“Quick quick quick -- buy buy buy!”
The clock strikes midnight, and your fingers dash across the keyboard to pre-order the newest iPhone. From camping out at Apple stores to watching unboxing videos on YouTube, consumption has become its own form of entertainment. But in the rush to upgrade, we often forget to ask: What actually happens to old electronics?
The answer is complicated. In 2016, the world generated 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste, a number that is only increasing. E-waste generated by wealthy countries like the U.S., Australia, and Europe is almost always outsourced to the Global South for recycling, where discarded machines are dismantled for parts and rare earth metals to be resold. Furthermore, regulators have consistently failed to curb illegal, unsafe operations. For example, European exporters smuggled waste to Nigeria in used car shipments, while Australian computers were dumped in illicit recycling centers in Thailand.
These informal e-waste economies have devastating environmental and health impacts on their communities. Many of the “recyclers” are children who pick apart electronics with their bare hands. Locals end up breathing the toxic fumes from discarded waste set on fire. Lead poisoning is common. And because many recycling operations are located in rural agricultural regions, air and water pollution poison crops, spreading toxins far and wide.
Global flows of e-waste are shaped by a messy web of policies, trade norms, and international watchdogs. Still, the developing world’s illegal waste economy has thrived by exploiting regulatory loopholes and escaping the public eye under the guise of “recycling.” We must call for the Global North to take greater responsibility for their waste -- or else end up scrapping lives along with our electronics.
by Patrick DeMichele '20
Amazon has grown rapidly in the last few years, and has particularly expanded its presence in California. This expansion has resulted in millions of additional square feet of warehouse space in California. Warehouse distribution centers are sources of high levels of pollution, and their placement exacerbates existing inequality. The life expectancy in West Fresno is 20 years lower than it is on the east suburbs, partially due to pollution -- Amazon’s newest warehouse was opened in Fresno this past year. New warehouses have been further polluting vulnerable communities, such problems worsened by the gentrification epidemic caused by the California real estate boom. Warehouse openings have been met with protests by local residents. The California Environmental Justice Alliance has supported bill AB 2447 as a policy step against this trend -- this bill seeks to establish “Green Zones” in vulnerable communities, which means catalyzing community-led initiatives to combat environmental damage and emphasize sustainability. AB 2447 did not take a radical stand against the industry giant perpetrators of aforementioned environmental damage, but nonetheless would have been an important measure in encouraging grassroots sustainability in affected communities. Despite this, Gov. Brown vetoed the bill on September 30th, 2018, citing it as “too prescriptive”.
by Jayne Stevenson, '21
Stanford has created great initiatives to mitigate the campus’ carbon footprint, such as establishing Stanford Energy Systems Innovation (SESI), which helped reduce campus emissions by 68% from peak levels. And just last year, Stanford committed to reaching 80% net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. SSS and the Climate Action Project Group applaud this goal, but it neglects to include Scope 3 carbon emissions.
Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions consist of indirect emissions “from sources not owned or directly controlled by a company but related to the company’s activities” (Dyott, Ladiwala). This includes business air travel, commuter emissions, and purchased goods and services. There are a total of 15 categories of Scope 3 emissions, but Stanford currently only tracks two of these categories: business air travel and commuter emissions. The university does not presently have a plan to reduce or offset the 15 categories of Scope 3 emissions.
Business air travel and driving commuters accounted for 47,982 metric tons of Stanford’s carbon dioxide emissions in the fiscal year 2018. In 2017, these two sources alone measured 38% of total carbon emissions Stanford accounted for. But only the aforementioned two categories (business air travel and employee commuters) are tracked, meaning Stanford’s total Scope 3 emissions are even greater. Stanford does not presently address these emissions, preventing the university from taking a comprehensive approach to climate change mitigation. We urge Stanford to pledge to reach net-zero Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. This is a necessary step in becoming a leading university in fighting climate change.
In order to tackle this issue, Stanford must first conduct a more comprehensive analysis of all 15 sources of Scope 3 emissions, such as investments, purchased good and services, and waste generated in operations. Stanford also needs to measure student air travel for personal and athletic purposes.
There are many opportunities to reduce Scope 3 carbon emissions, such as implementing a department fee on all domestic and international business-related flights -- a program already in existence at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Other universities also plan to address Scope 3 emissions, and Stanford can follow in their footsteps. For example, Berkeley, aims to achieve Scope 3 emissions neutrality by 2050, and Yale formed a Carbon Offsets Task Force in spring 2017 to guide the use of carbon offsets. Barnard University also measures student air travel as part of its Scope 3 emissions and takes a more comprehensive view of its carbon footprint by measuring Scope 3 emissions sources beyond solely business air travel and commuter emissions. Stanford must be a leader in addressing climate change, but right now it’s falling behind.
SSS urges students and faculty to sign our petition in support of our pressures on the university to address Scope 3 emissions. Students have the ability to hold the university accountable for issues such as climate change. And by signing our petition, you will exercise your power as students and demonstrate your expectations from the university. Stanford cannot neglect opportunities to reduce a large source of the university’s carbon footprint and become a leader in fighting climate change.
by Kyle Yu '22
During the expansion of the Interstate Highways in the 1950s and 60s, highways were planned through cities. Those who had money and political power, like people in Greenwich Village, were successful in stopping highways from being constructed in their neighborhoods. But poorer black communities did not have the same power and highways were built right through. Entire neighborhoods were destroyed to build these highways. For instance, in the city of Detroit, the formerly thriving neighborhoods of Paradise Valley and Black Bottom were demolished, replaced with an interchange and highways.
Just how bad are highways for these communities? In Orlando, a predominately black housing project in the Parramore neighborhood is surrounded by three highways. Soot and dust fill the air here. 41% of children in the neighborhood suffer from a chronic disease. This community was created deliberately, as highways followed railroad routes which had already segregated Orlando.
In general, people of color are exposed to more transportation pollution than white people. Race has been shown to be the main factor in whether or not a community is exposed, not income.
What can we do? We should advocate for policies which take cars off the road and expand public transportation. We should also tear down highways and replace them with greenspace to help mitigate the lack of parks in these communities. Lastly, we must amplify the voices of people in these communities and resist destructive highways.
Beep beep! Highways have divided and destroyed marginalized communities. People of color are much more likely to live near highways and suffer from transportation pollution than white people.
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/florida-poor-black-neighborhood-air-pollution_us_5a663a67e4b0e5630072746e Huffington Post
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/14/us-people-of-color-still-more-likely-to-be-exposed-to-pollution-than-white-people The Guardian
by Cathy Wang, '21
Issues of environmental justice aren’t far removed from our own community as students at Stanford. Only an hour away from Stanford lies the East Bay Refinery Corridor, also known, perhaps more accurately, as the “sacrifice zone” for petrochemical industry sites. The majority residents in this region are low-income and/or people of color, primarily black and Latinx, as well as Asian American and Pacific Islander and Native American.
Out of the various refineries in this area, the Chevron Richmond Refinery in particular has the largest capacity and emits the most hazardous air pollutants. Over the past years, the Chevron Refinery has several incidents of explosions and fires, injuring workers, heavily polluting the air in the surrounding community, and leading to the hospitalization of many residents. In addition to these multiple incidents, Chevron has been repeatedly denounced and penalized for unsafe equipment and lack of worker protection, demonstrating their indifference toward the wellbeing of their workers. Residents living near the refinery have a higher than normal asthma rate, with the likelihood of developing asthma increasing with the length of their residency.
We can learn a lot from the example of Richmond. First of all, the residents of Richmond were able to use legal, electoral, and political means to stop Chevron’s expansion project in Richmond and create new legislation to increase Chevron’s compensation to the community. This provides a model of action for other communities suffering environmental injustice. Second, the situation in Richmond reveals the need for more awareness of environmental injustice and inter-group organization and solidarity among various environmental and social groups in order to fight back against corporations with more resources and political power.
Welcome to our blog!
This is a forum for students to share their writing on intersectional environmental topics, curated by Students for a Sustainable Stanford. Writers of all backgrounds, abilities, and perspectives are welcome.