On New Year’s Eve 1987, the people of Gonaïves, an impoverished port town on Haiti’s west coast, awoke to 4,000 tons of toxic ash. Amidst political turmoil in Haiti, officials had approved the import of toxic waste from the United States classified as “fertilizer.” In this case, the ash came from Philadelphia, which was facing a waste management crisis brought on by the costs of meeting the requirements of new national environmental legislation. Philadelphia opted to relocate its hazardous waste to the Global South, thereby entering the grey market of what some call “voluntary exchange” and others, “garbage imperialism.”
Gonaïves is just one of the many sites that sustain industrial capitalism and the premises of continuous growth and profit maximization in the late twentieth century. By following this toxic cargo and some of the ghost ships that carry it around the globe, this talk will explore the motivations of those who engage in the trade, and offer insights into possible alternatives.
The lecture by Simone M. Müller will be followed by a response from Sébastien Jodoin, professor of law at McGill University.
Simone M. Müller is principal investigator and project manager of the DFG-Emmy Noether research group Hazardous Travels: Ghost Acres and the Global Waste Economy, which is hosted by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich. She is the author of Wiring the World: The Social and Cultural Construction of Global Telegraph Networks (2016), and she is a Young Fellow of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research at the Universität Bielefeld.
Sébastien Jodoin is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Law at McGill University. His research seeks to understand law and public policy in the context of the manifold forces associated with globalization, processes of social change, new and evolving forms of public and private governance, and the pursuit of sustainability at various levels.