Conflict Minerals - What's in Your Pocket?

Sun, 2010-06-27 12:32

Did you know that May 18, 2010 was the one-year anniversary of the release of the LEED Green Associate exam? Awesome! Did you also know that on May 18, 2010 the 1000th U.S. soldier was killed in Afghanistan? That’s not so awesome. Consider that 500 soldiers were killed during the first seven years of war in the “Graveyard of Empires,” but it’s taken only two years for the second 500. Sometimes it feels like I’m watching a slow motion train wreck that’s picking up speed every second.

Now, consider that 5 million people have died in Congo since war began there in 1998. That’s in the same ballpark as the number of Jews that were killed during the Holocaust. If you are saying to yourself, “I didn’t know we’re at war in Congo.” I say to you: Relax, there are no American soldiers there, so it’s really not that big of a deal.

Congo isn’t your run-of-the-mill war. In places like Iraq, people get killed all of the time, and for most Americans, it falls somewhere on the list of things to care about between “Update the yellow ribbon on the back of my SUV” and “OMG, I have to Tivo tonight’s episode of Dancing with the Stars!”

Let’s face it, we’ve gotten used to hearing things like “XX people killed by a car bomb at (fill in the blank) Mosque in Baghdad” that it’s become background noise. Nowadays, it takes something especially disturbing to catch our attention. So, let’s try this one from Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times, “In Congo, I’ve seen women who have been mutilated, children who have been forced to eat their parents’ flesh, girls who have been subjected to rapes that destroyed their insides.” Now that’s more like it! Doesn’t it feel good to care about a cause again? Enjoy it while it lasts. By next week you’ll be thinking, “Not another rape-cannibalism-mutilation story from Congo! If I hear that lame fairy-tale one more time…”

Do you know what fuels the conflict in Congo? No, for once it’s not oil (relax, BP). The biggest contributor to the conflict in Congo is the $183 million that militias generate each year from the sale of tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. These minerals have led to brutal conflict for the same reason that oil is a big part of why we have a couple of hundred thousand soldiers deployed in and around the Middle East right now – it turns out they’re essential to us being able to maintain our standard of living. In this case, it’s necessary for the manufacture of all of the electronics that we’ve come to crave. I wonder how many fingers got chopped off so that I could get my new MacBook Pro that I’m typing this on? Are you a PC or a Mac person? Either way, check out this witty video to see whether you’ve inadvertently done some harm.

And for those of you that are thinking we’re going to leave Afghanistan sometime in your lifetime, I have good news! We’ve just re-discovered vast deposits of rare minerals with an estimated value at over $1 trillion dollars. Considering that the average person in Afghanistan lives on less than a dollar per day, I’m sure we’re going to see an outbreak of peace and happiness there any day now.