AP Literature MISO (Media, Interview, Survey, Observation) Venture
Our Complacency Crisis
by Corey Z., Tim F., Micah B., Leslie H.
How much do you know about your place in the world?
Each and every choice we make leaves an indelible mark on the world, whether big or small. The impact of each and every cent we spend, each and every mouse click we make, can be magnified a thousand-fold to affect hearts and minds on the other side of the world.
In particular, our participation in buying electronics has the potential to drive substantial conflict, exploitation, and suffering in Central Africa. Unfortunately, as with many other unintended consequences of our consumerist culture, those hit hardest are the most disadvantaged and the most incapable of fighting back. In the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), this epidemic of our ignorance has facilitated the spread of suffering, exploitation, and greed.
But, how exactly are we involved?
Within our electronic devices (yes, the device you’re using to read this article), there are a multitude of complex components. Many of these components are made of rare earth metals, which are only found in practical amounts in certain areas of the world, one of which is the eastern DRC.
These special metals are classified as conflict minerals which, as defined by the United Nations, are resources that contribute to conflict in the countries where they are mined. These minerals include tantalum (coltan), tin (cassiterite), tungsten (wolframite), and gold. Although not classified as a rare earth metal, cobalt is also mined in extensive quantities in the eastern DRC.
These are all materials found in our phones. Tantalum is used in our devices for capacitors and high-power resistors; tin is used to solder small electronic components together; tungsten is used in the creation of vibration motors and also in the creation of resistors; and gold is used in small amounts to create wiring throughout the motherboard. In addition, although cobalt is not categorized as a “conflict mineral,” this material can be found in the lithium ion that charges our phones and is also one of the most exploited resources in some African countries.
The conditions for mining these minerals are often inhumane. Children are forced to climb into underground mines with no safety equipment, risking their lives. They are then coerced into spending hours digging through debris for small pieces of these minerals, breathing in toxic fumes in the process.
In an era of rapidly advancing technology, we all have phones and laptops which allow for easier access to the internet and greater connection to the world around us. Yet we remain blissfully ignorant of the consequences of the production of electronics. With such a large reserve of information online, we have no excuse to turn a blind eye to our own contributions to the horrors that happen in the world.
Yet, the sad reality is that sometimes, even if we are aware of the issues at hand, we continue to buy electronics that may contain electronic components that are linked to injustice, child labour, environmental destruction and war. We rely on our electronic devices and cannot be without our Smart phones, laptops, Smart watches and more.
However, we can make choices that allow us to continue using electronics that are more sustainable and just.
We can start by turning towards more environmentally conscious brands. Apple and Intel actually have the most responsible supply chains in the world for electronics (see graph above); these companies know exactly where their materials come from and avoid conflict minerals. On the other hand, some other brands (including many major brands from East Asia) are more problematic because their supply chains are not documented, meaning that conflict minerals are likely used widely in the products (conflict minerals tend to be cheaper because of the unjust ways in which they are procured).
In addition, we can also reduce the amount of electronics we buy by carefully considering what we really need. Do you really need that second phone? Do you really need that Apple Watch? Do you really need to replace your laptop?
When one of our electronic devices does break for the final time and cannot be repaired, we can also recycle the device instead of throwing it away to ensure that the reusable parts make their way back to manufacturers. These companies will melt down the motherboards, salvage the minerals and put them into new devices. In China, e-waste bins can be found in Element Fresh restaurants across Shanghai as part of their implementation of the We Project which aims to provide an environmentally friendly way to dispose of unwanted electronic products. They accept a wide range of electronic devices ranging from phones to toys to electronic tools. Our group is also negotiating a partnership with Green Initiatives to implement an e-waste program and drop-off on campus, as well.
With a simple change in lifestyle and mindset, we can be more conscious of our actions in relation to the world and lessen the damage that comes with our current behavior. How will you contribute to a solution today?
Micah, Leslie, Tim and Corey are senior students taking AP Literature & Composition at Concordia International School Shanghai.