Wednesday, December 3, 2008

six degrees

You may have noticed a new addition to my recommended reading list: Thomas M. Kostigen's latest book, You Are Here. Or you may not have noticed - which is why I am posting about it. It's a great book. The basic premise is in it's subtitle: Exposing the Vital Link Between What We Do and What That Does to Our Planet. So many people, myself included, are unaware of how our seemingly small individual actions are connected to the enormous environmental issues we hear and read about. Kostigen's book makes those connections for you, in an uncomplicated, conversational, educational and entertaining tone. Let me give you an example from Chapter Two, Our Future, Mumbai, India:

"The simple things you see and hear have meanings upon meanings. When I walk to the Gateway of India, a huge archway in front of the Taj Mahal Hotel on Mumbai Harbor, I see the tourists mill and snap photos. But beyond, way in the distance, are convoys of shipping tankers. They are low riding, meaning they are full. And they are making their way into port filled with goods... and waste, often hazardous waste... This is where the traces of American lives, thousands of miles away, can be found steaming to shore... About 80 percent of the electronic waste in the United States is exported, mostly to Third World countries like India. It comes by ship, on tankers filled with used computers, cell phones, televisions, batteries, all kinds of things that contain mercury, lead, and heavy metals that are dangerous to people's health and the planet... For every PC we buy, we discard one. While about two billion dollars worth of electronic equipment is recycled in the United States, it represents just 11 percent of the e-waste generated."

Pretty disturbing, huh? There's a lot more to this e-waste export too. Instead of a U.S. recycler spending the twenty or so dollars to recycle a discarded computer, Indian importers will buy it for fifteen dollars, extract usable parts, generate about ten dollars in revenue, and dump the hazardous remains in India's backyard. Net gain per computer for the U.S. recycler: $35. For the Indian importer: $10. Environmental impact: priceless.

Long story short: I highly recommend this book.

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