With a modern day addiction to power-hungry gadgets that rely upon rare mined earth metals all encased in un-biodegradable plastic shells, it might seem tempting to suggest that our reliance on these things will be our ultimate ecological downfall.
The “Rare Earth Metals” we hear about are not, in fact, actually that rare at all. Metals such as Neodymium and Lanthanum are very rare in the purest form and extracting them from the landscape is dangerous, expensive and produces harmful acids and radioactive by-products. 90% of the rare metals used in our ipods, ipads, laptops and other gadgets come from China, where accidents and fatalities are all too common. China has cut back on mining these metals for environmental reasons. This, of course, is very true but some more cynical people might say that it is to artificially increase the price of the metals.
Scratching the surface
The problem runs deeper than that though. Computers are all too often left on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in industrial, commercial and domestic environments. By simply going to our computer settings we can all set our computers to go into a dormant, power-saving setting when undisturbed after any given period of time. However, many of us do not choose to take up this option.
Plasma screens use up a lot more electricity than the older rear projection models as well. It might seem that as technology improves, it also improves its environmental credentials generally at the same time. This might be true for cars but that is because of the huge amount of pressure the car manufacturing industry has been under for the last 20 years. Until such a time as people make the same demands of Apple, Microsoft, HTC and Samsung, it seems unlikely to change for the better.
How can we make changes for the better?
In order to make our technological advances environmentally sustainable, we need to tackle the problem in three different ways:
- There needs to be greater investment into research looking into alternatives to the environmentally destructive process of extracting these increasingly expensive ‘rare earth metals’. It is not simply a question of environmental sustainability; unless something is done it could become an economic matter as well.
- We need to take greater responsibility as consumers; we cannot leave it all up to the manufacturers. We must make sure that all of our gadgets are only using up energy when they are in use, which means making sure that things are switched off when they are not being used and, when applicable, putting them on power-saving settings.
- We must move away from the culture of seeing everything as disposable. It is imperative that we learn to recycle technology andeverything else that we expect to upgrade regularly. This way at least we can put unused technology to better use than simply allowing it to find its way to a landfill and polluting the soil.
As a wise man once said: “It’s the only world we got let’s protect it while we can; that’s all there is and there ain’t no more…”
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