Would you give up the ability to text ttyl to your BFF in order to save a species from going extinct? In 2009, it’s not an insane question.
The next time your cell phone rings, try focusing on these six simple words: The Democratic Republic of the Congo. I ask you to do this because one of the primary components of cell phone circuitry is a metallic ore called Columbite-Tantalite—or “coltan.” Eighty percent of the world’s known coltan can be found in the African nation of The Democratic Republic of the Congo (or DRC), which just so happens to be embroiled in a brutal (even by current standards) civil war since the pre-cell phone days of 1994. Over time, all sides in the unrelenting struggles adroitly began using the mining and sale of coltan not only to nourish the West’s seemingly insatiable cell phone addiction, but also to fund their inexorable mayhem. Civilian deaths in the DRC during this time—mostly from war-related disease and malnutrition—are estimated not in the hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands, but rather in the millions…making it the world’s deadliest military conflict since the Second World War.
And it gets worse. Just ask an Eastern Lowland Gorilla, the world’s largest primate, found almost exclusively in the DRC. According to National Geographic: “Following a decade of civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, new estimates suggest that the number of eastern lowland gorillas may have plummeted by 70 percent. Conflict, illegal mining for a mineral used for electronic-device components, and the growing bush-meat trade have all taken their toll.” The UN Environment Program has reported that the number of eastern lowland gorillas in eight DRC national parks has subsequently declined by 90 percent.
We can only hope that some enterprising soul has already recorded the Eastern Lowland Gorilla’s call so it can be used as a ring tone long after they’re gone.
Speaking of “long after they’re gone,” there’s also the issue of all the e-waste created—in part—from discarded cell phones. “A whole bouquet of heavy metals, semimetals and other chemical compounds lurk inside your seemingly innocent laptop or TV,” says Jessika Toothman at HowStuffWorks.com. “E-waste dangers stem from ingredients such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, copper, beryllium, barium, chromium, nickel, zinc, silver and gold. Many of these elements are used in circuit boards and comprise electrical parts such as computer chips, monitors, and wiring.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2005, “used or unwanted electronics amounted to approximately 1.9 to 2.2 million tons. Of that, about 1.5 to 1.9 million tons were primarily discarded in landfills, and only 345,000 to 379,000 tons were recycled.”
Ain’t progress swell?
Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.