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60-Second Earth

How Steve Jobs Tried to Make Apple Green

The environmental and social impacts of all our gadgets are not insignificant. David Biello reports

I owe this 60-Second Earth gig to Steve Jobs. Without the iPod there's no podcast. But our collective lust for iPod-like gadgets has some outsized impacts on the planet.

Give Jobs credit. When pushed by environmentalists, he unveiled less toxic products, eliminating nasties like arsenic and mercury. But, ultimately, each of these devices relies on substances such as coltan from warlord-ravaged Congo or illegally mined rare earths from China.

Then there's all the energy used to let you listen to me. The vast server farms that allow digital storage of music, photos and everything else are the fastest growing users of electricity, mostly made from burning coal.

Finally, there's the planned obsolescence. An original iPod would be laughably inadequate today. And Apple is better than most at whipping up consumer frenzy with its product launches. That means waste, and old gadgets consigned to places like Nigeria where children are poisoned reclaiming some of the valuable elements inside.

Fortunately, Apple has one of the better recycling programs. Hopefully Jobs’s most important legacy will be that the products he created won't have too big of an impact at the end of their lives on either people or the planet.

—David Biello

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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