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Drummond Ltd. Systems engineer Carlos A. Brewer R.

Many books and articles have been written during recent years questioning or asking about the real cost of actual technologies.

 I would like to mention a couple of these costs in poor or “underdeveloped” countries.

 First of all is the cost in human lives.  Have you asked how was the size reduction of many technological devices possible? If not, go to Wikipedia and search for this word: "Coltan."

Coltan is an abbreviation of two words: columbite and tantalite. From this mineral emerges tantalum which is used in electronics everywhere, from plasma TVs to cell phones; as a matter of fact, this mineral is the key element in the miniaturization of modern electronics.

The most important reserves of this mineral are located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and these reserves have helped trigger a second civil war in this African country, a war that has left more than 4 million persons dead. It seems that until now, the world’s most important economics are realizing the true cost of this mineral, and modern technologies, like each cell phone you purchase, one way or another contributes to the horrific war in the Congo.

I cannot argue against miniaturization of modern technologies. I do use a modern cell phone with PDA functions; basically, it helps me to deliver better results in my job.

But this is not an excuse to ignore or avoid talking about the consequences of my purchases of modern technologies.

A few weeks ago some experts claimed that both Colombia and Venezuela have important reserves of this mineral. Both countries have different economic models, while Venezuela is embarked in a process of transition from a neo-liberal model to a socialist one, Colombia is a country with a neo-liberal model.  Coltan findings are important for both countries because they hold the potential of being a huge generator of wealth and jobs, but if they are not properly administered, it will cause huge problems.

Just to mention the case of Colombia, this country is in the middle of a war against irregular groups; these groups  have historically attacked or blackmailed companies that intend to explore and extract the natural resources of Colombia with the argument that the national government signs the exploration treaties under a shadow of corruption.  Right now, and since few years ago, this situation has shifted and companies have more freedom to develop their operations.

I believe that is almost impossible to prevent or stop corruption and social violence problems in scenarios where money flows in a really easy way; however, measures can be taken to reduce the impact of these problems on local economies and provide hope and better living conditions to areas where strategic mineral reserves are located.

A model of economical development has to be set-up first and local autorities must be in place and empowered enough to prevent that this mineral, or any other, from causing a social crisis that ends up with the loss of human lives.

Another hidden cost of modern technologies is garbage. It is really sad to drive your car between two cites, stop in the middle of nowhere, and find plastic pieces of computer components, plastic debris, and even chips.

Constant improvements on modern life technologies have many beneficial effects on everyday life, but it creates a culture where many persons buy new products and then the old ones go into the garbage with no idea of the effects that this kind of garbage causes in the nature.

This is a common tendency in almost all countries worldwide; we tend to waste all that is obsolete and put it directly to the garbage can with little or no idea of recycling.

This situation is especially important in third world countries; garbage is disposed of with little or no controls and in most cases the disposal sites are exposed to several factors that spread contamination beyond its borders.

Hidden costs are not easily identifiable because we live in a “bubble” where daily life is clean and aseptic and we have no idea what is behind the products we use; we just use them.

People who live in areas near big mines or important mineral reserves must realize their importance and ask their political representatives for a clean administration of the huge resources generated by their natural reserves.


 

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