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Coping with a Broken System: An Idealist's Lament

Since 2016 is just around the corner, I thought I would write about something that I've been struggling with for a while.

I'm an idealist at heart, which tends to make everything more complicated and nuanced. Why am I bringing this up? Well, the tumultuous year that was 2015 is thankfully coming to a close, and I'm left wondering about how my day-to-day life impacts our world as a whole.

I know I'm just one person, but there currently is 7 billion "ones" on Earth...and those numbers add up!

I work in the tech industry, obviously, spending hours in front of my computer screen every day. Computers as hardware require a lot of resources in order to be produced, and even more resources (i.e. energy) in order to function. This means that my beloved computer, the very thing that allows me to make a living and do my work, is a part of a global system involving cheap oil, mining, cheap labour, telecommunications, and trade agreements. In a sense, my little laptop is a poster child for the existing global economy and "business as usual"; the very system which is eating up natural resources at a maddening rate, pumping out tons of greenhouse gases, and polluting our environment.

As a designer, I have enjoyed working on Macs for years. Their elegant design and intuitive applications are wonderful (at least when they work).

Say what you will about Apple, they know how to appeal to consumers. The company has boasted its innovative recycling program and "commitment to the environment" before it was trendy. I thought recycling my old Apple products would reduce harmful waste, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Components of electronics are notoriously difficult and labour intensive to separate for recycling. Computer parts and monitors leach harmful chemicals into the soil, often being left in landfills for years (until further processing).

You'd never know if you just read Apple's marketing. Earlier this year, the computer giant reported that they were spending $848 million on a solar farm to power their new headquarters in Silicon Valley. Their California offices, however, only produce 2% of the company's greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 70% from their manufacturing facilities in China. You see, Apple relies on manufacturing partners like Foxconn, instead of manufacturing their products in their own factories. Even though Apple often funds the construction of its partner's factories, strict environmental-protection measures are not enforced, and these factories are usually reliant on fossil fuels.

Don't even get me started on the new Macs coming out - with glued-in components which cannot be upgraded. If your machine dies, you'll be forced to get a new one. Consumerism and capitalistic greed at its finest.

It doesn't have to be this way. "Business as usual" doesn't need to mean decimating everything in our path.

Why can't new computers use more recycled materials, and their designs be easily disassembled for easy recycling?

Why can't Apple's manufacturing partner's operate using renewable energy sources like wind and solar?

Why can't our electronics be made to be easily upgraded?

I live in a world where my ideals are constantly at odds with everyday life. I need to work for a living and communicate with others at a distance - which requires technology and energy consumption. I do my part to ensure that energy comes from renewable sources, but it isn't enough.

I want to live in a world where idealists can sleep a little more soundly at night.

Until then, I'm just one.

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