Monday, July 30, 2018

The rare metals war

An excerpt follows from a review of Pitron's book: The Rare Metals War. Regarding the excerpt below, I just had this discussion yesterday with a book group that was reading Kurzweil on the singularity. They too are techno-optimists in that we will solve all problems with tech. When I asked about the rare metals needed, the energy needed to produce them and the waste generated, they said we'll just have to get the metals from the asteroid belt and move humanity off of earth.

"While Rifkin’s predictions seem to follow the course of history, Pitron soberly and methodically tempers them: 'Digital technology requires considerable amounts of metals: every year, the electronics industry consumes 320 tonnes of gold and 7,500 tonnes of silver; it accounts for 22% of the world’s consumption of mercury (some 514 tonnes) and up to 2.5% of lead. The manufacture of computers and mobile phones alone gobbles up 19% of global output of rare metals like palladium and 23% of cobalt production'. Yet, 'at current rates of production, the recoverable reserves of 15 or so base and rare metals will run out in less than 50 years; for five other metals (including iron, which is abundant), this will occur before the end of the century.'"

"Pitron points out that 'the manufacture of a two-gram chip creates two kilograms of waste material, in other words a 1 to 1000 ratio of material produced to waste generated.' Like Rifkin, those who see the digital revolution as the key to ecological transition are victims of a collective blindness that is leading humanity into a dead end: 'They don’t want to know because a connected world is preferable to a clean planet.' Indeed, the book pours scorn on an energy transition that does not call into question our energy needs."

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