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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Being Green

1. Only in heaven does anyone know how many hundreds of tons of shiny Earth Day newsletters, postcards and brochures our government officials have sent out recently, all proclaiming how green we are.

2. My bank says I’m green if I order their credit card with a picture of Earth on the front.

3. A few years ago, the adult cartoon show South Park did an episode teasing some Toyota Prius owners for smugness about being green and saving the world. Pretty funny. In fact, the nickel in the batteries of Prius motors is extracted from heavily-polluting Canadian mines, shipped thousands of miles to Europe for refining, then to China for further processing and finally to Japan where it ends up in a car. That’s some environmental footprint.

4. I don’t know what green means anymore, but I know that relying on perpetual “growth” isn’t working. That is why ideas about “ungrowth” and even “degrowth” are spreading in popularity around the world. We don’t have enough for more all the time. We need better.

5. Wealth can be measured in more ways than how much stuff people accumulate. Health and quality of life are other ways.

6. There are 14 critical raw materials that keep our toys humming along and which are now at risk of supply shortages. Plastics, alloys, touchscreens, some jewelry, batteries, anything nuclear and so much more all rely on one or more of these materials.

7. Here’s the list: antimony, beryllium, cobalt, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite, indium, magnesium, nobium, the six platinum group metals, the 17 rare earth metals, tantalum and tungsten. For some of them, there are more expensive substitutes. Some.

8. Here’s where production of these materials is highest: China, Russia, Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Two of these countries are nuclear powers with the ability to fight back.

9. Eighty-four percent of the world’s beryllium comes from the United States. It increases hardness and resistence to corrosion. It is an important element of high-speed jets, X-ray tubes, space telescopes and the targeting mirrors of battle tanks. In 1998, world beryllium production was 343 tons. In 2008, it was 200 tons. From 2008 to 2009, it fell another 27 percent, and shipments from U.S. beryllium mines were down 31 percent.

10. Well, you can tell those grandkids that there’s always work at the beryllium mine. Wear gloves. Beryllium corrodes tissue.

11. Look up the others. Check them against the USGS mineral reports. All those LED lights we’re supposed to switch to? Most of them are made with gallium nitride. Two-thirds of the world’s gallium comes from China, Germany and Kazakhstan. Japan and Russia come next. After a while, they will want to use it themselves.

12. Believe me, a day without tantalum is a day without sunshine. Also one without computers, smartphones and DVD players.

13. That is what is happening to petroleum. The whole point of that Keystone XL pipeline is to get tar sand petroleum from Alberta to Texas, where it will be shipped to places willing to pay more than us for oil, especially India and China. The price of gas isn’t set by the White House, but by complicated world markets. Now that some big countries are finally following our advice and are recreating themselves as new Americas, they need what we need. And that’s going to be a bit of a problem.

14. As long as the world petroleum markets use the American dollar (“petrodollars”) then we’ll essentially get a little piece of all the action.

15. Here are the countries that in the past 10 years have pushed hard for the use of other currencies in the petroleum market: Iraq, Libya and Iran.

16. Sixty million people in Asia rely on low-consumption motorbikes for basic transportation, and it is very possible that your kids and grandkids will, too.

17. Modern agriculture revolves around fossil fuels. Also phosphorous, which we’re over-mining and wasting at an alarming rate.

18. Americans are being misled and left unprepared, and some of us aren’t going to take it all very well.

19. Department of Homeland Security recently contracted for 450 million hollow-point bullets.

20. Let’s see that in a newsletter.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net