic harms (ownership), or political harms (propaganda). Surely we can extend these
ethical commitments to environmental concerns and at least provide an additional chapter to such
otherwise useful recent titles as Media, Risk and Science (Allan, 2002) or Media Technology: Critical
Perspectives (van Loon, 2008)? The eco-crisis presents media studies with an eco-ethical choice: either
continue to document and assess the growing consumption of media technologies without understanding
their ecological context, or advocate policies and influence polities to reduce the consumption of media
technologies—not an easy choice for a field hooked on iPodpeople and PCers. We think it’s time to assume
intellectual responsibility for the ecological dimension of the media, and deal with difficult ethical
challenges posed by the eco-crisis.
A point of departure could be the equation used in environmental ethics. It explains the eco-crisis
as the product of four inter-related factors: Population, Lifestyle, Organization of Society, and Technology
(Impact=P x L x O x T). While none of the factors can be extricated from the complex interdependence
causing the crisis (Curry, 2006, pp.13-18), they point to distinct ethical challenges in media research and
analysis. Media and communication researchers might be mindful of population size as a factor
contributing to the eco-crisis, but the field’s strengths are probably best directed at questions of lifestyle,
social organization, and technology. Lifestyle in this ecological context refers to (over-)consumption of
3 Though focused on waste-management issues related to Los Angeles-based film production, Corbett and
Turco (2006) illustrate the complexity of such research and provide examples of greenish production
International Journal of Communication 1 (2008) Ecological Ethics and Media Technology 335
resources and material goods as well as the global infrastructure of consumption, characterized by
stratification that pits the overindulgent rich—the 5% producing the largest amount of greenhouse gasses
and consuming 40% of the Earth’s resources—against have-not regions, with gaps increasing annually.
Consider that it would take three planet Earths for the current global population to enjoy an “American
lifestyle” (Curry, 2006 p. 15). The factor of social organization refers to the way differently organized
societies (social democratic, capitalist, and socialist) respond to the eco-crisis, and here media policy and
political economic approaches to the media could contribute. Again, this area would have difficult choices
regarding our ethical and political commitments: can an ecological ethics wedge its way into research and
advocacy that now focuses on ownership policy, content diversity, and democratic media reform?
The technology factor of the eco-crisis poses the clearest ethical challenge (or set of challenges) to
media studies, a field of great depth in historical and critical work on media technology (for examples, see
among others, Barnouw, 1990; Douglas, 1989; Noble, 1977; Schiller, 2007; Starr, 2004; Sterling &
Kittross, 2002; Winston, 1998; Castells, 1996-1998). Edging this research into environmental problems
means it will have to address the ecological context of media technology: 1) the environmental burdens of
energy generation and consumption throughout a medium’s life cycle, from production to consumption
and disposal, including transportation throughout this cycle; 2) a medium’s chemical and heavy metal
composition; 3) prior inputs from the earth (extracted via mining, drilling, logging, etc.)—the source
function of the eco-system; and 4) subsequent outputs into the earth (deposits into air, land, and
water)—the sink function (Korten, 1996, p. 23; Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition). The effects of these inputs
and outputs outlive the medium’s existence, in some cases for generations, through deforestation, CO2
emissions, and bio-accumulative poisons like PCBs, dioxin, and so on. The ecological dimension of media
technology points to ethical questions that the field must not shy away from. The most challenging will be
how much communication and entertainment media is enough to attain a system that serves everyone on
the planet fairly without contributing to “ecological suicide.”
Media studies could draw on three schools of ecological ethics to develop an ethical orientation to
the study of media technology: at two extremes are anthropocentric (“light-green”) ethics and ecocentric
(“dark-green”) ethics, with an intermediate (“mid-green”) ethics combining elements of the others (Curry,
2006). These schools of eco-ethics can be distinguished by their answers to questions of value (what is
valued, what entities qualify for moral consideration, and what matters most), rights (duties and rules that
protect individual and collective entities that are valued), and consequences (utilitarian considerations of
actions and motives that affect the well-being or happiness of those with moral standing). The lines
separating these are often blurry (like all ethics, there are no iron-clad rules of operation), but each in its
own way has virtues (and limitations) that can inform an eco-ethics in media studies.
For anthropocentric eco-ethics, non-human nature has no moral standing (hence no rights)
except in relation to how humans are affected by changes in nature. Humans rule the Earth by virtue of
their intrinsic value, but they need not rule out an ecological ethics that helps them flourish, for example,
by finding instrumental value in nature as a means to human happiness (in its utilitarian/consequentialist
versions). A communication philosopher might argue that all eco-ethics are unavoidably anthropocentric
because questions of value, meaning, and interpretation are always centered on human experience,
perception, and language. Good point, but the eco-ethical response asks whether “the privileging of
336 Richard Maxwell & Toby Miller International Journal of Communication 2 (2008)
human beings . . . at the expense of all other forms of life” is justified (Curry, 2006, p. 45). There are
other aspects of anthropocentrism, foremost among these that it has provided the most politically
expedient form of ethical discourse shaping environmental policy (at least in capitalist societies), namely,
self-interest. But even this is a complex matter, for the narrow confines of self-interest can allow for a
virtuous ethics oriented to non-human nature, i.e., living an ecologically sound life that accumulates
ethical substance to one’s character.
In contrast to human-centered ethics, ecocentric ethics holds that nature (subsuming humanity
in some versions) is the “ultimate source” of all value and attempts to specify right/wrong and good/bad
human action in relation to this particular interpretation of value. Ecocentrists are convinced that “some or
all natural beings, in the broadest sense, have independent moral status” (Curry, 2006, p. 64). Human
domination of nature is fundamentally wrong/bad, and there is a right/good way to live an ecologically
healthy life by putting the Earth’s well-being first. For some, this is a matter of an ethical regard for the
integrity and ineffability of nature (think of Aldo Leopold’s “land ethical” wonder at the sleepy skunk
stirring during a mid-winter thaw [1949] or William Connolly’s “affinity of affect” for an unruly Australian
cockroach [2005, p. 90]). For others, as in Gaia theory, ecocentric ethics reside in the notion of Earth as
the one-big-organism. It also informs eco-political critiques of class, race, and gender oppression that Left
biocentrists and ecofeminists have argued is inextricably tied to capitalist/masculinist subjugation of
nature under the sign of growth (Callicott, 1994, pp. 36-41; Curry, 2006, pp.63-100).
An intermediate form of ecological ethics accords some intrinsic value to non-human nature but
not as completely as ecocentrism does. Mid-green ethics is not fully anthropocentric, though it rests on
the principle that humans’ “moral considerability” can be extended to other (sentient) beings, primarily
non-human animals. Proponents of mid-green ethics can be found among advocates of animal liberation
(Peter Singer) and animal rights (Tom Regan) as well as in biocentrism or life-centered ethics (Paul
Taylor). However, when there is a conflict between humans and other life forms, this intermediate ethics
tends to privilege human interests (Curry, 2006, pp. 55-62).
How would these apply to media studies? Anthropocentric ethics is fundamentally individualist
but relies rhetorically on collectivist political discourse. Most environmental policy debates make sense via
anthropocentric eco-ethics by pointing out the cost of environmental degradation to collective human life.
This characterizes the consequentialist assumptions of research on e-waste, global warming, alternative
energy, air and water pollution, greening of industry, and so on, where humanity is seen as the ultimate
loser of bad ecological action (Curry, 2006, chap. 6). In this eco-ethics, media technologies carry both
promise and peril for the environment. Media technologies are tolerable and good because they enhance
people’s ability to act and communicate as green consumers and concerned eco-citizens; they work
against our well-being when they pose hazards and deposit toxins into the eco-system or diminish our
enjoyment of nature (those ugly towers and cables) or otherwise foul the lives of creatures sharing the
Earth with us. While the ultimate source of value resides in our species, this ethical orientation has the
potential to sustain enough empathy for non-human nature to introduce important qualitative concerns
into research and discussions of media technology (within limits discussed below). This could entail
revisionist work on everything from media technology’s environmental impact on habitats and biodiversity
International Journal of Communication 1 (2008) Ecological Ethics and Media Technology 337
to how the environmental movement itself uses polluting media technologies as tools of activism (cf.
Castells, 1997, chap. 3).
Likewise, there is room for an intermediate eco-ethics in media studies to influence research on
the development and deployment of media technologies, for example, in order to attenuate harm to nonhuman
animals that share the Earth with numero uno. There are limitations to this “mid- green” ecoethics
that the field would have to confront, including the problem of moral extensionism (which has
difficulty perceiving the collective interdependence of non-human nature in its assumption that rights can
be extended to individual species other than humans under certain circumstances) or the way that the
replacement of human chauvinism with animal chauvinism (animal rights) can preempt debate (Curry,
2006, pp. 55-62).
But media studies would be profoundly disrupted were it to install an ecocentric ethics into its
thinking on media technology. Basically, an ecocentric media studies cannot embrace a technology that
degrades non-human nature in order to flourish within it. That’s a real deal breaker. But let’s think about
how media studies would have to change its take on media technology from an ecocentric ethical position,
if it could. There are possibilities and limits to this happening. The possibilities will depend on whether
media studies can make a fundamental shift in first principles to give the Earth’s well-being preeminence
in the study of media technology. For the ecocentrist, the eco-crisis makes this necessary. This shift
requires an absence of moral self-righteousness about the value of media technology, a conviction that
“everything on this Earth depends on it and its vital constituent parts,” and the resolve to accept that
when “human good, values and interests clearly conflict with the well-being of the Earth, the former must
give way.” This last “realization cannot ever be taken for granted—as much as possible and wherever and
whenever possible, it must be argued, publicized, fought for and lived” (Curry, 2006, p. 112; emphasis in
original). At this point in time, this particular ecocentric ethics can only advance by acting pragmatically in
a pluralist world in which it must live and work, with agonistic respect, alongside both light- and midgreen
eco-ethics; it must be ready to forge alliances, but not at the expense of ecocentric principles
(Curry, 2006,p. 113). With this reservation in hand, an ecocentric ethics in media studies would still
require a paradigm shift far more radical than either anthropocentric or intermediate eco-ethics demands.
In short, it would entail a disenchantment of technology and a reenchantment of non-human nature
(McLaughlin, 1993).
The enchantment of technology is entwined with the transcendence of non-human nature as key
indices of modernity (in both capitalist and socialist versions). The domination of nature by science and
industry blends chemical magic with rationality, reason with machinery, to transform the Earth into an
instrument without intrinsic value or meaning (McLaughlin, 1993). The genealogy of “millenarianism,
rationalism, and Christian redemption” profited from this disenchantment of non-human nature, gaining
dominion and stewardship over the Earth as its rewards (Callicott, 1994, pp. 14-21; Dinerstein, 2006, p.
569; Nye, 2006, p. 598; Curry, 2006, pp. 26-27; & McLaughlin, 1993, p. 99). Enchantment attached itself
to technological invention to the same degree that non-human nature was dislodged from pre-modern
ways of seeing which, along with nature, became ridiculous, inert, a spectacle to adorn nation-building
and an object of domination and exploitation (cf. Callicott, 1994). Frederick Engels was one of the first to
suggest otherwise when he perceived and documented in vivid detail the environmental ugliness of
338 Richard Maxwell & Toby Miller International Journal of Communication 2 (2008)
industrialism, albeit in anthropocentric terms as a shameful blight on English workers’ lives (Engels,
Since the 19th century, labor has been thought of as something to be controlled long-distance,
connected to transnational textual and military domination but also set against itself via an ever-grander
division of itself. Similarly, geographical enlargement of the division of labor driven by capitalist expansion
changed our relation to the global environment, as resources supplying industry were increasingly drawn
from outside local ecosystems. This global system thus brought about a dislocation of experience of
environmental conditions that transformed “ecosystem people” into “biosphere people” (McLaughlin, 1993,
p. 21)—marking the parallel alienation of intrinsic value from both labor and non-human nature. Ned Lud
and his followers recognized that capitalists who did not do productive work controlled machinery, which
controlled the lives of those who did work; what they couldn’t yet perceive was the growing
interdependence between their exploitation, the enchantment of technology, and the degradation and
disenchantment of non-human nature. (A propos, Lord Byron sought the death penalty for opponents of
machines in his maiden speech in the Lords, just months after summering with the Shelleys, even as the
first Luddite piece of science fiction [Frankenstein] was being created by Mary) (Pynchon, 1984).
Media and communication technology inherited their own enchanted life from these antecedents
(Mosco, 2004). The advent of the train, the telegraph, and the photograph was “a victory over time and
space” (quoted in Briggs & Burke, 2003, p. 104). By the 1890s, even as vast a country as the United
States could see space and time “enclosed . . . running on the same clock of awareness and existing
within a homogeneous national space.” National networks were designed to homogenize conduct, both
governmentally and commercially (Carey, 2003, p. 186). The rhetoric about electricity promised that it
would be possible to “talk in our voices hundreds of miles away” and record votes and the latest popular
melodies (quoted in Briggs & Burke, 2003, p. 147). Debates over the possibility of a new world order,
brought on by the spread of media to the people, foretold an end to the chauvinism of sovereign-states
(Marvin, 1988, pp. 192-193). This combination of domineering overreach and utopian imagination by state
and capital were as typical then as in our own time—just substitute “Internet” for “telegraph,” “radio,” or
With each binding and unbinding of time and space, the visibility and audibility of signs from
elsewhere stimulated discussion of the sublime qualities of media technology (both utopic and dystopic)
but further obscured the ecological context (here and elsewhere) of such marvels. As capital and capitol
alike continued to press communication technology into service for social and commercial dominion in the
20th century, a new boosterism placed media at the center of economic innovation by asserting that they
encompass corporate and governmental information technology (which is where even more money is
made and yet greater power exercised) (Garnham, 2005). By the 21st century, a former Chair of the U.S.
Federal Communications Commission, Reed Hundt, and one of his offsiders, claimed that the principal goal
of communications policy was to increase productivity through “decreases in the price of transmission and
increases in the amount of information that can be cheaply and rapidly moved from place to place” (Hundt
& Rosston, 2006, p. 2). The enchantment of media technology achieved a new luster with the promotion
of information networks alongside water and power as the bedrock of this new world economy (Bar with
Simard, 2006). At the same time, consumers embraced the new “information” technologies, encouraged
International Journal of Communication 1 (2008) Ecological Ethics and Media Technology 339
no doubt by pervasive marketing and advertising of digital gadgetry. By the early 21st century, the
Environmental Protection Agency estimated that U.S. residents owned approximately three billion
electronic devices (2007, p. 1) with well over half these purchases made by women (Twist, 2005). The
Consumer Electronics Association said that US$145 billion was expended in the sector in 2006 in the U.S.
alone, up 13% on the previous year, referring joyously to “the consumer love affair with technology
continuing at a healthy clip” (“CEA,” 2007).
Meanwhile, media and communication research on technology surged to comprise over one-fifth
of the field’s book titles available in the U.S. (Aslama et al., 2007, pp. 59, 82). But it seems that none of
them thoroughly investigate the ecological context of media technology, not to mention ethical concerns
with lifestyle and societal organization as factors of the eco-crisis (please prove us wrong). Still, it is not
necessary for media studies to make a wholesale conversion to ecocentric ethics, even if it could, in order
to develop an ethical regard for non-human nature. But it is vital to recognize that the enchantment of
technology that grips even the most critical work in the field cannot be sustained in the face of the
worsening eco-crisis. In our time, the political role for ecocentric ethics will have to be modest (contra
unhelpful dogmatic versions), hoping at best “to acquire sufficient influence in the world to check
anthropocentrism, instrumentalism and utilitarianism” (Curry, 2006, p. 67; emphasis in original). With this
in mind, a “light-green” eco-ethics might begin the disenchantment of technology in media studies, to
nudge research seeking a balance that lightens environmental burdens while allowing us to “enjoy, invent
and be free in the modern world” (Robins & Webster, 1999, p. 62). Let’s see how that goes.
In anthropocentric eco-ethics, we can find seriously divergent interpretations of the value of
humanity, because not all anthropocentric eco-ethics accords equal value to all populations. In the U.S.,
for example, environmental policy is based entirely on cost-benefit analysis (CBA), a risk-management
technique that lies at one extreme of anthropocentric eco-ethics. CBA is used to determine whether a
particular regulation justifies its cost (this can influence decisions about whether mandated recycling is an
efficient use of resources, or if losses to the logging economy outweigh benefits of protecting endangered
wildlife, etc.). CBA works by monetizing human and non-human life through various methods, such as
“hedonic pricing,” which would determine the market value of a forest, for example, by correlating housing
prices with proximity to undeveloped land. In this case, the benefit of not developing all the forestland
would justify mandated conservation of part of it. Critiques of this approach include the arbitrariness of
assigning monetary value to human life and other non-market goods, the failure to account for
intergenerational equity, and elevation of technocratic decision-making at the expense of public input and
participation (Clowney, 2006). CBA also practices a spatial politics that fails to address inter-territorial
equity. Its eco-ethics, such as they are, stick to the kind of concentric thinking that presumes the zones of
the biosphere in which it is applied have merely relative connections to zones beyond the boundaries of
the analysis. This concentric view of the earth allows for a number of other cultural assumptions about the
relative value of communities living across multiple lines of difference, territorial or otherwise (Connolly,
2005, pp. 41-42).
Media studies has had to deal with CBA in almost all matters associated with policy and
regulation, so this might be one area where the field’s potential “light-green” eco-ethics could get a
foothold. Consider the concentric logic at work in e-waste recycling, keeping in mind the way it relativizes
340 Richard Maxwell & Toby Miller International Journal of Communication 2 (2008)
cultural norms across different societies. Most electronics recycling is done in the Third World by pre-teen
Chinese, Nigerian, and Indian girls, picking away without protection of any kind at discarded First World
electronics in order to find precious metals, then dumping the remains in landfills. Dust laden with harmful
heavy metals from circuit boards and other components settles in workshops and blows onto roads and
other public places, while the recovered metals are gathered and sold to recyclers, who do not use landfills
or labor in the First World because of environmental and industrial legislation contra the destruction to
soil, water, and workers (Basel Action Network & Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, 2002; Lee, 2002; Leung
et al., 2008; Pelta-Heller, 2007; Shabi, 2002; Tong & Wang, 2004; Wong et al., 2007, pp. 435, 441).
Here, pollution in the Global North is culturally intolerable (if politically tolerated), while being treated as
culturally and politically acceptable in poorer regions of the world, a move that exports environmental
risks as per the notorious prescription of former World Bank econocrat and Treasury Secretary Lawrence
Summers (to wit: “Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of
the dirty industries to the LDCs (lesser developed countries?”).
Underlying the tensions between “bean counters” and “tree huggers” (Clowney, 2006, p. 109) is
a techno-scientific ideology that determines how environmental risk is distributed. The discourse of risk
management masks the fact that decisions are actually made to define the number habitats and creatures
that will die or be sickened by environmental harms. Science (or more narrowly, techno-science) plays a
role in this moral detachment by providing legitimacy via measurement of “safe amounts” of exposure to
toxins and pollutants (science’s role is paradoxical and deserving of a longer discussion, but it should be
noted that scientific research is also the primary source of important quantitative measures of the ecocrisis,
along with providing a language of critique and an array of expert-activists). The language of risk
management puts ethical considerations in an apolitical frame of technocracy, as compared to language
that denotes more precisely the politics of what institutions like the Environmental Protection Agency do:
they determine how a particular harm will be allocated (Michaelson, 1996, p. 1907). If we press this
ethico-political point into our studies of the global flows of harms, that is without the pretensions of risk
managerialism, we can provide a critical framework for understanding the politics of recycling, hazardous
waste disposal, and the like. Routine environmental despoliation, global labor competition, cyclical
recession, declining life-long employment, massive international migration, developments in
communication technology, and the rolling back of the welfare state . . . alongside income redistribution
toward the wealthy have left denizens of post-industrial societies factoring costs and benefits into
everyday life as never before—while their sense of being able to determine their future through choice is
diminished (Latour with Kastrissianakis, 2007; Rikagos & Hadden, 2001; O’Malley, 2001). This is why
some have called managerialism one of the ecological “curses of our time,” for its “belief that human
beings have not only the ‘right’ but the ability, even if only potentially, to successfully manage the world”
(Curry, 2006, p. 28).
Anthropocentric eco-ethics contains alternatives to environmental CBA and risk management,
including the precautionary principle, absolute prescriptions, sustainable development, and cost-benefit
shortcuts (Clowney, 2006, p. 125). The precautionary principle holds that “our knowledge of the effects of
our actions is always exceeded by our ignorance” (Curry, 2006, p. 48). This standard lays the burden of
proof on those who would introduce potentially harmful substances or practices into the environment in
circumstances where there is no scientific consensus about such actions’ consequences. This “better safe
International Journal of Communication 1 (2008) Ecological Ethics and Media Technology 341
than sorry” environmental principle is very strong in international agreements and offers the most serious
challenge to CBA “bean counters.” Absolute prescriptions are unconditional bans on known pollutants and
toxins; this was the standard that informed much of 1970s’ environmental law. Sustainable development
refers to efficient use and equitable distribution of natural resources for long-term socio-economic
development. CBA short-cuts include technological fixes that offer qualitative improvements without strict
adherence to quantitative factors of regulation (Clowney, 2006, pp. 125-130).
Of all these alternatives, sustainable development has been rendered the most controversial
through its casual overuse by actors across the political spectrum, from free marketers to left ecocentrists.
Ideally, the term denotes a standard that “rules out all practices except those that are indefinitely
sustainable” by the Earth’s ecosystem (Curry, 2006, p. 48). Sustainability is more commonly deployed as
meaning a balance struck between economic development and environmental protection, though this
tends to mean qualitative development rather than pure quantitative growth. As environmental
economists point out, there is no such thing as sustainable growth: it’s “a bad oxymoron—self
contradictory as prose and unevocative as poetry” (Daly, 1996, p. 193). The virtues of sustainable
development are that: it accounts for intra- and intergenerational equity; it allows for open participation, if
not by affected communities at least by their representatives; and it is recognized in international
agreements to assure a scale of inter-territorial equity, even when the parties disagree on its meaning. It
thus offers a more equitable alternative to CBA’s concentric comprehension of the world.
The disadvantages of sustainable development concentrate at the point at which the question of
quantitative economic development overtakes other concerns. In its weakest form, sustainable
development becomes “little more than ‘sustainable’ capitalism” (Pepper, 2000, p. 451; Deutsch, 2007, p.
C1). Economic self-interest pushes eco-ethical self-interest into a little corner of sustainability. Herein lies
a key vulnerability of anthropocentric eco-ethics. Self-interest that does not perceive the intimate relation
between human and non-human beings will tilt the balance towards satisfying human needs.
A new direction in anthropocentric eco-ethics could derive from “green citizenship.” According to
political theorist Hartley Dean (2001), environmentalism has affected citizenship in three ways:
• Claims to rights have expanded to include clean air and water (this was suggested at
least as early as 1739 when Benjamin Franklin argued that “public rights” over
Philadelphia’s air and water should supersede private rights of industry).
• National boundaries and interests have been brought into question by the bordercrossing
impact of despoliation (multi-lateral agreements were sought throughout the
20th century, but it was the 1967 United Nations conference on the environment that
inaugurated international environmental policy (Hopgood, 1998, p. 2).
• Corporate economic citizenship has been rearticulated beyond gleeful receipt of welfare.
More than an addition to the rights and responsibilities of territorially-based citizenship, this
amounts to a critique of them within the sustainability framework of anthropocentric ethics. While still
essentially human-centered, this ethico-political corrective is focused on saving infrastructure and heritage
342 Richard Maxwell & Toby Miller International Journal of Communication 2 (2008)
from unsustainable capitalist expansion, and thus dowses the global public sphere with green intentions
that must necessarily confront challenges posed by the eco-crisis. Rather than looking to the next
generation to carry on, forecasts must look centuries ahead in order to guide policy today, so elemental
are the risks created by industry (Dobson, 2003).
This is the kind of inter-generational thinking that must pervade our field if we are to confront our
logo-centric interdependence on the technology we engage, criticize and promote. We conclude with two
examples of eco-ethical challenges that face media studies. One case is relatively uncomplicated, the
other complex and difficult. We offer these illustrations as primitive attempts to think with eco-ethics
about media technologies.
By the end of the 20th century, “the pulp and paper industry was the second largest consumer of
energy” in the U.S. (Independent Press Association et al., 2001, p. 6). The Southern states comprised the
“largest paper-producing region in the world” (Wear & Greis, 2001). The pulp and paper industry became
“the single largest consumer of water used in industrial activities in the wealth democracies of the
[Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development] OECD and the third largest greenhouse gas
emitter, after the chemical and steel industries” (OECD, 2001, p. 218). Per capita paper consumption
declined somewhat between 2000 and 2005, especially in the European Union, causing some paperlesssociety
boosters to predict the ultimate passing of paper-based media — a vision that discounts the rapid
growth of paper consumption in China and other developing countries and ignores the problems of
increased energy consumption from the technologies replacing paper (scanners, charging cameras and
laptops, etc.) (Fairfield, 2008). Moreover, claims that vital or cherished content can be permanently stored
on hard drives and other media are proving to be fragile. According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences study, “The Digital Dilemma,” there are good grounds both to doubt the long-term viability
of storage media (they disintegrate or become obsolete faster than older media of paper and film) and to
raise significantly the cost estimates of transferring content from one generation of storage media to the
next, as well as the long-term energy commitments to support electronic storage model (Cieply, 2007).
International Journal of Communication 1 (2008) Ecological Ethics and Media Technology 343
Paper Production in Selected Nations 1998
Source: Hassan et al., 2005, p. 435
Paper consumption will continue to pose a core eco-ethical challenge to media studies. At least
one paper-based medium offers a clear case of needless over-consumption: high-end commercial
magazines. Since 2000, magazine publishing has been eating up forests at a rate higher than any other
print medium—the glossier the magazine, the more new, or virgin wood is needed. By that year, 18,000
magazine titles were published annually in the U.S., which added up to an estimated annual print run of
12 billion copies, the equivalent of more than 35 million trees. Two-thirds of all copies are not purchased,
leaving 90% to be trashed within a year of publication, of which just 19% are recycled. The rest, about
two million tons, ends up in landfills or incinerators. This wasteful business is perpetuated by wholesale
distributors, market research firms, and retail sellers who have no incentives for comprehending the
meaning of sustainable publishing (Independent Press Association et al., 2001, pp. 5-10).
344 Richard Maxwell & Toby Miller International Journal of Communication 2 (2008)
Annual Environmental Impact of the Production of 12 Billion Magazines
Annual Amount
Annual Equivalent
Wood Use
5,110,398 tons
Amount of copy paper used by 109
million people (39% of U.S. population)
Energy Use
72,220,086 million British Thermal Units
Enough to power 694,000 households
Gases (CO2
13,408,395,941 pounds
As much as the emissions produced by
1.2 million cars
Solid Waste
4,917,979,277 pounds
As much as the garbage produced by
1.2 million households
34,241,543,545 gallons
As much as the sewage produced by
352,000 households
23,572,856 pounds
Source: Alliance for Environmental Innovation/Environmental Defense, cited in Independent Press
Association et al., 2001, p. 6.
The economic context of magazine publishing shows that the business model—overproduction—
fails to address the limits of growth of publishing. With annual revenue increases of 1 to 2% in this sector
(Wheaton, 2007, p. 14), advertisers get squeamish at any fluctuations in magazine circulation and
threaten to abandon magazines altogether—though this is not unheard of as a ploy to hammer advertising
rates down, especially when the money is really still being made in print ad spending, not on-line (“Out of
Vogue,” 2007).
For ecocentric and intermediate eco-ethics, little time would be spent weighing the Earth’s wellbeing
against a human-centered value derived from the “pleasing characteristics of magazines—their
International Journal of Communication 1 (2008) Ecological Ethics and Media Technology 345
portability and glossiness” (“Out of Vogue,” 2007). This glossy medium in its current form would have to
yield to the Earth. And our contribution? Media studies could introduce research on lifestyle and social
organization to deepen the case against profligate deforestation, but the pressure must really come from
the eco-crisis itself, which necessitates an immediate end to the existing papermaking process and
disposal problem underpinning high-end commercial magazine publishing. Even “light-green” eco-ethics
could find common ground for action here, but once drawn into the risk managerialism of CBA,
environmentalists might find themselves compromising for an ecologically unsound outcome. Alternative
sources of pulp could replace virgin forests (recycling, hemp, etc.), but would not provide the quality of
paper currently used by the magazine industry. And as we’ve pointed out, electronic alternatives are not
problem-free. The point of this illustration is to introduce an eco-ethical challenge that media studies could
help resolve given its knowledge base and resources for research and analysis of this medium and its
markets. From our point of view, gloss may be desirable, but it must be dispensable; forests transcend
that calculus.
Cell Phones
The cell phone is a very compelling media technology. As Castells et al., (2007, pp. 246-258)
argue, it is used by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. It’s the technology of choice for developing
countries trying to overcome internal “connectivity gaps.” Mobiles outnumber landline phones, and they
provide tools for youth culture and social networks. Their uses are malleable, multimedia, and multimodal.
They broaden channels of communication within a realm of personal safety, coordinate fragmented
family life, improve individuals’ experience (“choice”) of peer groups, speed up rendezvous, and make
users feel important. Moreover, there are additional features: users produce content, create their own
language, and draw important meanings from the exterior design.
On the downside, however, there are many drawbacks: cell phones cause a new form of
inequality (lack of access to the new sociality), are biased toward young eyes and dexterous fingers, can
spread rumors quickly, are vulnerable to viruses, distract drivers and pedestrians, cause interpersonal
conflicts between callers, and so on. Dan Schiller (2007, pp. 162-173) offers a contrasting view of mobile
telephony, from a political-economic perspective. He challenges cell phone enthusiasts to query the way
social stresses are not merely fueling new consumer needs, but are exploited at the expense of consumers
who rush to buy inferior services at high cost. This is particularly the case in the U.S., where the decline in
government oversight of telecommunication industries since World War II has resulted in increasing
privatization, with diminishing emphasis on quality guarantees, standards, and regulation of competition.
Schiller argues that poor-quality service in the U.S. is a function of these companies’ abilities to exploit a
social need for connectedness in times of social fragmentation. He draws on Raymond Williams’ analysis of
TV in the 1970s to describe the experience of displacement and deracination in modern life that settled
into a mode of sociality in which individualization (separateness and privacy) combined with mobility
(transportation and widening access to the world). Williams suggested the term "mobile privatization" to
capture the paradoxical feelings of being at once more separated from others and more capable of
connecting with them. Whereas broadcast technology, in Williams’ view, was a social product of this
industrial form of sociality (1975, p. 26), much like Castells et al.’s suggestion that mobile technology fits
an analogous structure of feeling in the network society (timeless time, space of flows), Schiller argues
346 Richard Maxwell & Toby Miller International Journal of Communication 2 (2008)
that political-economic arrangements allowed mobile telephony to emerge in a form befitting divided
societies. In the U.S., telecommunications and postal services responded to this vulnerability under the
guidance of public policy shaped in the public interest. The Internet and mobile telephony, by contrast,
arrived in the U.S. under market criteria that privileged mobile privatization, and the fragmented forms of
sociality from which it originated. They were exploited for profit, and their technical basis was inferior to
Asian and European counterparts.
These two studies offer substantive analyses of lifestyle and organizational factors that have
fueled the growth of mobile phone technology. Eco-ethics shifts the scholastic perspective to the reality of
the eco-crisis and redirects analysis first to the ecological context of the cell phone: the production chain,
life-cycle energy requirements, raw materials (source functions), environmental outputs (sink functions),
or post-consumer existence (spent batteries, disposal, recycling, and so on). We can fill in certain
airbrushed absences from this picture.
The source materials used in cell phones vary among manufacturers—but all contain lead and
other heavy metals (circuit boards), frequently at levels that exceed U.S. toxicity standards (keep in mind
the allocation of risk behind the notion of “safe amounts”). All involve chemical processing associated with
chip production, including many toxic detergents and etchants; most contain mercury (screens) and flame
retardants made of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (bioaccumulative synthetic chemical compounds are
persistent organic pollutants known to cause neurological problems, though they are still not wellunderstood);
all contain tantalum, the mining of which has caused “disastrous” social and environmental
harm in Africa; and all contain batteries (Grossman, 2006, pp. 18-20, 44-45, and chap. 5). Compounds in
batteries are toxic (among the substances they house are nickel-cadmium, lead-acid, nickel metalhydride,
lithium-ion, and lithium-polymer components). Like generators, batteries are not primary-energy
sources, but instead require energy inputs prior to production and distribution and during recharging
(including the “no-load” burden of plugged, but empty chargers) (Rydh, 2003). And additionally, results of
recent research on long-term handset usage have confirmed links between brain tumors and radiation
from mobile phones, causing the European Environment Agency to call for design changes (Lean, 2008).
Cell phones do dread post-consumption work: about 130 million cell phones are trashed each year in the
U.S. alone (with an estimated half billion old phones sitting in drawers), and Americans now purchase
replacements every 12 months on average (Crosby, 2007; Mooallem, 2008, pp. 40-41). As one
environmental health scientist warned: “In a phone that you hold in the palm of your hand, you now have
more than 200 chemical compounds. To try to separate them out and study what health effects may be
associated with burning or sinking it in water—that’s a lifetime of work for a toxicologist” (quoted in
Mooallem, 2008, p. 42).
Clearly, manufacturers could help reduce environmental burdens by looking for non-toxic source
materials, while manufacturers and distributors could help with buyback or recycling programs to keep
spent phones and batteries out of landfills, as per 2006 legislation in California—not merely
consumer/user refunctioning outlined in Castells et al. (2007). Nevertheless, progress in this policy area
has been hampered by cost-benefit-analysis rigmarole (the current impasse in New York City government
provides a good case study on the limits of “light green” approaches to the eco-crises) (“One Small Step
International Journal of Communication 1 (2008) Ecological Ethics and Media Technology 347
for Electronic Waste,” 2008). Policy matters aside, what might media studies say about this very complex
ethical challenge?
Ecocentrists would have us remember that the eco-crisis demands immediate termination of all
unsound ecological practices associated with the cell phone, letting the Earth’s well-being take precedence
over the human good. Intermediate eco-ethics would press into this argument calls for action to stem the
body and environmental burden of cell phone manufacturing, use, and disposal—studies of persistent
organic pollutants in land, air and water would accompany epidemiological research to help guide
solutions. And anthropocentric ecoethicists would have a range of responses, from calls for immediate
application of the precautionary principle to applications of CBA that would settle for compromises and
slow reforms to ensure greater technological efficiency in the manufacture and disposal of the cell-phones
(with risks distributed along existing lines of stratification). The dilemma here is clear and the issues are
daunting, but it’s time for media and communication studies to intervene in this ecological challenge,
interrogating our own investments in the technological sublime then deploying our critical skills to
reassess the role of the media in shaping the environment. We believe that eco-ethics is a good point of
departure for this endeavor, especially when it is linked to domains of knowledge and activism that are
already important to our field, such as feminism, which can be articulated to environmental feminism, and
critical race theory, articulated to environmental justice (Pellow & Park, 2002).
We have introduced the possibility of an eco-ethics in the field. Our ideas are raw and
contestable. We recognize that media and communication studies do not suffer from complete
“technological somnambulism” (Winner, 1986); but the field contributes to the enchantment of media
technologies and the disenchantment of non-human nature. To that extent, we either do nothing about
the eco-crisis, or even enable it. We think this has to end.
348 Richard Maxwell & Toby Miller International Journal of Communication 2 (2008)
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