A Discussion About Green Technology Pollution (Part 2)

I like to report good news on a post whenever I can. Recently I wrote a post entitled, “A Discussion About Green Technology Pollution” that makes it clear that many supposedly green technologies aren’t very green at all. Sometimes you can find a partial solution to a problem, which is the topic of this post. No, the solution isn’t a complete answer to the question of green technology pollution, but it does help. In this case, it appears that a proper response could clean up old pollution, while making it possible to obtain rare earth elements quickly and easily.

During the gold rush (and while performing other mining), the miners threw away what has turned out to be valuable rocks. Yes, the tailings contain rare earth metals in at least some cases. If things work out well, mining companies could go to these old sites of pollution and clean up the mess, while making a profit. The rare earth metals needed for luxury items, such as cell phones, and alternative energy sources, such as solar panels, are available in plain sight. This is one of those stories where one person’s junk turns into another person’s treasure.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a lot of information about this particular story as of yet. It could be that the government and industry are still in talks about what can be done. In an ideal scenario, a company would come in and clean up both the pollution generated by the mine and those valuable tailings. Selling the rare earth metals contained in the tailings would generate income for the company and reduce our reliance on rare earth metals coming from China.

However, even if everything works absolutely perfectly, it still isn’t a complete solution. Processing the rare earth metals causes significant pollution. Cleaning up the tailings to obtain the rare earth metals they contain would solve one problem, but processing those tailings would create another, more substantial, pollution problem. The pollution will happen whether the source of the raw material is rock from a new mine or rock from tailings, so this scenario does reduce overall pollution.

The important thing to remember is that processing materials creates pollution. When you choose a supposedly green technology, you need to remember that it really isn’t all that green. The processing of materials for that green technology generates heaps of long-lasting pollution that fouls rivers and makes entire sections of land completely unusable for growing food. Any step we can take toward reducing the pollution these green technologies cause is a good thing and reusing these tailings seems (at least on the surface) like such a step.

I’d be interested in hearing about any additional information you have on the topic. Especially important would be knowing how the government and industry eventually decide to use these tailings and whether we end up with a perfect scenario that truly does clean up some of those old mining sites. Let know what you hear at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Considering the Inefficiency of a Global Economy

A lot of people have said a lot about the global economy—how it exists and is pretty much unstoppable. However, a recent article in ComputerWorld, amongst others, have highlighted problems with the global economy. In this case, flooding in Thailand has impacted the availability of hard drivesdriving up the price that everyone pays. If manufacturing were decentralized, flooding in a single country wouldn’t have much of an effect. In short, the emphasis on cost of individual products instead of emphasizing the reliability of multiple sources of hard drives at an increased cost has proven a shortsighted strategy that inevitably hurt the world supply.

Some countries are using the global economy as a source of blackmail. According to the New York Times, China has consolidated its grip on rare earth metals used for everything from compact fluorescent lights to displays used in smartphones. The blackmail started after a disagreement with Japan. As a consequence, the price of any item that requires rare earths has gone up and will continue to increase. It’s another instance where price advantages offered by a global economy have come back to haunt us. In fact, this problem is so significant that the United States government is doing everything it can to create alternative sources, no matter the cost. Unfortunately, it will require nearly 15 years to fully develop those alternatives.

These two stories, and many more, only hint at the potential problems of a global economy. The problems are actually far more severe than you might initially think. When someone ships a hard drive all the way from Thailand to your home, the carbon footprint of that drive is quite large. It takes a lot of gas to move that hard drive. What the global economy does is it trades fossil fuel for price. The cost of the oil, plus the cost of the object (whatever it might be), is less than the cost of producing the object locally. The short term monetary gain takes priority over the cost to the environment and its eventual cleanup. In the long term, that hard drive will cost everyone a great deal more than if it had been purchased locally.

This blog has contained more than a few self-sufficiency posts (60 as of this post). You’ve seen discussions of how to grow your own food and reasonably recycle products instead of dumping them in a landfill. I even told you how to obtain CFLs for free (see CFLs for Free). All of these posts are practicalI’ve worked hard to write posts that demonstrate techniques that improve the condition of your wallet, decrease your health problems, and still help everyone around you by producing a greener environment. Even with these measures, I’m well aware that my carbon footprint is huge because a global economy forces me to buy articles from overseas. These items aren’t available locally and I can’t make them myself.

In the long run, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to sustain a global economy unless the equation changes dramatically. Fossil fuels aren’t unlimitedwe’ll eventually run out, so from a practical perspective, transportation of items from overseas must change or we won’t be able to transport them. However, long before that happens, the damage to our environment will take a dramatic toll on everyone. The question is why anyone would wait around to see it all happen? Is the world determined to wait until everyone is so sick and so without resources that we have no choice but to toe the line? Does no one think about the effect they’re having until it’s too late?

I ask these questions because the global economy is simply a bad idea. Producing goods locally is far more efficient, even when the initial price for the good is higher. Eating and using what you can produce locally is far better for everyone. You do have a choice. Even with the global economy in full swing, you can buy local goodsin fact, insist on them. Tell local stores that you’re willing to pay more for local goods that are good for the environment. Your money matters. When stores find that they can’t sell those overseas items at any price, they’ll buy locally. “Give the customer what they want” is a cliche, but it’s also a fact. Vote with your cash to bring down a global economy that is ill conceived and killing us all. Let me know your thoughts about the global economy at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.