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Economy of litter

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I recently read Time Magazine’s special issue on Heroes of the Environment. More than I expected to be the case, I found the heroes inspiring. It’s fascinating to see 30 examples of what people all over the globe do to protect the little patch of earth they live on as well as the earth we all share. I can’t pick a favorite hero because the first one was my favorite, then I read the next one and that was my favorite and so on.

I did wonder if it was by accident that the only two black heroes happened to appear one after the other. The first was Liberian Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor who states the mission of his NGO is to look at environmental issues “from a human perspective. It’s not about greenery. It’s about people whose lives have been affected by the unsustainable and destructive exploitation of resources.” Siakor was able to draw attention to President Charles Taylor’s use of logging profits to fund his war, which, in turn, was integral in the 2003 UN ban on the export of Liberian timber and in developing the war-crimes charges against Taylor.

The second black hero is Van Jones, an African American, who is working to stop what he calls “eco-apartheid”. The Time reporter describes Jones as the “vanguard of a necessary change in the green movement. In the past, environmentalism in the US has been a mainly white and white-collar phenomenon, one that had little resonance among working class and minorities.” Jones’ organization is predicated on the idea that building a green economy could represent a job creation program for minorities and the working class.

Both of these heroes interestingly direct attention to the devastating ways political corruption, political violence, class differences, and poverty disproportionately affect the human condition. Issues we tend to think of more through the lens of economics as opposed to through the lens of environmentalism. In Zimbabwe, the human condition is suffering terribly. Journalists, analysts, bloggers, and passengers on combies are quick to speak about this through the lens of economics. For example, the introduction of US$ products is a hot topic and most speak about this in very technical economic language: it’s messing things up. I mean how can it be good to have an economy that’s partially US$ and partially ZWD. It’s not right, the volume of US$ a Spar clerk will handle in one day only to then receive their salary in ZWD.

As heroes of the environment, Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor and Van Jones help us better understand the full impact of US$ products in Zimbabwe. The emergence of US$ products is the result of political corruption and they exacerbate class differences and poverty. Equally, US$ products are impacting the environment in Zimbabwe. Walk 100 metres on any street in Harare and I guarantee you will see 100 empty beer cans. That litter did not exist when this country was producing and selling locally brewed bottled beer. I mean who would toss a bottle with a deposit attached to it. In the end, the economy of Zimbabwe is unjustly sending people to the poor house and the economy of Zimbabwe litters likes nobody’s business.

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