Sunday, December 21, 2014

Tantalum, Coltan and You

For any of you to read this blog, you are most likely operating in a network that uses tantalum capacitors. Your cell phone (smart or dull), your wireless network, and your country's satellites and missile guidance systems use tantalum.  So of course probably does your GPS, if you have one.

Why should you care? Well, at the very least, tantalum is a strategic mineral, as so much of our communications and economy would fail without it. It is also used in turbine alloys, so that redoubles its strategic importance.

 Government foreign policy almost never mentions tantalum, or its source mineral coltan (technically called tantalite).   The silence of governments is a huge clue, not about its supposed unimportance, but about tantalum's overwhelming importance.   In some ways, it is too big to discuss.

What would upset the flow of tantalum into the electronics and turbine manufacturing industries?

Most tantalum in our devices has been freshly extracted from coltan, it was not recycled, so the logical place to look first are what countries produce coltan, and what is going on there.

Countries with coltan resources have shifted in dominance over recent decades.  As of 2013, two thirds of global coltan production, by metric tons, was mined in the cluster of Rwanda, the D.R. Congo and other parts of Africa.

 For those of us who track world news, can we say the g-word, genocide, or the r-word, rape, without thinking of Rwanda or the Congo?   Can anyone think of a UN sanction or other meaningful intervention in either country?  Help me, I haven't found one that had any teeth to it.

So I'm using an old cell phone, about ten years old, a flip phone. My laptop is over five years old.   I'm as dazzled as anyone by the advances in technology, and if I had more money, I might be tempted to silence my conscience and buy new devices, even knowing the dismal origins of tantalum.

If someone can start selling fair-trade electronics with clear-conscience components, that would be a  shock. I'm not holding my breath!  You do what you want.   I haven't offered an easy answer for you or me.

In the long run of plan(t)ing ahead, we need to reuse and recycle this mineral, obviously. Meanwhile, the related human rights abuses are shocking, at least to me, reminding me of what happened when Cotton became King in the 1800s.  How can we be so blind?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Change in emphasis - sunshine and vitamin D

by Joan Savage

Planting Ahead was conceived as a blog about adapting to major change, inspired by the Mohawks' work on conserving black ash trees. I'm still much about adapting to major change.

In the past five weeks I have been paying less attention to the none-the-less important work of preparing for and mitigating climate change, and more attention to what I need to get healthy, healthy enough to do any useful work.
So, Planting Ahead is still about adapting to major change, and that change begins with me.

This health endeavor has involved reading two books, many hours reading medical abstracts, changing my diet, changing sleep pattern, and experimenting with exposing myself occasionally to UV-B light.  However, I remain open to adjustments.  Just today, my daughter shared a link on redheads, pheomelanin and the MC-1R, which led me a few minutes later to find a rather scary abstract on redheads and melanoma. 

The two books:

James Dowd, The Vitamin D Cure, revised edition
Michael Holick, The Vitamin D Solution

Portal to medical abstracts:

My experimental source of UV-B light:
Exo Terra Repti-Glo 10.0 Compact Fluorescent Desert Terrarium Lamp

From Shakespeare's MacBeth


Such welcome and unwelcome things at once
'Tis hard to reconcile.
Well, more anon -

Monday, December 16, 2013

a problem with novelty

 by Joan Savage

I'm mulling over how humans are drawn to novelty. In this characteristic we are a lot like other mammals and some birds.  

In one story, some indigenous people in Amazonia had a cure for headaches, but they were so fascinated by a bottle of aspirin that they ignored what they already had locally for free and bartered for aspirin. 

That dynamic seems so familiar.  Advertising is built on images of new, special, rare, best.

We may be fascinated by risks that are novel, too, more attentive, at least for a time, to a rare danger than a nearby familiar danger. That could be a survival skill.   

If we really accept that an earthquake will happen along a fault line, and build for that inevitability, no matter how indefinite the timing, we've done a good thing.  But, having a stockpile for disaster is not an excuse to forget to stop at a red light or brush one's teeth.

Do things come back in perspective when we satisfy our curiosity and sense of preparedness about a formerly novel item or risk? 

Curiosity has been both a delight and a curse. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ocean pH and us, updated

By Joan Savage

 It has been said we land animals are creatures born of the seas. Our ancestors came to land as sacks of sea water, and our blood somewhat resembles seawater, or at least some patches of seawater: salty, full of nutrients, some oxygen, some carbon dioxide, some bicarbonate ion.

A recent BBC article on ocean acidification came with a jaunty, even flippant title, "Emissions of CO2 driving rapid oceans 'acid trip.' " I must point out that 'acid trip' connotes a youthful misadventure, albeit memorable. I didn't try LSD, but I've had to listen to those who did experiment on themselves, and they thought it was important.

'Acid trip' does not hint at irretrievable change in the oceans, so I am holding BBC accountable.  What is happening to the oceans is poisoning, and more like brain damage.

The BBC article included a sidebar of bulleted points, they are useful and I have cut and pasted here:

From BBC:


  • The oceans are thought to have absorbed up to half of the extra CO2 put into the atmosphere in the industrial age
  • This has lowered their pH by 0.1
  • pH is the measure of acidity and alkalinity
  • It usually ranges from pH 0 (very acidic) to pH 14 (very alkaline); 7 is neutral
  • Seawater is mildly alkaline with a "natural" pH of about 8.2
End BBC sidebar.

So,  the ocean's pH has already changed by 0.1.  Would it bother you if your coffee or tea's pH changed by 0.1? Probably not.

Consider this comparison instead.  Human arterial blood functions at a narrow range of pH, from pH 7.35 to pH 7.45. Outside of that range of pH range lies emergency situations and death. So the entire range of human blood's physiological health is 0.1.

The oceans have on average shifted by pH 0.1, the maximum pH shift that arterial blood in the human body could tolerate.

At what point does our mother the ocean become fatally ill and die?

Other news stories on ocean acidification:

1) Scientists warn of hot, sour, breathless oceans

By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer   Updated 4:30 pm, Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"...the sweet spots where the factors combine are getting harder to find, Feely and Riebesell said.The world ocean pH already has gone from 8.1 to 8.0 — it's considered a 26 percent increase in acidity because scientists measure hydrogen ions for this."

Friday, November 1, 2013

imaging a positive future

I have to admit this blogging seems to be largely a personal exercise.
So just for the record, or my own record, it seems worth it to imagine a post-fossil fuel society.

Let's be comfortable, peaceful, cheerful, and with many of the personal freedoms that we currently enjoy, like open communications and information flow, and the fragrances of living plants in fresh air.

How to have..

Well-insulated, and ventilated, homes and offices that take little energy to heat, cool, and have humidity control.

Landscape architecture and infrastructure that enables easy walking and public transport to employment, services, and entertainment.

Rechargeable delivery trucks and mini-buses.

Regionally grown food.
Fish ponds.

Trains and canals for efficient long-range transport.
Maybe some new forms of transport.

Parks near schools.

Full-life accessibility features.


Just had to make some notes.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Climate change adaptations - native communities

When I started this blog I explained it was inspired by the Mohawks' work to preserve ash trees which are a species threatened both by Emerald Ash Borer and climate change.

Here's a link to more examples of confronting climate change in other indigenous communities.

8 Tribes That Are Way Ahead of the Climate-Adaptation Curve



Monday, October 21, 2013

Something mainstream media usually misses in the solar cycle

It turns out that geomagnetic storms and electron fluxes occur predominantly before or after the famed high-energy solar activity part of the sun's cycle, per one of NOAA's nifty reports, graph on page 3.

Media attention to the solar cycle has been driven by climate change deniers who try to deceive people into believing that heat waves and droughts are only cyclic, ignoring the overdrive of anthropogenic global warming.  That denier deception is far more sinister than the, "Ignore the man behind the curtain," moment in the Wizard of Oz, even though both are attempts to deflect attention away from what is really happening.

The earth is accumulating heat even during the slow parts of the solar cycle, important to mention.  Yet mainstream media should also pay attention to other aspects of the solar cycle.

Why would we care about it?  Geomagnetic storms, proton surges and electron fluxes, what about them?  They affect electronics. They affect power grids and pipelines.  As we turn away from coal and oil (and I hope nuclear) we have protect and sustain the electronic culture and the devices that displace carbon energy.