Made in China, returned to China, disposed of in China
Most of us know that our products come from China, but few of us know that they often go back there as waste for disposal. The environmental impact of this chain is just one of the lessons Darrin Magee, assistant professor of environmental studies at HWS, is hoping to teach his students.
Just completing his first semester at the Colleges, Magee is an expert on water and energy in China. The new courses he offers encourage students “to think from very local to very global” when considering the environment and waste.
“We can’t think about China without thinking about environmental problems which unfortunately are part and parcel of the rapid economic development seen there,” Magee explains. “But who owns those problems?” He explores this question with students in his “Environment and Development in East Asia” course, re-examining the way ‘economic development’ takes place throughout global production and consumption processes. He also leaves his students with the question, “Who's next?”
Focusing more specifically on waste trafficking, he looks at the transportation of garbage – nearby waste brought from New York City to processing and storage facilities near Geneva, as well as the waste computers and metals that North America exports to Asia and Africa.
“It's a really progressive class,” says Erin Cudd '09 about Magee's course, “Geography of Garbage.”
Magee opens students' eyes to the transportation of garbage and introduces them to the global geography of garbage, or as Magee calls it, “Garbography.”
“The information about our 'economy of waste,' that should be known by all, but that is instead taboo and forgotten, is really eye-opening — from our social history, to environmental destruction, to governmental impact,” says Cudd.
The midterm project was for students to create a profile on their hometown disposal facility: they had to locate their garbage. Cudd explains, “It was really a challenge corroborating information through different government offices and huge corporations—some people really tried to sugarcoat things and deny any problems with the system.”
Magee looks at the array of issues connected with waste, focusing on environmental, human health, and human rights implications.
On choosing the course, Cudd explains “I found it hard to believe that a whole course could be devoted solely to garbage, but that's really why I decided to take it. I figured if I couldn't even imagine what would be discussed, then I probably had a lot to learn—which I am—I know so much more about my impact on society and the ecosystem.”
Magee encourages his students to truly evaluate environmental issues and question, “Where is away when you throw something away?”
Magee earned his Ph.D. in geography from the University of Washington. He has a master's in International Studies, also from Washington, and bachelor's degrees in math and in French from Louisiana State University.