The most agonizing sections of the Crawford/Joler essay were those that dealt directly with the planet’s physical environment. From the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia and its associated volcano myths and rapid lithium extraction for batteries to the extinction of the palaquium gutta tree for the use in cable insulation -- the cost that the environment of the planet pays in the name of short-term technological advances and global ‘logistics’ is immense and alarming. I was struck and depressed by the fact that the planet has built up its ‘rare earth’ resources over millions of years, and yet the damage that is done to get at a fraction of what’s produced and then used as a component in some electronic device that has a lifespan of a few years.. it’s appalling! The essay (and its associated map, to a lesser extent) was really effective throughout its descriptions of the systems supporting AI and technology, but the aspects of the entire system that are having the most direct impact on the environment and the clarity to which these were described felt truly like a punch in the gut.
The sourcing of components to make an end product was another outline of this reading that readjusted my focus of how things are made. It’s easy to forget how many vast, invisible networks are caught up in the making of a sleek digital product. The opaqueness of how these supply chains operate is alarming.
I also read the “Containers Lost at Sea” 2017 update report from the World Shipping Council, for more information about all the thousands of shipping containers that are lost at sea every year. It turns out that that figure is very slightly overblown due to ‘catastrophic losses’ which need to be counted separately, it turns out. The handy graph provided (below) shows an enlightening view of lost shipping containers, particularly how devastating 2013 was -- all in part to the tragic sinking of the MOL Comfort, which you can see pictures of and read more about here, (the crew was rescued but that was not the case for the containers!)
The total number of lossed containers does seem to hover around 1000 annually since the year 2010, per the reported data from 80% of the world’s shipping carriers.
I also read some of the Wired article discussing working conditions at Amazon’s fulfillment centers, which left me feeling bleak.
What is the solution for so many dispersed component manufacturers and sourcing for electronic parts and rare earth materials? Truly a wicked problem. It would be great for everyone to consume less but is that realistic? It doesn’t seem like it, with people walking around with multiple smart phones.