Do you know what you don’t know?

  • Friday, July 27, 2018 3:25pm
  • Opinion

Recently, in a conversation with a friend, the subject of cellphones came up. Most of us take these gadgets for granted but know very little about them. Their use is so widespread, we find it strange when encountering someone who doesn’t own one.

Think about it for a second. You know how to operate a cellphone and would be lost without it. But do you know how and where they are made? What industries are supported by their manufacture? What impact they have on our economy?

As an op-ed writer, I’m always on the look-out for subject matter — especially subjects that aren’t being talked about.

Why this topic interested me is a case in point. More on that later.

Obviously, current events comprise the main source of most op-eds today.

Likely subjects are ones in which the author has an interest and, perhaps, experience. After a career in banking, my columns often tackle the economic, financial or budgetary perspectives of local issues.

My background in the military and aviation along with an interest in history — particularly Alaska and U. S. history — has guided other columns.

But, sometimes, it’s fun to branch out.

A good opinion piece should do more than present a point of view. It can educate the reader (and the writer) on a subject and, by doing so, provide a different perspective on a related issue.

Which brings me back to cellphones.

Because of the high cost of communication infrastructure in third-world countries and remote areas of the country, telephone technology has skipped a generation of people who don’t even know what a “landline” is.

Over 7 billion cellphones are in use today — led by China (1.3 billion), India (1.2 billion), and the U.S. (327 million). Last year, over 1.5 billion cellphones were sold globally — mostly manufactured in India, China, and Vietnam.

It’s big business.

A cellphone is made from a variety of materials, with the most common being aluminum alloys and plastic — found in the phone case. Lithium, cobalt and manganese are contained in the batteries. Elements like gold, copper and silver are used in the wiring of the phone.

The microphone and speaker of the phone both use magnets, which contain gallium and neodymium. Gallium is a by-product of mining and the processing of aluminum, zinc and copper. China produces 80 per cent of the world’s gallium and 90 per cent of the world’s supply of rare-earth minerals — neodymium being one of them.

Obviously, the mining industry is critical to the production of cellphones. But that isn’t where it ends.

The infrastructure to support cellphones, especially in Alaska, is complex and enormous. There are hundreds of cellphone towers located throughout our state. In many remote communities, cellphones are the only way to communicate long-distance.

Every cell tower requires periodic maintenance, technical service and a constant, reliable source of electricity. Outside most urban areas of Alaska, that means using diesel generators — for which fuel needs to be transported in regularly by helicopter.

By now, you probably know where I’m going with this.

Thousands of everyday products use petroleum products and mined metals. From plastics, paint, cosmetics, bug dope, and tires to phones, laptops and complex space-age devices.

It’s easy and commonplace to trash the mining and oil industries.

It’s also easy to take cellphones for granted but reject the tradeoffs required to produce them and keep them connected.

America’s environmental regulations are clearly superior to most countries where mining and oil exploration occurs. Furthermore, there is concern America could potentially be held hostage by China and others that control rare-earth metals, minerals, and oil that are critical to America’s economy and security.

Objections to oil exploration in ANWR or existing mine expansions at nearby Greens Creek Mine and Kensington mine, as well as potential Alaska mining projects, like the Herbert River prospect near Juneau, are short-sighted. These projects would stimulate our economy, reduce dependence on foreign oil and minerals, as well as improve global environmental quality.

I wonder how many other products we use every day depend on resources available in Alaska — the continued development of which could further strengthen our economy?

That might be worth knowing.


• Win Gruening retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is active in community affairs as a 30-plus year member of Juneau Downtown Rotary Club and has been involved in various local and statewide organizations. He contributes a regular column to the Juneau Empire. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.


More in Opinion

Web
Have something to say?

Here’s how to add your voice to the conversation.

Tease
Opinion: Rural broadband is essential infrastructure

Broadband funding is available. The rest is up to Alaskans.

(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: What is the validity of the cruise ship survey?

How good are people’s memories about problems?

(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Alaskans should support Ocean Ranger program

Alaskans should be concerned that these floating cities could go unchecked.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Opinion: The foolish men claiming self-defense

By Rich Moniak A not guilty verdict “will not be a miscarriage… Continue reading

teaser
Opinion: Why giving is part of our Alaska way of life

GCI is encouraging our fellow Alaskans to offer a hand to our most vulnerable neighbors in need.

(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: State defends its right to cut nonexistent taxes

By Larry Persily There is an inescapable irony to the fact that… Continue reading

teaser
Opinion: Peeling the onion on Thanksgiving

“Peeling the onion” is an expression often used as a metaphor for… Continue reading

Most Read