Here are two fantastic cover stories from the New Scientist magazine. (You’ll have to right click to view the article page images in full.) The first article, The Age of Plenty, talks about how the rare earth minerals that are currently being extracted and mined for use in modern technologies came as a surprise to me, as I figured the following and have removed this from a piece I’m writing but will probably never finish:
Humanity is caught in a resource-dilemma. There is a finite supply of particular elements that we depend upon for survival and these resources, such as fresh water or helium, will need to be used wisely if humanity is to flourish and progress into the next millennia. Moreover, the exhaustion of these resources, such as clearing forests for timber, extracting and burning fossil fuels for energy, and depleting the seas for sustenance, is disturbing the balance of nature and if maintained will likely destabilize the crucial natural cycles (hydrological, atmospheric, carbon) that should be kept stable if we are to stand a chance of moving forward into the future as a united species. In extreme portrayals of the human future, people have established colonies on a terraformed Mars and live in giant space station habitats, but these scenarios are unlikely to unfold if we if squander and burn the precious minerals that are required to engineer such technologically-advanced civilizations. In any case, escaping to futuristic space settlements is a fatalistic outlook, for we already live on perfectly habitable and miraculous planet that has the potential to last for a very long time if we take better care of it and each other.
However abundant the supply of rare earth minerals, humans are still destroying the Earth and each other, so our species probably won’t be around too much longer to enjoy the fruits of all this wonderful technology. In Plastic Planet, Christina Reed examines the severity of the problem of plastic dumped into the oceans. This is a solid and succinct article that everyone should read to be informed of the quantity of plastic in the oceans as well as to be more considerate about their plastic consumption and disposal. (My friend’s dad washes and reuses his plastic bags after they’ve dried off.) Some of the most incredible factoids Reed included in her article are:
- 260,000 tons of plastic (70% of all sea waste) is currently floating in the sea.
- L.A rivers dump around 30 tons of plastic into the Pacific Ocean every day (compared to the Danube, which dumps out around 4.2 tons a day).
- Plastic production has increased from 1.5 tons a year in the 1950s to 299 tons in 2013, thus only 0.1% of the plastic produce globally makes its way into the sea, but if you read the article you’ll learn that there is some confusion about this.
- A lot of plastic may be locked up in sea ice and in deep sea sediment.
- In 2012, only 9% of the world’s 32 million tons of the disposable plastic produced was recycled.