Personal tools

Silicon Valley: The Solution to American Economic Malaise or the “Valley of Toxic Fright.”

CPSR Journal Vol 19, No 4
Volume 19, Number 4 The CPSR Journal Fall 2001

Silicon Valley: The Solution to American Economic Malaise or the “Valley of Toxic Fright.” by Nancy Brigham

[ Read the program notes ]

James Richard Sheldon, this year’s winner of CPSR’s 1st annual Student Essay Contest, presented highlights from his impressive winning essay. In introducing Sheldon, who is in his third year of undergraduate study at Crown College at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Netiva Caftori expressed her delight that 50 CPSR members came forward to help review contest entries, and said that the winning papers are posted on the CPSR web site.

Sheldon began by describing the importance of the computer chip industry as not just an economic but a cultural phenomenon, a convergence of high tech and pop culture that has led to kids walking around instant messaging people between classes. Then he presented “the side of computers most people can’t see—what happens when you’re done with them,” with estimates that by 2004, we will have 350 million obsolete computers in the U.S. alone. He also raised the problem of the toxic chemicals and “huge amounts of water” used to produce chips, and the scant knowledge of the environmental impact. He pointed out that Silicon Valley has more superfund sites than any other area in the country, with alarming cancer rates and a water supply contaminated by more than 100 dangerous chemicals.

Sheldon examined potential solutions from government regulation, voluntary improvements by industry, and better technology. While giving the computer industry credit for making progress toward using safer materials, he said existing regulations are inadequate, largely because of the huge clout of corporate lobbyists, and those that exist are not always followed.

Referring back to his first remarks about computer-dependent culture, Sheldon explored the importance of educating consumers about the dangers of our throw-away culture. But ultimately, he said, change must come from within business, which should set goals to get rid of all carcinogens from processing, buy back hardware, recycle, and extend product responsibility. Public policy-makers can help with things like tax credits that favor computers made from non-toxic materials and non-hierarchical businesses. Corporations “shouldn’t use our dreams to destroy our dreams,” he concluded, and urged each of us to "become an agent of change within the range of our influence."

One of the most impressive aspects of Sheldon’s presentation was his own presence. He added impromptu remarks and answered questions with ease and skill, and his commitment to change was inspiring. Sheldon plans to earn a master’s degree in education and become a computer science teacher.

What’s inside...

the end [ top ] Newsletter Index
Archived CPSR Information
Created before October 2004

Sign up for CPSR announcements emails


International Chapters -

> Canada
> Japan
> Peru
> Spain

USA Chapters -

> Chicago, IL
> Pittsburgh, PA
> San Francisco Bay Area
> Seattle, WA
Why did you join CPSR?

I strongly support the work of CPSR in humanizing computer technology.