Tuesday, 10 June 2014

An everyday consequence of lenience towards Australia

When I asked to have an old Panasonic stereo system serviced a few weeks ago, I was given a guarantee that Panasonic would make the part for the machine, and paid sixty dollars to have a quote given. The people at the place – in a remote corner of Sunshine West – were very nice to me and assured that the part would still be available, despite my mother’s scepticism. I took the view that, although the machine was not playing CDs, it was working so perfectly that it was an utter waste that I should replace it just for that failure, especially as the temporary replacement I bought has two speakers that simply do not function.

However, in the near-month since I sent the machine for service, Panasonic have not communicated with me very well and I have become very worried. A week ago, my worst fears – or so I thought – were realised when I found that the laser was severely damaged, but I was told that I expected a quote in my email very soon. I have been careful – or so I think – to make sure I do not delete such an email by accident, but still I have no recollection from a fleeting memory of any email.

Today, however, came the news my mother expected, but which I thought I had had a guarantee against. I was directed to call TechXperts Sydney headquarters, and they seemed to be saying that the part I need – a new laser – is no longer in production and I will have to buy a new machine for at least $120 and probably more.

People may take planned obsolescence of this thought for granted as technology improves. The fact is, though, that one cannot contain global warming unless planned obsolescence is eliminated. Almost all the minerals for high electronic technology come from the ancient, thick crust of the Australian Craton – not depleted in insoluble refractory lithophile elements by the Alpine Orogeny and large-scale ice sheets. Although occupying only one percent of the Earth’s surface and 5 percent of total crustal volume, the Australian Craton may possess as much as 20 percent of the Earth’s “budget” (total nuclear mass) of titanium, zirconium, hafnium and the myriad lanthanide and actinide elements. These elements, along with silicon, are key components of advanced technologies, but their extremely strong affinity for oxygen meant that they cannot be smelted directly from their oxides; instead they must be converted to halides and either reduced in an inert atmosphere or electrolysed. Thus their use without major climatic consequences requires that:
  1. smelting be done only in areas with reliable renewable energy sources – which in practice means mountainous regions with reliable runoff for hydropower
  2. transportation be done in such a manner as to eliminate – or if impossible minimise absolutely – greenhouse pollution from vehicles used to transport them
These two factors, by their very nature, require that extremely rigid requirements be imposed on Australia to deal with greenhouse gas emissions, because:
  1. owing to its large supply of land and fossil fuels, in the absence of regulations there is no incentive for energy efficiency in Australia
  2. the much greater political pressure in the Enriched World means much higher standards regarding greenhouse gas emissions
  3. reducing Australia’s emissions from transport to zero – or no more than one percent their current levels which would be required for climatic stability – restricts the amount of raw materials that can be exported to Enriched World high-technology industries
It is for this reason that planned obsolescence is not compatible with a sustainable economy. As I have said many times before, severely restricting energy consumption in Australia and in Australia alone is the keystone for reducing global greenhouse emissions. It would necessarily restrict the production of raw materials from remote regions for electronic goods, and therefore require companies to plan for greatly longer lifespans than observed since the large-scale discovery and use of lithophile metallurgy. It would use many fewer resources to simply replace spare parts than to discard them – the volume of materials required can only be much smaller – and if energy costs in Australia reflected the exceptionally low-energy lifestyle of ecosystems all over the continent this is what would happen.

The pity is that people in the Enriched World do not see what always buying the latest trend does for the continent where the genuine ecological changes are occurring!

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