By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
The BBC presented an engaging and informative report concerning how the unprecedented demand for rare earth elements is leading to environmental degradation, especially in developing countries. It proposes that one of the ironic tragedies of manufacturing green technologies is that it is leading to concentrations of pollution in specific areas. This also brings forth the importance of having a conversation about advanced, consumer societies needing to engage in much self reflection on the causes of the insatiable appetites consumers have for top of the line electronics. Of which are designed with quick obsolescence as a business model.
In conversations I have had with others for over fifteen years concerning obsolescence and the cost to the consumer I used what I labeled the “Rake Approach”.
In this opinion, I am reminded of an old metal tined rake my father purchased in the early 1970’s. He used this rake for nearly twenty five years despite heavy amounts of use, including as a tamper for burning leaves. It was well built and lasted a generation. It did not need upgrades, special advanced metallurgy in the tines, or any feature that would need upgrades or replacements. It was, after all, just a rake. Yet, low quality rakes and the new introduction of novel rakes, which in actuality perform the same task, are marketed to consumers who will buy one every other year or so.
Where we begin to fail in our never ending desire for resources via the upgrade business model is that features continually demanded result in significant waste to meet the need for small improvements that consumers are conditioned into demanding. While upgrades are certainly appropriate given actual needs for efficiency, one has to question the totality of circumstances when deciding if we need a new smart phone every year when a 2005 vintage cellphone, or even the 1960’s Bell rotary dial telephone will still work on the American telephone network.
The BBC describes that one of the reasons why China and Mongolia are becoming increasingly world dominant in the production of rare earths, is due to the economics of production deriving from a willingness to forego healthier environmental and remediation practices mandated by other nations, including the United States. Rare earths are not limited to sources in China alone, they are nearly as common elsewhere. The difference being the total cost of mining.
The news report offers much information that is certainly worthwhile to hopefully foster discussion and where we go with regard to the demands we place upon the earth. I invite you to read the BBC report at the following link:
By Darren Smith
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.