Even in the age of cloud computing, technological gains can come at a substantial cost.
“The quantities of electronic waste we’re producing are staggering,” says Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Darrin Magee, who discusses the impact of such waste and the challenges of recycling complex materials like electronics in the new documentary “Death by Design.”
Assessing the human and environmental impacts of the information age, the film examines the full scope of the tech global supply chain, from the production of smartphones, laptops and tablets, to the waste management dilemmas that arise when they become obsolete.
Following a December screening at the New York Institute of Technology, Magee joined Sue Williams, the film’s producer; Hilary Klotz-Steinman, associate producer; and moderator Jan Berris, vice president of the National Committee on United States-China Relations, in a panel discussion that covered everything “from the making of the film to what to do to help reduce the environmental impact of our digital lives,” Magee says.
Magee first connected with Williams after the Henry Luce Foundation’s Asia Program awarded Hobart and William Smith Colleges a $400,000 grant to promote increased study of environmental issues in Asia. Magee, who played a key role in obtaining that grant, specializes on environmental issues in China, which is home to many of world’s largest dumping grounds for electronic waste.
Magee points out that the problems posed by e-waste are not likely to abate any time soon, between “an incessant demand for new devices every 18 months” and governments hesitant “to intrude on the consumer-supplier relationship by enacting and enforcing regulations to reduce environmental impacts.”
The screening and panel discussion drew a large audience, including Laura Carver Dionne ’13, now a middle school science teacher in Harlem, who traveled with Magee to China in 2012 on a program funded by the Luce Foundation grant.
Magee has lived and worked in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. His research and teaching address water, energy, large-scale hydropower and other water infrastructure and waste issues including the specific problems of electronic waste. He holds a Ph.D. in geography and an M.A. in China studies from the University of Washington, along with a B.S. in mathematics and B.A. in French from Louisiana State University. He joined the HWS faculty in 2008.