If it isn’t grown…

Sony prs-700 eBook Reader

Sony prs-700 eBook Reader

I love technological gadgets. I remember getting one of the first electronic handheld calculators in the 1970s. It cost about $100. Soon, Moore’s Law kicked in, the capacity increased and the price decreased, and in a few years places gave calculators away.

Moore’s Law has brought down the cost of electronic gadgets. Cellular phones used to be owned by the rich are now everywhere. Nigerian farmers use mobile phones to find the best price for their produce and many in the third-world use them for banking. Technology increases people’s quality of life. Peasants in Mexico capture sunlight in special fabrics and then can use it to light their shacks at night. I’m typing this article on an AlphaSmart portable, a keyboard with a screen that uses three AA batteries for its power source. The Amazon Kindle eReader that now goes for $359 will come down, if Moore’s Law has anything to do about it.

As the demand for technology increases, there is a need for more stuff used for manufacture. Everything comes from somewhere; that may not be incredibly profound, but you might be surprised how often one might forget that.

Quick–name one part of your computer, personal digital assistant, mobile phone, or e-reader that is grown by a forester or farmer. One part, any part that’s natural. Take your time … I’ll wait.

Bupkes, right?

And, if it isn’t grown, it’s mined (or recycled). And the numbers stagger the imagination.

Each person in the United States requires over 48,000 pounds of minerals each year:

  • 12,428 lb. of stone
  • 9,632 lb. of sand and gravel
  • 940 lb. of cement
  • 276 lb. of clays
  • 400 lb. of salt
  • 302 lb. phosphate rock
  • 639 lb. of nonmetals
  • 425 lb. of iron ore
  • 77 lb. of bauxite (aluminum)
  • 17 lb. of copper
  • 11 lb. of lead
  • 10 lb. of zinc
  • 6 lb. of manganese
  • .0285 T oz. gold
  • 29 lb. of other metals


  • 7,667 lb. petroleum
  • 7,589 lb. coal
  • 6,866 cu ft natural gas
  • 1/3 lb. uranium

Source: Minerals Information Institute

What also staggers the imagination is the size of the mines and the amount of material they move. Check out the mine near Ruth, NV or the one near Salt Lake City, UT.

We talk a lot about our carbon footprint. Usually the discussion revolves around global warming and what comes out of tailpipes. While throwing CO2, methane, and other global warming gasses into our shared sky is profound, worth considering. Yet, it’s our ‘green’ technology which leaves behind carbon sequestered cyanide compounds such as sodium cyanide (NaCN), which really worries me. How technology and cyanide are tied to together is not talked about much. Cyanide is used to separate metals from the wastes.

Let’s consider just one of the metals used in the manufacture of electronics: gold for computer circuit boards.

For “one ounce of gold, miners dig up and haul away 30 tons of rock and sprinkle it with diluted cyanide, which culls the gold from the rock. Before they are through, miners at some of the largest mines move a half million tons of earth a day, pile it in mounds that can rival the Great Pyramids, and drizzle the ore with the poisonous solution for years.” – Behind Gold’s Glitter: Torn Lands and Pointed Questions

After all is said and done. It almost makes clearcuts look much more appealing.

Forests grow back. Metal and oil doesn’t.

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