Across Cultures

In september 2010, I attended a Women for Women event during which a Congolese woman was invited to the stage to speak on behalf of all Congolese women. She stood in front of us, a crowd of mothers with their children, sisters, cousins, colleagues, friends, and men, and said that Congo women are “raped so that you can be happy.”

She spoke in reference to the economic importance of Coltan, a mineral that is highly valued by violent militias in the DRC for its importance on the global market. Columbite–tantalite composes the main hardware in computer chips and SIM cards, which most of us in the audience had used at some point or another to benefit the way that we work, play, and have sex in the industrialized Western world.

So in some way, she was right. Western people who absent-mindedly use computers, and are made happy by that usage, are indeed allowing Congolese women and children, and sometimes men, to be raped for their benefit. This assertion, however, begs the question: who benefits from the rape of American women?

The word rape is used loosely by pundits, comedians, and legal entities of all sorts to emphasize a great injustice. But it is not a word to be used lightly in the English language, and most especially by people for whom English is not a mother tongue. I would like to have a conversation with this Congolese woman who insulted me on that day. I would like to talk to her over a cup of coffee, with the great injustices of humanity being the sole focus of conversation. However, before any discussion could begin, an employee of Women for Women ushered the woman in question away from the microphone and I ran for about twenty minutes until I got a double Charlie-horse. So that woman is no longer in my life, except for her experience which she expressed and explained for me and everyone else in the audience, on that day.

I really would like to speak with her, but how can I? How can I ever relate to the injustice which she and her family, and her family’s families, have suffered? How can I even cheer her up, or tell her that things will get better, or that America is full of conscientious, caring people would are trying to understand her situation and the conflict in the DRC? We could talk about food, or music, or the beautiful mountains of the DRC, or the beautiful mountains of the USA. However, I am bereft of any contact except for the lingering stab to my confidence when she spoke for ten minutes and then removed herself from the podium.

I would have liked to understand, but I don’t think I ever will. Perhaps, with a little time, I might have been able to help her understand, too.

Green Washing

Greenwashing takes many forms; it is defined an a superficial attempt to make oneself or one’s organization appear more environmentally conscious. Companies and businesses try to Greenwash their products and policies, as goes the common assessment. However, what are some examples of political Greenwashing?

Take a look at the Wikipedia page documenting Renewable Energy in the People’s Republic of China. While you’re there, try to find the words “Three Gorges Dam.” They’re present, right underneath a fish-eye shot of the churning outlet of the most massive hydroelectric project in the history of human industrial development. So why are they nowhere else in the article? It’s hard to say, but the editors did include this fascinating paragraph.

“On April 6, 2007 the Gansu Dang River Hydropower Project[8] was registered as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project in accordance with the requirements of Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The project consists of the construction and operation of eight run-of-river hydropower plants providing total capacity of 35.4 GW, which will generate an average of 224 GWh/year. The power generated by the project, which is located in Dang Town, Subei Mongolian Autonomous County, Gansu Province, China, and which was certified by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) to be in compliance with the “Measures for the Operation and Management of Clean Development Mechanism Projects in China”, will be sold to the Gansu power grid which is part of the China Northwest Regional Power Grid (NWPG), thereby displacing equivalent amounts of electricity generated by the current mix of power sold to the NWPG. The developer of the Gansu Dang River Hydropower Project, which started construction on November 1, 2004, is the Jiayuguan City Tongyuan Hydropower Co., Ltd. The Letter of Approval of the NDRC permits the Jiayuguan City Tongyuan Hydropower Co., Ltd. to transfer to Japan Carbon Finance, Ltd., an entity approved by the government of Japan no more than 1.2 megatons of carbon dioxide emissions in total Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) over the seven-year period beginning on May 1, 2007 and ending on April 30, 2014.[9] ”

Notice how many time this paragraph mentions foreign governments’ approvals of this particular Chinese industrial development. Undoubtedly the author wished to emphasize China’s technological developments and not its environmental developments, such as the recent environmental problems linked to the construction of Three Gorges Dam.

I wish greenwashing weren’t necessary. I wish that companies and governments could be honestly environmentally conscious without even having to talk about. It would make my job, and the jobs of a lot of environmentalists, a lot easier.

Most of all, I wish someone would update Wikipedia.