Friday, June 3, 2011

Changing My Mind

A little confession is good for the soul.  So here goes - I am hard-headed. I am thick-headed.  I am so dense, light bends around me.  What brought this on, you ask?  Let me tell you.

I have an ongoing debate with a liberal.  Once, he made a comment about how "the rich" - referring to wealthy Americans - affect the lifestyles of people in the Sahara.  I said I didn't get the connection.  He sighed, and said that was part of the problem. We let it go at that.

Fast forward a year or so.  I recently watched 2 documentaries.  The first one was called "The Great Climate Change Swindle."  It showed interviews with several prominent scientists who made the unpopular claim that, although the climate was obviously changing and maybe even heating up, Climate Change (CC) was not due to man's activity. The upshot was that if you really wanted to halt the changing of the climate, you would have to turn down the Sun and dry out the oceans, neither of which is what we would call a "viable option."

Now, most of it was merely academic, showing charts and graphs and such, which can generate a "So what?" response.  The clincher came at the end.  They showed the repurcussions of the CC movement on Africa. They have no electricity in the villages.  The people have to burn wood or dried feces to cook their food or keep warm.  The fire pits are located inside their one room "houses" so they inhale the smoke, polluting the lungs of the indigenous people.  The CCers want them to invest in solar and wind energy, two sources that are not sufficiently developed to be any real help.  "I can't see solar power being strong enough to move trucks," says one native.  Nor are they cheap.  "The West wants us to use a very expensive source of energy that even they are not willing to use or cannot afford. How can we?" says another.

Well, my righteous indignation bubbled to the surface.  How dare they refuse poor Africans the right to develop, by saying they can't use the coal and oil that are buried in their lands?  Shameful.  Those CCers ought to be ashamed of themselves.

After I cooled off a bit, I watched the other documentary, something called "Buy, Throw Away, Buy."  Unfortunately, most of it is in foreign languages or English that is a bit hard to understand in places.  Here is a version that is mostly translated into English subtitles. This video is about the idea of Programmed Obsolescence.  It shows how the development of the light bulb was changed to make sure they did not last more than 1,000 hours, roughly the lifespan of a modern incandescent bulb.  This was AFTER they were already making bulbs that lasted up to 2,500 hours.  There is a bulb in a California fire station that has been burning for over 110 YEARS!  And now, in the 3d Millenium, we can't make one that will last more than 1,000 hours? When did the R&D money for light bulbs run out?  Even Edison's first commercial bulb lasted 1,500 hours.  This was in 1881.  The video claims that there was a patent for a light bulb that would last 100,000 hours - no, there is not an extra zero there.  Can you imagine a normal, incandescent light bulb lasting at least 11 years, and more like 20, if it was used "only" 12 hours a day?

The light bulb was the most developed example, but more were given about how our computers, furntiture, clothes and such were designed to fail, to wear out unnecessarily, in order to keep us buying and selling at an ever increasing rate.  The classic example for this is the inkjet printer. It is often cheaper to buy a new printer, than either to fix it, or even to buy new ink cartridges for it. 

This produced a bit of discomfort, but the real hammer came at the end. They finished the documentary by showing that our consuming, throwing away, and consuming was harming people - in AFRICA!!  In Ghana, there is what used to be beautiful riverbank, where children played, the men fished, probably animals came to drink. Today, it is a dump.  Used computer and electronic parts are left to bake in the sun, ostensibly "second-hand" items sent to "help developing countries."  The cast-off material is sent by the boatload, and the natives dig through it to find scrap metal that they can sell for a few pennies.  Some of the stuff they have to - wait for it - BURN, in order to get rid of the useless plastic. Toxic, plastic-burning bonfires litter the area, polluting the lungs of the indigenous people.

"Polluting the lungs of the indigenous people."  Where did I read that before?  Oh, yeah, it was in the documentary about global warming. For years, I have advocated free-market capitalism, believing that it was consumers' desires that drove the market.  What is obvious now, thanks to this video about Planned Obsolescence, is that it is the market that drives consumers' desires.  The market is the cause, not the effect, as I had believed earlier.

In a later post, I will further develop this idea of planned obsolescence, and what implications it has, at least from my Christian perspective.

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