Wind turbines: can they harm us?

Technology development is something that constantly plays on our minds; when is the new iPhone coming out? What new features will it have? Will the camera have a ‘flawless’ filter? But one thing many people don’t consider is how technology development has played such a huge part in the growth of the human population over the years. The invention of various different types of transport created a new accessibility to work which allowed for a bigger economy and bigger families. Even the creation of technology has in itself created more jobs: computer technicians, engineers, mechanics, plumbers. There is now not a single job in the world that does not interact with technology of some kind – whether it be a sales assistant working on a till or a receptionist inputting data in to a system. We are now so technologically advanced that some of the jobs originally created by technology development have actually been replaced by newer technology development.  But what effect is all of this technology development having on the environment? Furthermore, is all this technology actually reducing the chance of population growth?

A lot of the batteries used in the electronic technology that we produce today are composed of ‘Rare Earth Metals’, which is a group of 17 elements shown in the periodic table below:

These metals are extremely difficult to extract from the earth and often cause large amounts of environmental damage and produce harmful emissions such as Sulfuric Acid, Coal Dust and Solvent Vapours. You may not really understand what these terms mean – to be honest with you, I don’t either – but I do understand the consequences. The flow of toxic waste from this mining process runs in to nearby waters and kills plant life, fish and even rural residents. China is the single biggest supplier of Rare Earth Metals, this is because the metals are sold at cheap prices as environmental safety standards are virtually non-existent. One of the main areas that produces Rare Earth Metals is near the city of Batou, which is 650km north west of Beijing. It may not be surprising to find out that most of the residents who resided in a village near to where the Rare Earth Metals are mined moved away, 7 of them died from cancer and the animals that are still present there have become deformed; there are sheep that have grown two layers of teeth so long that they are unable to close their mouths. Perhaps technology development is actually slowing our population growth after all.

So what technology is it that uses these environment-destroying elements? It may not shock you too much to find out that technology such as smartphones, computers, hard drives and electronic cars all use Rare Earth Metals in their production but one thing I did find quite strange is that rare earth metals are also used in the production of wind turbines. We were all led to believe that wind turbines are a clean source of energy, they don’t damage our environment and yet the very stuff that is used to produce them creates a vast amount of environmental and physical damage to those around it. I’ll leave you with this question, what energy source are we able to use without damaging our planet in some way?

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