29th April 2015
Was it coincidence or splendidly judicious editing that set ‘Desperation at Europe’s gates’ (24 April) back-to-back with ‘E-waste reached record levels in 2014’?
The gross disparity between Western e-waste (25kg per capita annually) and African (1.7kg) is just one of the many heads of the Hydra driving the vast and tragic displacement of human beings. Western profligacy not only pillages, with concomitant pollution, the resources of less well-off countries, but out-sources manufacture to places where sub-standard if not slave wages are paid to non-unionised labour. How much of last year’s 41.8 million tonnes of e-waste is being lucratively traded by criminal gangs and dumped back on the selfsame poor? Westerners instal private pools and multiple ensuite toilets while, according to the World Health Organisation, 1 billion people don’t have access to clean drinking water, and a third of humankind lacks basic sanitation – the cause of 3.5 million deaths annually. The average Bangladeshi has an ecological footprint of 0.5 hectares; the average American requires 10 hectares (the resources of five Earths would be required if we all consumed at that rate). This isn’t simply unjust, it’s both obscene and ecocidal.
Factor in the arms trade; how much weaponry is built by the same corporations who make our e-stuff? Three quarters of the world’s weapons are manufactured by the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council, who simultaneously wring their hands over refugees and war, and feed fundamentalism with endless armaments.
There are no piecemeal answers. The only solution I can see is a radical overhaul of an economic system unaccountable to either social and ecological justice or morality, whose four biggest earners are arms, illegal drugs, pornography and people trafficking.
Is what the West calls ‘the refugee crisis’ in fact us being hoist with our own petard? Can anything change until we begin to accept our complicity in, and co-responsibility for, the ‘desperation at our gates’?
(Published 8th May 2015, though mis-edited).