NICHOLS: it’s a green world

Oh for a new electric car to show my green while I go, and a whirling windmill with solar backup to free me from slavery to the grid – as well as give me another green star!
I lift my eyes to the hills from the black and white of my computer screen (yes, I know it’s plugged into the grid) and the hills are green, deep-summer, rain-washed green, bathed by the almost-incessant rain of the last days. My lawn is green; the trees in and bordering my lawn are green; the garden and field beyond the fringe of trees are green. Whenever I choose I can be outstanding in my field soaking up the drizzle and the green. It makes me feel so purely green.
   All this musing has reminded me it’s past time to get down off my high horse. It seems that the Creator of this wonderful world “makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” – on the green and the not-so-green and perchance I am not as green as I would like (you) to think.
Now, with my feet again firmly planted on the brown soil – actually with my body firmly planted in a not-so-comfortable swivel chair at my writing desk, I have to confess that this world is not all green and we, who pride ourselves on being responsible stewards of the green and the black might do well to re-evaluate some of the components of the devices we so thoughtlessly and readily use.
    Like this nifty little Acer Aspire. Must be all of 10 years old and has served me well this decade. Only now am I beginning to learn that I have contributed to terrestrial degradation simply by owning it.  It’s not that the information has not been available these last 20 – 25 years. I guess it is more that I haven’t paid close attention.
 And now that I have been alerted to my participation in the destruction of the earth – along with most of you who promote electric cars, windmills, solar power, shutting down of our gas and oil industry, stay-at-home vacations, 100-mile diets, and other fads, what am I going to do about it? What are you going to do about it? Or is there nothing we can do about it beyond protests, placards, and parades?
    You see, I am going to get very personal. How can I avoid getting personal when the topic is cell phones, lap-top computers, tablets, flat screen TVs, electric cars, windmills, and other such stuff?
    And my concern is not the electricity these devices use or produce though the consumption is significant. No, my concern is with the production processes of rare earths.
    Inner Mongolia in China, in fact one site in that out-of-sight corner of the wide world we share, produces most of the world’s present consumption of rare earths. In the process it has created Lake Bautou to be a massive toxic sludge receptacle visible on Google Earth while it turns the sky grey with air-borne effluent – well, maybe it’s not always visible.
    Consider two of the most important of the rare earths: cerium and neodymium. Cerium oxide was used to polish the touch screens on my smart phone and your tablet and we didn’t know it. It also finds its way into coloured glass and catalytic converters.  Neodymium’s most important uses are in the manufacture of powerful, light-weight magnets used in devices such as in-ear headphones (maybe even my hearing aids), cell phone microphones, computer hard drives, and, heads up you genuine greenies, wind-farm turbines and the new generation of electric cars.
    Indeed, it seems our society can happily shut down a gas-fired power plant putting our neighbours out of work in what is probably the most environmentally responsible and worker-caring country in the world while blithely texting our friends to meet at the protest rally for the next event. Do we detect a little hypocrisy here, just a little?
    Will I throw my smart phone into the lake at sunrise? Probably not. But I certainly will not upgrade it any time soon. Probably not in my lifetime.
    Like so much of our consumer goods that come from far-away places where lives are discounted, low-cost because we consumers demand low-cost merchandise, we can make the change only by paying the price.

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