The Gist

  • Hidden dangers. Aluminum production wreaks havoc on fragile ecosystems and biodiversity.
  • Water crisis. Bauxite mining threatens water resources, exacerbating global water scarcity.
  • Sustainable solutions. Embracing reduction, reuse and repair can counter the environmental impact of tech manufacturing.

Aluminum is material that constitutes the largest proportion of many smartphones and laptops — often the most common material used in smartphones and laptops. It is also a key material for electric vehicles and wind turbines. If you were to believe the tech industry, aluminum is this almost magical “clean” and “green” material. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Dark Side of Aluminum in Tech

To get aluminum for our shiny “green” tech world, we need to mine bauxite. The best place to get bauxite is in the Amazon or in other tropical forests in Africa, Asia or Australia. Ghana is one of those places, and this is the story of Perk Pomeyie, a Ghanaian environmental activist from Accra, who is trying to inform people about how damaging bauxite mining is to Ghana and its people.

“Ghana is rich in biodiversity,” Perk explained. “Our landscape is diverse. We have rainforests. We have the savanna. We have coastal communities. In the Atewa National Park, we have identified certain key biodiversity species that are not available anywhere else in the world.”

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Bauxite Mining: Environmental Costs

Mining is always devastating to the environment. Bauxite mining is particularly devastating. “Bauxite mining, we know, is strip mining,” Perk explained. “The process of mining is very destructive to the environment. You have to strip off the topsoil and that means stripping away the natural habitat, the natural vegetation, stripping off the biodiversity, the wildlife, so as to get access to the bauxite. This is very destructive and devastating because you have to destroy what you have on top of the land to get access to the minerals below the topsoil. This also leaves the surrounding vegetation very dry because once you clear the topsoil you are losing this naturally built ecosystem which you cannot replace after strip mining. This leaves the land very bare. A bare land is prone to issues like drought, issues like land cracks. You have a lot of dust being produced because the land is bare, dry, it’s parched. It becomes unfertile. This has an impact on the livelihoods of people living within these communities — people who depend on the natural ecosystem or the natural resources that are on the topsoil.

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Drone Footage Reveals Destruction

“Looking at drone footage of the bauxite mining site, you can see that it’s very destructive. A whole patch of land looking very red or brownish. It’s very clear that this sort of land that has been destroyed can no longer sustain any type of life. It cannot sustain life. It cannot sustain plant life. It cannot sustain animal life. Because it has been destroyed. It has been left bare and unproductive. We don’t want to see that happening in the Atewa forest range. Also the Atewa forest range plays a critical role with our water resources. The forest is the source of three main rivers which provide water to over five million Ghanaians. Already in the country we are facing water challenges. Ghana Water Company, which is the state institution, is already rationing water.”

Embracing a Sustainable Mindset

The world is in the early stages of a water crisis and mining is particularly damaging to water. We are told that, to get to our “green”, “sustainable” tech future, we must mine twice as much every year as we are currently doing. To survive, we must do the opposite. Slow down. Reduce. Reuse. Repair.

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