Conflict-Minerals Unchained

On the 9th of February of this year, through one of the internet news sources I follow from the USA called, ‘Reader Supported News’ (RSN), I was dismade to read about a leaked Trump Presidential memo that would free US companies to buy ‘Conflict Minerals’ from Central African Warlords. According to the report, Donald Trump was expected to sign trumpthis Presidential Memorandum within days. In effect it suspends a 2010 rule that discouraged American companies from funding conflict and human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo through their purchase of  “conflict minerals.”

I have written on conflict minerals on my Blog a few times in the past. In March of 2015 I published an article entitled, “The Curse of Coltan.” Coltan is short for Columbite Tantelite, which is a dull metallic ore found in major quantities in the eastern areas of The Congo. When refined, Coltan becomes metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. These properties make it a vital what_is_coltan_bigelement in creating capacitors, the electronic elements that control current flow inside miniature circuit boards. Tantalum capacitors are used in almost all cell phones, laptops, computers, iPads, flat screen TV’s, pagers and many other electronics.

Coltan is classified as a ‘Conflict Mineral,’ because the global demand for Coltan has fueled a bloody civil war in central Africa; one that has claimed six million lives to date. A UN report claims that all parties involved in the Congolese civil war have been involved in the mining and sale of Coltan. The multimillion-dollar trade of Congolese Coltan and other warnatural resources by foreign armies, rebels, and militias fuels the conflict by motivating armed groups to wage war, and by providing them with cash to do so.

This blog article has received over 500 views since first published and so in March of 2016 I published a follow up article entitled, “Coltan Update.” Then in October of 2016 I published an article entitled, “Cobalt and Congo,” which explained how Cobalt, while not classified as a conflict mineral, is also part of the equation due to its value for the electronics industry and its part is slavery intensive supply chains. Finally, in February of this year I published an article entitled, “Modern Slavery in the Electronics Industry,” which looks at the issue of human trafficking and modern day slavery in the supply chains of the electronics industry.

The leaked memo (document-final), distributed inside the administration, and obtained by The Intercept, directs the Securities and Exchange Commission to temporarily waive the requirements of the Conflict Mineral Rule, a provision of the Dodd Frank Act (the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010), for two years. The reason given in the memo, and which the act allows for, is national security. The idea militiabehind the Act in the first place, which had bipartisan support at the time, was to drain militias of revenue by forcing firms to conduct reviews of their supply chain to determine if contractors used minerals sourced from the militias.

As the RSN reported, human rights advocates, who had celebrated the conflicts rule as a major step forward, were appalled. “Any executive action suspending the U.S. conflict minerals rule would be a gift to predatory armed groups seeking to profit from Congo’s minerals as well as a gift to companies wanting to do business with the criminal and the corrupt,” said Carly Oboth, the policy adviser at Global Witness, in a statement responding to a Reuters article that first reported the move. “It is an abuse of power that the Trump administration is claiming that the law should be suspended through a national security exemption intended for emergency purposes. Suspending this provision could actually undermine U.S. national security.”

Firms such as Intel, Apple, HP, and IBM use advanced chips that contain tantalum, gold, tin, and tungsten – elements that can be mined at low prices in the DRC, where mines are often controlled by militias. American tech companies, such as Intel, lobbied directly against the rule when it was proposed. But since passage of the Act, tech firms have largely used third party business groups to stymie the rule. Trade groups representing major U.S. tech firms and other manufacturers, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, attempted to block the rule through a federal lawsuit. In 2014, a federal court struck down a part of the rule that forced firms to reveal DRC conflict minerals on their corporate websites.

So we can speculate on why Donald Trump wants to suspend the act for reasons of ‘National Security.’ Perhaps the leveling of the playing field, which the rule has produced, has equally disadvantaged those sides in the conflict supported by the US intelligence agencies as well as those opposed by these agencies. Or perhaps ‘National Security’ is the wool being pulled over our eyes, designed to garner favour, or at least a blind eye, from donald-trumpAmericans fearful of terrorism, to allow US companies to increase their profits at the expense of innocent African lives. While we’ve seen this before – US governments for whom the end justifies the means – it should concern us just how low the Trump administration will go to erode all the advances in human rights made over the last 100 years.

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Modern Slavery in the Electronics Industry

The business world most often comes into contact with modern slavery where there are complex global supply chains. Business owners, of course, are primarily motivated by finances. They wish to make a profit – that is to at least cut costs and overheads so as to make their product as cheaply as possible so as to maximise profit. Obtaining the raw materials as cheaply as possible will be most attractive, thus opening the business up to nike-sweatshopssupply chains that involve exploitative labour. Businesses may enter wittingly or unwittingly into the use of supply chains that are not slavery proof.

It is Governments and consumers who are increasingly aware of issues of bonded labour and human rights in supply chains who support, if not demand, that businesses act to implement ethical sourcing programs. It is in the interest of businesses to comply as they can otherwise suffer damage to their reputation and risk losing consumer confidence and market share if they are found to be sourcing from suppliers who use exploitative labour. They may even face legal sanctions if their suppliers are involved in illegal conduct. Businesses obviously wish to avoid these negative consequences which negatively affect their profits. So a good track record of acting ethically can encourage investment and consumer confidence.

Modern slavery affects over 29 million people around the world (Walk Free Global Slavery Index, 2013). The term ‘modern slavery’ describes exploitation so severe that people are not able to leave their place of work. ‘Slavery’ refers to the condition of treating another person as if they were property – something to be bought, sold, traded or even destroyed. People in modern slavery are essentially ‘owned’ by their employers, and are controlled slave-th5lg0r38jthrough a variety of means including massive recruitment debts that they are unable to pay off, and threats of harm if they do try to leave. All work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.
(ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (no.29)). Tragically, more people are in slavery today than when it was legal.

The evidence suggests that the risk of slave labour affects almost every industry – electronics and high tech, steel and automobiles, agriculture and seafood, mining and minerals, garments and textiles, and shipping and transportation. The evidence also suggests that, while modern slavery is illegal in every country in the world, it still occurs in every country in the world.

In previous articles in my blog I have written about Coltan (Columbite Tantelite) and Cobalt, metallic ores used in the electronics industry and mined with slave labour in central Africa. But modern day slavery does not solely exist at the beginning of the supply africachain. One-third of migrant workers in the Malaysian electronics industry, which produces goods for some of the world’s best-known brands, are trapped in forced labour according to new research.

A report by Verité, an NGO working on supply chain accountability, found that forced labour is present in the supply chains of a wide cross-section of household electronics brands, which use Malaysian factories to produce billions of pounds worth of goods every year. The NGO interviewed more than 500 workers and concluded that debt bondage and the illegal confiscation of passports and documents were the main drivers of this “systemic” forced labour, which traps workers in low-paid jobs and prevents them from returning home.

Verité’s investigations found that workers were forced to live in cramped and dangerous accommodation, that female workers experienced sexual abuse by their supervisors, and MDG :  Electronics industry in Malaysia : Women employees on factory line at Flextronicsmigrants were forced to work excessive overtime under the threat of losing their jobs, which would leave them saddled with large debts they couldn’t pay off.

A large number of multinational companies from the US, Europe, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea use Malaysia as their manufacturing base. Thousands of people from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Vietnam and other countries travel to Malaysia every year for work. According to a 2010 Amnesty International report, many enter the workplace at least $1,000 in debt, after being charged high fees by recruitment agents. The interviews or workers conducted by Verité also revealed that although it is gi_78491_veriteillegal under Malaysian law, more than 90% of workers had their passports taken by managers at their place of work or by recruitment agents, with most saying they were unable to get them back.

This year the US state department downgraded Malaysia to the lowest tier of its Trafficking in Persons report, which ranks countries on efforts to end modern-day slavery. In the report, the state department criticised Malaysia for widespread abuse of its 4 million migrant workforce.

Business, however, has the power to end modern slavery in supply chains within a generation through three basic actions:

  • Understanding and commitment – All organisations should understand modern slavery and require their leaders to commit to taking a proactive role in ending it. Government and the private sector should work to make the business environment intolerant of slavery, to drive slavery out of procurement and ‘slavery-proof’ supply chains.
  • Leadership on auditing –
Organisations should reframe their understanding of auditing from a ‘risk and reputational management’ measure, driven by PR teams, to an ethical imperative and essential operational measure driven by Chairpersons, CEOs, CPOs. Organisations should engage reputable, independent auditors to undertake rigorous audits of their supply chains and encourage effective worker/management dialogue.
  • Accountability – Organisations should be accountable for business relationships and work to eliminate vulnerabilities in supply chains. Where modern slavery or other human rights abuse is identified, organisations should take corrective action and work together with suppliers and business partners. The private sector should be transparent about actions taken and lead by example

So how can you take action? Well, like I said at the beginning of this article, it is Governments and consumers who put the pressure on businesses to motivate them to act ethically. If you buy phones, electronics or clothing then there’s a very good chance those products were made in part by forced labour. So you have to take some initiative. You have to go to the brands you like and encourage them to come out of the shadows and deal with 1200x630bfthis issue… If you as consumers tell them that you’re interested in hearing what they have to say about this particular problem it will encourage them to be more open and more transparent. One easy way to do this is to download the ‘Good On You’ app from the Apple App store or from Google play. You can then ask a question of the brand in the Good On You app. The Your Voice feature allows you to send a message to brands urging them to do better on the issues you care about.

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Backward Step on Climate Change

The election of Donald Trump to the US presidency has certainly had an impact on those of us concerned about the environment and Climate Change. Trump has stated that he does not believe Climate Change is actually taking place and has said, “unless somebody151122-donald-trump-smiling-956a_6d624dc0061bbd1233cc33461649ea73-nbcnews-fp-1200-800 can prove something to me, I believe there’s weather.”

The chorus of those expressing concerns include world leaders who were attending the United Nations Conference on Climate Change this year. Throughout the second and final week of COP22, the tenor at the annual conference continued to reverberate with reaction to the U.S. presidential election.

“It is essential that the United States, the greatest economic power in the world, the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, respects the commitments it has made,” cop22_hollandFrench President François Hollande said in his address to gathering in Marrakech, Morocco. “It is [in] their interest.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a press briefing that he had spoken to Trump since his election, including on climate change, and that his hope is Trump “will really hear and understand the seriousness and urgency of addressing climate change,” and reevaluate campaign remarks now that he is president.

There have been many reports over the last few years of the deadly and damaging effects of climate change that are already being felt around the world. Certainly in Australia in the last year there have been worrying developments that have been linked to Climate Change:

Coral Bleaching

Queensland scientists confirmed that this year’s mass coral bleaching has resulted in the largest die-off of corals ever recorded. What is coral bleaching? Many types of coral have a special symbiotic relationship with a tiny marine algae (zooxanthellae) that live inside corals’ tissue and are very efficient food producers that provide up to 90 per cent of the energy corals require to grow and reproduce.

Coral bleaching occurs when the relationship between the coral host and zooxanthellae, which give coral much of their colour, breaks down. Without the zooxanthellae, the tissue coral-bleachingof the coral animal appears transparent and the coral’s bright white skeleton is revealed.

Corals begin to starve once they bleach. While some corals are able to feed themselves, most corals struggle to survive without their zooxanthellae.

As the climate changes, coral bleaching is predicted to become more frequent and severe. Sea temperature increases and coral stress from other impacts may increase corals’ vulnerability to bleaching.

Thunderstorm Asthma

The “thunderstorm asthma” event in Melbourne, which killed eight people, has also been attributed to climate change. Associate Professor Hew said “thunderstorm asthma” thunderstormsevents, which are caused by strong winds stirring up pollen and other irritants in the air, tend to happen every five to 10 years. The recent event has been attributed to Climate Change in terms of the extreme weather that results from raised global temperatures.

Bee population

A steadily warming climate, combined with habitat loss and the increased use of pesticides, is causing bee populations to collapse at an alarming rate.

Bees are crucial to the environment. There are over 20,000 known species of bees, many of which are not just crucial pollinators for wild plants but for the agriculture industry as well.

In Australia, it is estimated that around 65 per cent of agricultural production is 7872372774_b399f5039f_zdependent on pollination by European honeybees.

According to a 2015 study by Nature, rising temperatures near the southern parts of Europe and North America is causing the natural range of some bumblebee species to move north by as much as 300 km.

The decline in Bee population, if it continues, could have a devastating impact on our own and world food supplies, which added to increased damage to crops by drought and storm damage due to increased extreme weather events, all paint a bleak picture for the future in terms of food security.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts the transmission of infectious diseases is “a likely major consequence of climate change”. Dr Peng Bi, and epidemiology and population health expert from the University of Adelaide, told ‘The New Daily’ a warmer anthrax_qtp_848x480_736888387663and more humid climate provided the ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes, which can carry diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.

We are also seeing the re-emergence of diseases such as anthrax in Siberia, where thawing permafrost exposed anthrax-infected reindeer carcasses spread to the nomadic peoples who inhabit that region.

Food security failures could lead to war

Climate warming is making extreme drought conditions more common and as a result is having severe effects on crop yields, threatening global food security.

Professor Tim Flannery, the Climate Council’s chief councillor, says the quality and seasonality of crops are “increasingly being affected by climate change with Australia’s future food security under threat”.

“Australia’s food supply chain is highly exposed to disruption from increasing extreme drought-crops-istock_000013388258weather events driven by climate change, with farmers already struggling to cope with more frequent and intense droughts and changing weather patterns.”

A United Nations report forecast that by 2050, the world may not be able to produce enough food for its growing population, which could lead to an increase in civil unrest, war and terrorism.

Ocean acidification

Ocean acidification is proving to be a major challenge for the fishing industry, with the potential to decimate shellfish populations.

Shellfish are hurt by climate change because increased carbon dioxide (CO2) levels from a oysterswarming climate causes oceans to become more acidic – as more atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by the world’s oceans, the pH level of seawater drops to make it more acidic. This is bad for shellfish because it makes it harder for the organisms to grow and maintain their shells.

Natural disasters

The Climate Council published a 2015 report that explained how climate change was causing natural disaster events such as bushfires and heatwaves to become “hotter, longer and more frequent”.

Mr Flannery, of the Climate Council, explained that “record hot days have doubled in Australia in the last 50 years and 2016 is likely to be the hottest year on record globally for heat_wavethe third year in a row”.

“These longer, hotter and more intense heatwaves and more frequent and severe heatwaves are in turn driving up the likelihood of very high bushfire risk, particularly in southeast and southwest Australia,” Mr Flannery said.


So far, 112 countries representing nearly 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions have ratified the universal climate deal, with the United Kingdom the latest to do so.

In his own message to COP22 delegates, Pope Francis called them to “the grave ethical and moral responsibility to act without delay, in a manner as free as possible from political and economic pressures” in their efforts to combat climate change.

“The Paris Agreement has traced a clear path on which the entire international community is called to engage. … It affects all humanity, especially the poorest and the future generations, who represent the most vulnerable component of the troubling impact of climate change,” Francis said.

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There is no Planet B

On the 2nd of September, 2016, an open letter was posted to the Australian Prime Minister on the climate crisis, from 154 scientists. In light of the ratification of the Paris Agreement, which came into force on the 5th of October 2016, I feel it is worth publishing it below as my November JPIC blog article for those of you who have not seen it or are unaware of it. The letter is as follows:

Andrew Glikson,

Australian National University

Dear The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP, Prime Minister of Australia,

The following is an open letter signed by 154 Australian atmospheric, marine, environmental, biological and medical scientists, including several leading climatologists, for your and your government’s attention.

There is no Planet B

In July 2016, global temperatures soared to the hottest in the 136 years of the instrumental record, 0.1℃ warmer than previous warm Julys in 2015, 2011 and 2009. It effects-of-climate-change-and-mitigation-policies-6-728followed a succession of rising temperatures, moving from 0.42℃ above average in 2000, to 0.87℃ above average by 2015.

Developments in the atmosphere-ocean system reported by major climate research organisations (including NASA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US National Snow & Ice Data Center, the UK Met Office Hadley Centre, the Tyndall Centre, the Potsdam Institute; the science academics of dozens of nations; and in Australia the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology) include:

We are concerned that global warming, amplified by feedbacks from polar ice melt, methane release from permafrost, and extensive fires, may become irreversible, including the possible collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a crucial component of the global climate system that transfers heat from the tropics to the North Atlantic.

According to James Hansen, NASA’s former chief climate scientist, “burning all fossil 22-devastating-effects-of-climate-changefuels would create a different planet than the one that humanity knows“. Joachim Schellnhuber, Germany’s chief climate scientist, has summed up the situation by saying: “We’re simply talking about the very life support system of this planet.”

We note your broad agreement with this point, in light of your 2010 statement that:

…we are as humans conducting a massive science experiment with this planet. It’s the only planet we have got… We know that the consequences of unchecked global warming would be catastrophic… We as a human species have a deep and abiding obligation to this planet and to the generations that will come after us.

While the Paris Agreement remains unbinding and global warming has received minimal attention in the recent elections, governments worldwide are presiding over a large-scale demise of the planetary ecosystems, which threatens to leave large parts of Earth uninhabitable.

We call on the Australian government to tackle the root causes of an unfolding climate tragedy and do what is required to protect future generations and nature, including meaningful reductions of Australia’s peak carbon emissions and coal exports, while there is still time.

There is no Planet B.


  • Dr Christine Adams-Hosking, Conservation planner, University of Queensland
  • Associate Professor Stephen Adelstein, Medical scientist, University of Sydney
  • Professor Ross Alford, Tropical ecologist, James Cook University
  • Dr Wallace Ambrose, Archaeological anthropologist, ANU
  • Dr Martin Anda, Environmental engineer, Murdoch University
  • Dr Marion Anderston, Geochemist, Monash University
  • Professor Michael Archer, Paleontologist, UNSW Australia
  • Dr Leanne Armand, Marine Researcher, Macquarie University
  • Professor Patricia Armati, Medical scientist, University of Sydney
  • Professor Owen Atkin, Plant respiration researcher, ANU
  • Professor Elaine Baker, Marine scientist, University of Sydney
  • Associate Professor Cathy Banwell, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Dr Andrew Barnes, Aquatic animal health researcher, University of Queensland
  • Dr Fiona Beck, Renewable energy researcher, ANU
  • Dr Tom Beer, Climatic and environmental change researcher, CSIRO
  • Professor Andrew Blakers, Photovoltaics/energy storage researcher, ANU
  • Professor Phillip Board, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Professor Justin Borevitz, Plant geneticist, ANU
  • Dr Caryl Bosman, Environmental planning researcher, Griffith University
  • Professor David Bowman, Forestry researcher, University of Tasmania
  • Dr Timothy Broadribb, Plant Scientist, University of Tasmania
  • Dr Helen Brown, Environmental health researcher, Curtin University
  • Dr Tim Brown, Medicine and environment researcher, ANU
  • Professor Ralf Buckley, Conservation/ecotourism researcher, Griffith University
  • Dr Florian Busch, Plant scientist, ANU
  • Dr Jason Byrne, Urban design researcher, Curtin University
  • Professor Maria Byrne, Marine and developmental biologist, University of Sydney
  • Dr Martina Calais, Renewable energy researcher, Murdoch University
  • Associate Professor Craig Carter, Engineering and IT researcher, Murdoch University
  • Dr Phill Cassey, Ecologist, Adelaide University
  • Professor Carla Catterall, Ecologist, Griffith University
  • Dr Juleen Cavanaugh, Biomedical scientist, ANU
  • Professor Fred Chow, Plant biologist, ANU
  • Associate Professor David Cohen, Geochemist, UNSW Australia
  • Professor Steven Cooper, Evolutionary biologist, SA Museum
  • Professor Rod Connolly, Marine scientist, Griffith University
  • Professor Jann Conroy, Plant scientist, Western Sydney University
  • Dr Lucy Coupland, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Dr Joseph Coventry, Solar energy researcher, ANU
  • Dr Chris Creagh, Physicist, Murdoch University
  • Professor Patricia Dale, Environment/planning researcher, Griffith University
  • Dr Armanda Davies, Planning geographer, Curtin University
  • Dr Ian Davies, Forestry fire management researcher, ANU
  • Dr Kirsten Davies, Ethno-ecology and environmental law researcher, Macquarie University
  • Dr Robert Davis, Vertebrate biologist, Edith Cowan University
  • Professor Keith Dear, Global health researcher, ANU
  • Dr Fjalar de Haan, Sustainability researcher, University of Melbourne
  • Professor Hans Peter Dietz, Medical scientist, Penrith Hospital
  • Professor Bob Douglas, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Associate Professor Mark Douglas, Medical scientist, University of Sydney
  • Dr Jen Drysdale, Climate and energy researcher, University of Melbourne
  • Professor Angela Dulhunty, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Professor Robyn Eckersley, Climate change governance researcher, University of Melbourne
  • Dr Elin Charles Edwards, Environmental geographer, University of Queensland
  • Professor David Eldridge, Evolutionary biologist, UNSW Australia
  • Professor David Elsworth, Environmental ecologist, Western Sydney University
  • Associate Professor Jason Evans, Climate change researcher, UNSW Australia
  • Dr Isabelle Ferru, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Professor Tim Flannery, Climate Council
  • Professor Barry Fox, Ecologist, UNSW Australia
  • Dr Evan Franklin, Solar energy researcher, ANU
  • Dr Diego Garcia-Bellido, Paleontologist, University of Adelaide
  • Dr Stephen Garnett, Conservation and sustainability researcher, Charles Darwin University
  • Dr John Gillen, Soil scientist, ANU
  • Dr Andrew Glikson, Paleoclimatologist, ANU
  • Dr Susan Gould, Climate change researcher, Griffith UNiversity
  • Professor Colin Groves, Anthropologist, ANU
  • Dr Huade Guan, Hydro-meteorologist, Flinders University
  • Professor Neil Gunningham, Global governance researcher, ANU
  • Dr Asish Hagar, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Dr Nina Hall, Sustainable water researcher, University of Queensland
  • Dr Willow Hallgren, Atmospheric scientist, Griffith University
  • Dr Elizabeth Hanna, Environmental health researcher, ANU
  • Associate Professor David Harley, Epidemiologist, ANU
  • Professor Robert S. Hill, Paleobotanist, University of Adelaide
  • Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Marine climatologist and Great Barrier Reef researcher, University of Queensland
  • Professor Geoff Hope, Archaeologist and natural history researcher, ANU
  • Associate Professor Michael Howes, Environmental scientist, Griffith University
  • Professor Lesley Hughes, Climate change and species researcher, University of Adelaide
  • Dr Paul Humphries, Environmental scientist, Charles Sturt University
  • Professor Phillip Jenning, Energy researcher, Murdoch University
  • Professor Darryl Jones, Behavioural ecologist, Griffith University
  • Dr Hugh Jones, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia
  • Dr Jochen Kaempf, Physical oceanographer, Flinders University
  • Professor Jeffrey Keelan, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia
  • Professor Peter Kershaw, Biogeographer and botanist, Monash University
  • Dr Carsten Kulheim, Plant physiologist, ANU
  • Professor Rakkesh Kumar, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Dr Lori Lach, Rainforest conservationist, James Cook University
  • Professor Barry Lacopetta, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia
  • Professor Trevor Lamb, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Professor Tony Larkum, Plant biologist, University of Technology Sydney
  • Dr Annie Lau, Geography and environmental management researcher, University of Quensland
  • Professor Bill Laurance, Tropical environment and sustainability researcher, James Cook University
  • Associate Professor Fred Leusch, Soil, water and energy researcher, Griffith University
  • Professor Andrew Lowe, Plant conservationist, University of Adelaide
  • Dr Fabio Luciano, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Professor Justin Marshall, Marine biologist, University of Queensland
  • Dr Melanie Massaro, Ecologist and ornithologist, Charles Sturt University
  • Associate Professor John F. McCarthy, Resource environment researcher, ANU
  • Dr Allison McInnes, Plant biologist, UTS
  • Associate Professor Andrew McKenzie, Landscape planning researcher, University of Canberra
  • Dr Kathryn McMahon, Environmental researcher, Edith Cowan University
  • Professor Andrew Millington, Land change scientist, Flinders University
  • Professor Angela Moles, Evolutionary ecologist, UNSW Australia
  • Professor Renee Morris, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Professor Barbara Norman, Urban planning researcher, University of Canberra
  • Professor Nikos Ntoumanis, Behavioural medicine researcher, Curtin University
  • Dr Bradley Opdyke, Climate historian, ANU
  • Professor Richard G. Pearson, Marine and tropical biologist, James Cook University
  • Dr Barrie Pittock, Climate scientist, CSIRO
  • Dr Jason Potas, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Professor Susan Prescott, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia
  • Dr Lynda Prior, Climate researcher, University of Tasmania
  • Dr Thomas Prowse, Biologist, University of Adelaide
  • Professor Marie Ranson, Molecular biologist, University of Wollongong
  • Professor Steve Redman, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Associate Professor Tracy Rogers, Evolutionary ecologist, UNSW Australia
  • Professor Chris Ryan, Eco-innovation researcher, University of Melbourne
  • Dr Oz Sahnin, Climate change researcher, Griffith University
  • Associate Professor Peter Sainsbury, Climate and health researcher, University of Sydney
  • Professor David Sinclair, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Dr Tom Sobey, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Professor Will Steffen, Climate change researcher, ANU
  • Professor Peter Steinberg, Marine scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Associate Professor Christian Stricker, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Professor Ian Suthers, Marine biologist, UNSW Australia
  • Associate Professor Sue Taylor, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia
  • Dr Sebastian Thomas, Sustainability researcher, University of Melbourne
  • Dr Andrew Thomson, Solar researcher, ANU
  • Associate Professor Thomas Thorsten, Marine biologist, UNSW Australia
  • Associate Professor Ian Tibbetts, Marine Scientist, University of Queensland
  • Professor David Tissue, Plant ecophysiologist, Western Sydney University
  • Professor Matthias Tomczak, Oceanographer, Flinders University
  • Mr Shane Toohey, Medical scientist, University of Western Australia
  • Dr Gail Trapp, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Professor Patrick Troy, Human ecologist, ANU
  • Professor Tom Trull, Antarctic, oceans and atmosphere researcher, CSIRO
  • Professor David Tscharke, Medical scientist, ANU
  • Professor Chris Turney, Antarctic climatologist, UNSW Australia
  • Dr Tania Urmee, Renewable energy technologist, Murdoch University
  • Professor René Vaillancourt, Plant geneticist, University of Tasmania
  • Professor John Veevers, Earth scientist, Macquarie University
  • Professor Charlie Veron, Marine scientist, Australian Institute of Marine Science
  • Professor Phil Waite, Medical scientist, UNSW Australia
  • Dr Elaine Walker, Physics and energy researcher, Murdoch University
  • Dr Hayden Washington, Environmental researcher, UNSW Australia
  • Professor David Watson, Water and society ecologist, Charles Sturt University
  • Dr Scarla J. Weeks, Biophysical oceanographer, University of Queensland
  • Professor Adrian Werner, Hydrologist, Flinders University
  • Mr Peter Weiske, Medical and environmental scientist, ANU
  • Dr Jonathan Whale, Energy researcher, Murdoch University
  • Associate Professor George Wilson, Wildlife management researcher, ANU
  • Dr Phillip Zylstra, Forests and fire researcher, University of Wollongong


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Cobalt and Congo

In my blog article last March I gave an update on my further research into Coltan (Columbite Tantalite), a ‘conflict mineral’ whose importance in modern technological devices has fueled a bloody civil war that to date has resulted in around 6 million deaths in central Africa. A 2010 U.S. law requires American companies to attempt to verify that any ‘conflict minerals’ such as tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold they use is obtained from mines free of militia control in the Congo region. The result is a system widely seen as preventing human rights abuses.

But to believe that these conflict minerals are the only problem is an inaccurate picture of the global reality. On the first of October, Todd C. Frankel, following on site investigative research, wrote an article in The Washington Post entitled, “Africa’s Cobalt Pipeline: Where Your Mobile Phone Starts,” in which he shows how this mineral, not listed as a ‘conflict mineral’ contributes equally to the violence, poverty, exploitation and suffering of the people of the Congo. In this article I’ve reduced Frankel’s long 15-page article to 6 021222-congolese-miners-052816pages, to make it more accessible. The tragedy of the Congo is that it is an incredibly rich source for these minerals that have found central importance for the technology boom. In particular, Frankel points out, it lies at the heart of the world’s mad scramble for cheap cobalt. 60 percent of the world’s cobalt originates in Congo — “a chaotic country rife with corruption and a long history of foreign exploitation of its natural resources.”

Why is Cobalt important? Because it is a mineral essential to the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones, laptops and electric vehicles made by companies such as Apple, Samsung and major automakers.

The global interest in lithium-ion batteries is that they are seen to be different from the dirty, toxic technologies of the past. Lighter and packing more energy than conventional lead-acid batteries, these cobalt-rich batteries are seen as “green.” They are essential to plans for moving beyond petrol run vehicles. Already these batteries have defined the world’s tech devices. Smartphones would not fit in pockets without them. Laptops would not fit on laps. Electric vehicles would be impractical.

Cobalt is the most expensive raw material inside a lithium-ion battery. The price of refined cobalt has fluctuated in the past year from $20,000 to $26,000 a ton. Worldwide, cobalt demand from the battery sector has tripled in the past five years and is projected to african_metals_copper_and_cobalt_oreat least double again by 2020. This increase has mostly been driven by electric vehicles. Every major automaker is rushing to get its battery-powered car to market. Tesla’s $5 billion battery factory in Nevada, known as the Gigafactory, is ramping up production. Daimler aims to open a second battery plant in Germany soon. LG Chem makes batteries for General Motors at a plant in Holland, Mich. Chinese company BYD is working on huge new battery plants in China and Brazil.

While a smartphone battery might contain five to 10 grams of refined cobalt, a single electric-car battery can contain up to 15,000 grams. As demand has grown, so has the importance of ‘artisan’ (diggers) mined Cobalt in global markets. Artisan mining has taken a big place in the supply chain. Artisanal cobalt is usually cheaper than product from industrial mines. Companies do not have to pay miners’ salaries or fund the operations of a large-scale mine. Indeed, with cheap cobalt flooding the market, some international traders canceled contracts for industrial ores, opting to scoop up artisanal ones.

The industry should be a boon for a country that the United Nations ranks among the least developed. But it hasn’t worked out that way. The world’s soaring demand for cobalt is being met by workers, including children, who labor in harsh and dangerous conditions. An estimated 100,000 cobalt miners in Congo use hand tools to dig hundreds of feet underground with little oversight and few safety measures, according to workers, congo-cobaltgovernment officials and evidence found by The Washington Post during visits to remote mines. Deaths and injuries are common. And the mining activity exposes local communities to levels of toxic metals that appear to be linked to ailments that include breathing problems and birth defects, health officials say.

With few formal sites to claim for themselves, artisanal miners dig anywhere they can. Along roads. Under railroad tracks. In back yards. When a major cobalt deposit was discovered a few years ago in the dense neighborhood of Kasulo, diggers tunneled right through their homes’ dirt floors, creating a labyrinth of underground caves. Other diggers wait until dark to invade land owned by private mining companies, leading to deadly clashes with security guards and police.

Pay is based on what they find. No minerals, no money. And the money is meager — the equivalent of $2 to $3 on a good day. Deaths happen with regularity too, but only mass casualties seem to filter out to the scant local media, such as the U.N.-funded Radio Okapi. Thirteen cobalt miners were killed in September 2015 when a dirt tunnel collapsed in Mabaya, near the Zambia border. Two years ago, 16 diggers were killed by landslides in Kawama, followed months later by the deaths of 15 diggers in an underground fire in Kolwezi.

The U.S. Labor Department lists Congolese cobalt as a product it has reason to think is produced by child labor. No one knows exactly how many children work in Congo’s mining industry. UNICEF in 2012 estimated that 40,000 boys and girls do so in the childrengminecountry’s south. A 2007 study funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development found 4,000 children worked at mining sites in Kolwezi alone. Local government officials say they lack the resources to address the problem.

Doctors at the University of Lubumbashi already know miners and residents are exposed to metals at levels many times higher than what is considered safe. One of their studies found residents who live near mines or smelters in southern Congo had urinary concentrations of cobalt that were 43 times as high as that of a control group, lead levels five times as high, and cadmium and uranium levels four times as high. The levels were even higher in children. One study the university doctors published in 2012 found preliminary evidence of an increased risk of a baby being born with a visible birth defect if the father worked in Congo’s mining industry.

How such serious problems could persist for so long, despite frequent warning signs, illustrates what can happen in hard-to-decipher supply chains when they are mostly unregulated, low price is paramount and the trouble occurs in a distant, tumultuous part of the world.

The Washington Post traced the cobalt pipeline and, for the first time, showed how cobalt mined in these harsh conditions ends up in popular consumer products. It moves from small-scale Congolese mines to a single Chinese company — Congo DongFang International Mining (CDM), part of one of the world’s biggest cobalt producers, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt. It is this company that for years has supplied some of the world’s largest battery makers.

Apple, in response to questions from The Post, acknowledged that this cobalt has made its way into its batteries. Apple estimated that 20% of the cobalt it uses comes from Huayou Cobalt. Paula Pyers, a senior director at Apple in charge of supply-chain social responsibility, said the company plans to increase scrutiny of how all its cobalt is obtained. Pyers also said Apple is committed to working with Huayou Cobalt to clean up the supply chain and to addressing the underlying issues, such as extreme poverty, that result in harsh work conditions and child labor. Some say cobalt should be added to the conflict-minerals list, even if cobalt mines are not thought to be funding war. Apple told The Post that it now supports including cobalt in the law.

For most artisanal miners in Congo, the global supply chain begins in a marketplace. Small shops, known as “comptoirs,” are stacked cheek by jowl along the highway that leads to the border. The artisans bring heavy sacks of their diggings and each load is minercobaltmine_2720757ktested by a radar-gun-like device called a Metorex, which detects mineral content. The higher the content of cobalt, the better the price. Miners do not trust the machines, believing them to be rigged, but they have no alternative.

There are many shops, but all sold to the same company: Congo DongFang Mining. The Post reported that Congolese workers, in jumpsuits with CDM printed in block letters on the back, stood watching other men loading cobalt sacks from these shops onto a truck. Later, The Post followed the truck until it reached an entrance with armed guards and turned inside. The facility with big blue walls was clearly marked CDM.

It was at these same gates that CDM says its inspection of its supply chain had stopped, never extending to the mines or marketplace. Last year, CDM reported exporting 72,000 tons of industrial and artisanal cobalt from Congo, making it No. 3 on the list of the country’s largest mining companies, according to Congolese mining statistics. And CDM is by far Congo’s top exporter of artisanal cobalt, according to analysts and the company.

CDM ships its cobalt to its parent company, Huayou, in China, where the ore is refined. Among Huayou’s largest customers are battery cathode makers Hunan Shanshan, Pulead Technology Industry and L&F Material, according to financial documents and interviews.

These companies — which also buy refined minerals from other companies — make the cobalt-rich battery cathodes that play a critical role in lithium-ion batteries. These cathodes are sold to battery makers, including companies such as Amperex Technology Ltd. (ATL), Samsung SDI and LG Chem.

LG Chem, the world’s largest supplier of electric-car batteries, said the company it buys cathodes from, L&F Material, stopped using Congo-sourced cobalt from Huayou last year. Instead, it said, Huayou now supplies L&F Material with cobalt mined from the South lg-chemPacific island of New Caledonia. As proof, LG Chem provided a “certificate of origin” to The Post for a cobalt shipment in December 2015 for 212 tons. But two minerals analysts were skeptical that LG Chem’s cathode supplier could switch from Congo cobalt to minerals from New Caledonia — or, at least, do so for long. LG Chem consumes more cobalt than the entire nation of New Caledonia produces, according to analysts and publicly available data.

Cleaning up the cobalt supply chain will not be easy for Huayou Cobalt, even with the support of a powerful company such as Apple. The question is whether Huayou’s other customers, after years of buying cheap cobalt with no questions, will be supportive.

Starting next year, Apple will internally treat cobalt like a conflict mineral, requiring all cobalt refiners to agree to outside supply-chain audits and conduct risk assessments. Apple’s action could have major repercussions throughout the battery world. But change will be slow. Apple spent five years working to certify that its supply chain was free of conflict minerals — and that action was enforced by law.

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Care Not Killing!

Recently I received a response from a friend of mine after writing an article on how Christians are persecuted, not only in the middle ease or Africa, but in Western countries such that any stand we take on issues like Euthanasia or Abortion are immediately pounced on as examples of how the Church is irrelevant, holding such archaic views that lack compassion. His response to me was: “Elder abuse is a big story the western media is ignoring. That’s why I don’t think the church’s stance on euthanasia is archaic, however I can think of many other scenarios where it is. A compassionate stance should be trying to create a society where older people feel valued.”

The last statement in particular got me thinking that perhaps it is not specifically an anti-religious or anti-Catholic stance, but rather a by product of a Consumerist/Capitalist philosophy that has problems with citizens who are not or no longer productive units of consumerism-guerrillamarketer-com_the economy, but rather an economic drain on the budget.

The Liberal reforms in England of 1906 to 1914 marked a change in government policy from a largely Laissez Faire approach to a more ‘collectivist’ approach. The government now accepted that it should have a much larger role and responsibility in helping those sections of society who could not help themselves. The aged care pension passed into law pensions4in 1909 as a recognition of the life contribution citizens make to the society, and as such was an expression of their value. Today, the need to balance budgets mean that governments are looking for ways to cut down expenditure. Raising the pension age is pensionslooked at as a potential strategy, the argument being that when the pension came in originally, people did not live as long. In 1900, less than 1% of the population in Western countries were 65 years of age or older. In 1992, it was 6.2% and the predictions are that in 2050, it will be a fifth of the population that are 65 or older. This, of course, has been due to improved medicine and sanitation.

In the 20th century, the risk of death from infectious disease had diminished. Degenerative diseases associated with aging – heart disease, stroke and cancer – have become much more important. This not only puts a strain on the budget due to pension payouts but also puts a strain on health care. All these factors have our, and other Western governments, worried. But the danger, in an society that favours an economic rationalist philosophy, is that instead of valuing our aged citizens, they are become as an economic liability or problem. This can lead them to contemplate what might at one time have been considered unthinkable.

In a society where the predominant philosophy is secular and consumerist, we need to be particularly vigilant against the deterioration of what values we have left. After all, a supermarketconsumerist model suggests that if you buy something at a shop, and it eventually wears out, the colour fades, or you just don’t like it anymore, you get rid of it and buy a new one. It is much cheaper to do this than to try to get it fixed. Isn’t it the same with people? Isn’t it the same with relationships?

Australian-Canadian ethicist, Margaret Somerville, remarked recently that she was mcgill-professor-margaret-somerville-speaks-to-mediaappalled by the euthanasia debate in this country. As she put it, “The pro-euthanasia people can’t wait to get killing people.” (The Catholic Weekly 25/8/16). In the National Post she rejects euthanasia arguing that it is dangerous for vulnerable people and society.

In an article in Arts and Opinions, 2006, Somerville writes: The case for euthanasia is easily made by focusing on heart-wrenching individual cases of very difficult deaths that make dramatic and compelling TV footage. The case against euthanasia is much more difficult to present because it depends on harm to some of our most important societal values, to the important institutions of medicine and law, and to present and future generations and societies.

Euthanasia is intentionally killing another person to relieve their suffering. It is not the withdrawal or withholding of treatment that results in death, or necessary pain- and euthanasia4symptom-relief treatment that might shorten life, if that is the only effective treatment.

Euthanasia is not, as euthanasia advocates argue, just another option at the end of a continuum of good palliative care treatment. It is different in kind from them. To legalize euthanasia would damage important societal values and symbols that uphold respect for human life. If euthanasia is involved, how we die cannot be just a private matter of self-determination and personal beliefs, because it involves other persons and society’s approval of their actions. It overturns the prohibition on intentional killing, which the British House of Lords called “the cornerstone of law and human relationships, emphasizing our basic equality.”

Medicine and the law are the principal institutions involved in legalizing euthanasia. In a secular, pluralistic society they are responsible for maintaining the value of and respect for human life. Euthanasia would seriously damage their capacity to do so. Paradoxically, their responsibility is much more important in a secular society than a religious one, because they are the “only game in town.”

To legalize euthanasia would fundamentally change the way we understand ourselves, human life and its meaning. We create our values and find meaning in life by buying into a “shared story” — a societal-cultural paradigm. Humans have always focused that story on the two great events of every person’s life, birth and death. In a secular society — even more than in a religious one — that story must encompass and protect the “human spirit.” By the human spirit, I do not mean anything religious. Rather, I mean the intangible, invisible, immeasurable reality that we need to find meaning in life and to make life worth living — that deeply intuitive sense of relatedness or connectedness to all life, especially other people, the world, and the universe in which we live.

To assess the impact that legalizing euthanasia might have, in practice, on society, we must look at it in the context in which it would operate: The combination of an aging population, scarce health-care resources, and euthanasia would, indeed, be a lethal one.

Euthanasia is a simplistic and dangerous response to the complex reality of human death. Physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia involve taking people who are at their weakest and most vulnerable, who fear loss of control or isolation and abandonment — who are in a care-not-killing-alliancestate of intense “pre-mortem loneliness” — and placing them in a situation where they believe their only alternative is to be killed or kill themselves. How a society treats its weakest, its most in need, its most vulnerable members tests its moral and ethical tone.

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Muslims in Church

Last night I saw an article on the news about a far-right nationalist group, that links itself to One Nation Party leader Pauline Hanson, who stormed a church service on Sunday dressed in Muslim-style attire and chanting anti-Islamic slogans. I could well imagine that such a violation of the sacred space of a Church service would have left some members of church invasionthe congregation deeply traumatized.

The incident, on the NSW Central Coast, reflects the emboldened attitudes of anti-Islamic groups following the political resurgence of the One Nation party at the recent Federal elections. Like the Donald Trump phenomenon and the Brexit decision, it is clear that people are fearful of terrorism and this fear is pushing them to make more extreme right-wing choices, without truly thinking through the consequences.

The response of Australia’s peak Muslim body was to demand that Senator Hanson denounce the group’s actions. The incident has also triggered calls for the new Parliament to retain the full strength of discrimination laws amid a new push for the repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person, on the grounds that it limits free speech merely to prevent hurt feelings.

Why the 10 members of the Party for Freedom on Sunday disrupted the morning sermon Bad guysat the Gosford Anglican Church is because it is widely known for its embrace of multiculturalism, refugees and asylum-seekers. The church is nationally renowned for a sign at the front that often bears messages critical of Australia’s hardline border protection policies, such as “Hell exists, and it’s on Nauru“.

Father Rod Bower, the church’s pastor, said that members of the Party for Freedom burst into the church about 9.30 a.m., halfway through his sermon. “Using a loud speaker, starting to abuse me in particular for the work we do … they violated our sacred space,” Father Bower said. “It was typical rhetoric from the extreme right, vilifying Muslims and multiculturalism as a whole. “[They said] Muslims are taking over, they had some prayer mats and mock prayed; they had a recording of the Koran being sung.”

In video footage of the incident, the intruders can be heard speaking sarcastically of the “rich tapestry of Islam”, claiming, “the Western world is living in denial”.

As the group left the church a few minutes later, they warned the congregation: “Do not promote Islam.”

Some parishioners could be heard laughing afterwards, although Father Bower said some were left “deeply traumatized”, especially older people, parents of young children and parish priestasylum seekers. “People were confused and I had to reassure them,” Father Bower said.

Father Bower said the rise of the One Nation Leader, whose party has snared four Senate spots, was “symptomatic of a group of people feeling marginalized”.

What I find interesting, in contrast to this church visit by false Moslems was the church visit by real Moslems following the Killing of Fr. Jacques Hamel, an 84-year-old French priest, by two IS militants. The two attackers, who claimed they were from IS, slit Fr. Hamel’s throat during a morning Mass.

The following week, in a show of unity in the face of terror after this and other horrifying attacks carried out in the name of Islam, Muslims attended Mass in the church where Fr.

epa05449739 members of the congregation in Santa Maria Caravaggio church in Milan, Italy 31 July 2016 during a multi faith service organized by Italy's Islamic Religious Community (COREIS). The organisation called on Muslims to join Christians in condemnation of Islamist terrorism after extremists murdered a Catholic priest, Jacques Hamel, during Mass near Rouen in France 26 July 2016.  EPA/FLAVIO LO SCALZO

epa05449739 members of the congregation in Santa Maria Caravaggio church in Milan, Italy 31 July 2016 during a multi faith service organized by Italy’s Islamic Religious Community (COREIS). The organisation called on Muslims to join Christians in condemnation of Islamist terrorism after extremists murdered a Catholic priest, Jacques Hamel, during Mass near Rouen in France 26 July 2016. EPA/FLAVIO LO SCALZO

Hamel was killed, as well as is Santa Maria Trastevere church in Rome, Santa Maria Caravaggio church in Milan, and other Italian churches.

Outside the cathedral in Rouen, close to Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, where Fr. Jacques died, people applauded when a group of Muslims unfurled a banner reading: “Love for all. Hate for none.”

The remedy for the fear people are currently feeling in this time of uncertainty and terrorism is not to enter into the spiral of violence, generating more fear. The answer is love.

“In love there can be no fear, but fear is driven out by perfect love; because to fear is to expect punishment, and anyone who is afraid is still imperfect in love. We are to love, then, because He loved us first. Anyone who says, “I love God,’ and hates his brother, is a liar, since a man who does not love the brother that he can see cannot love God, whom he has never seen.” (1 Jn 4:18-20)

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