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We have met the enemy and he is us!

Posted by Leonard on June, 28, 2010

“Stop Blaming the U.S. arms dealers for the 5 million Congo war deaths” read an email from a friend, in reference to a conversation we’d had recently. We were talking about American Empire, about the number of US military bases around the world,  and the greatest problems facing our planet.  In the email was a link to this video, a parody of the famous Mac vs PC ads, but in this take, they address the ‘conflict minerals’ such as tin, tungsten, and tantalum, minerals found in most all of today’s computers and consumer electronics. He also included this quote from the famous cartoon strip PogoWe have met the enemy, and he is us! which couldn’t be more true here. Surely the military industrial complex is a real threat to global stability and peace, but it’s important here to recognize for whom the military fights these wars to secure those resources, be they oil or tungston, and to wonder why we hear so little about the brutal war in Congo when it’s apparently partly being fought to enable access to the minerals there that feed our consumer appetite? So Nicholas Kristof wrote a piece this weekend called Death by Gadgets which explores this sad reality and looks into the ways we can have an impact on companies unwilling to ensure that conflict free minerals are the ingredients going into their products.

Of particular interest to me and one reason why I blog about this here, is because it’s a very different though complimentary angle to a documentary I shot in 2005 in Lagos Nigeria, called The Digital Dump. In that piece, we exposed the underbelly of the global electronics waste trade, and how Africa was receiving the majority of the toxic trash that is a byproduct of our insatiable appetite for new consumer electronics, and how the toxics inside of them leach into the water table, are burned and melted to salvage copper and other valuable residuals, and are an overall environmental nightmare for the poor countries around the globe receiving the waste.

So on the front and the back end here, it’s an important reminder to again be asking ourselves what the consequences of our purchases are, where they are coming from, how they were produced, and what will happen to them when we are done with them, be it food, energy, or electronics.

The Digital Dump was produced by The Basel Action Network, a Seattle based NGO at the forefront of the global waste trade crisis. The film has been screened at film festivals around the world, at the UN, at many industrial trade conferences, and wrote about in the NYT, WSJ, and seen on PBS, 20/20 and many other media outlets around the world. The parody video was produced by The Enough Project, an anti-genocide organization doing very important work.

*In a rare blog post in response to the Kristof article, Steve Jobs of Apple claims that “We require all of our suppliers to certify in writing that they use conflict free materials. But honestly there is no way for them to be sure. Until someone invents a way to chemically trace minerals from the source mine, it’s a very difficult problem.”

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