High Copper Prices Have Some Shocking Consequences

from the darwin dept

In many less developed nations, mobile telephony had a leg up on fixed-line systems as it is far easier for operators to guard their base station sites than to try to stop people from digging up their wiring and sell it for scrap. However, with copper prices soaring on heavy demand from China, people in the first world are getting in on the act, too — with some disastrous consequences. Two guys in Masschusetts were fatally electrocuted when they tried to steal some copper wire from an unoccupied electric plant, while earlier, two people in Arkansas met a similar fate when they tried to steal wire from utility poles. Telecom operators may not care so much about people dying, but the problem of theft remains, so they’re looking at other solutions. For instance, one Chinese operator says it will use ethernet in rural areas, rather than copper wiring, to avoid the problem. Meanwhile, some US politicians are trying to pass new laws to crack down on scrap metal theft, and wiring theft in particular. But if people are ignoring the risks posed by attempting to steal copper from power lines and plants, it seems rather unlikely the prospect of more jail time will act as much of a deterrent.


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Comments on “High Copper Prices Have Some Shocking Consequences”

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62 Comments
Greg (user link) says:

For instance, one Chinese operator says it will use ethernet in rural areas, rather than copper wiring, to avoid the problem.

Wait, how is this a solution at all? Ethernet is still twisted-pair copper. It might be harder to get to inside the sheathing, and there’d be less metal overall, but it’s still completely steal-able and sell-able.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t like the tone of this sentence:

Telecom operators may not care so much about people dying, but the problem of theft remains, so they’re looking at other solutions.

Are you implying that Telecom operators don’t care that people may die (they probably do care) or instead that Telecom operators are not as worried about the possibility that people may die from stealing their wires?

ConceptJunkie (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It was a cheap shot, but to be fair, it’s not their job to worry about stupid people getting killed doing stupid things.

The problem with this country is that too many people are blamed when stupid people get killed doing stupid things _besides_ the stupid people themselves.

At the rate we are going, we will be legally mandated to swaddle ourselves in bubble wrap before getting out of bed.

These places are locked for a reason. There are high voltage signs posted for a reason. If you ignore the sign, break in,and die because of it, it’s not the fault of the power company or phone company. Of course, try telling that to a shyster lawyer and the jury looking to award the lottery to some Jerry Springer candidate.

Casper says:

Good

“Two guys in Masschusetts were fatally electrocuted when they tried to steal some copper wire from an unoccupied electric plant, while earlier, two people in Arkansas met a similar fate when they tried to steal wire from utility poles.”

I hope they get electrocuted and die. It’s natural selection coming full circle. Damn drug addicts around here are always stealing stuff for meth and wire has just been the latest spree. More then 75-80% of ALL property crime in Oregon is related to meth and other drug addicts… so the way I see it, we need more of these giant bug zappers.

Jesse McNelis (user link) says:

Re: Good

and why do the meth heads have to steal?
oh, yeah. The huge markup on drug due to their ilegal nature.

If you stopped the ‘war on drugs’ I reckon you’d see a huge reduction in street crime, 75-80% according to you.
Obviously you could also redirect all the money saved in law enforcement and reduction in theft in the programs to education people about drug use, rehab programs etc.

Jamie says:

Re: Re: Good

I’m not really for or against drug control. I personally don’t care enough to have an opinion. That said, I feel like I should inject a little reason into your statement.

Despite the “markup” on illegal drugs, I somehow doubt that stopping the “war on drugs” would keep meth heads from having to steal to keep up their habit.
Most meth heads (and I know a few) are incapable of keeping/working a job. So cheaper meth wouldn’t stop people from having to steal to pay for it.

Casper says:

Re: Re: Good

First of all meth costs less then just about any prescription drug int he world. It’s made from house hold chemicals and produced in huge quantities.

Second, the theft that is involved with meth is NOT due to the expense of purchasing the drug, but due to the fact that it causes the user to become a sociopath with an inability to function in society. These people need a fix, can’t hold a job, so steal for it.

Third, the percentages I claimed are based on the studies conducted by law enforcement agencies and new papers:

http://www.wweek.com/editorial/3220/7368/
http://www.mapinc.org/safe/v06/n1290/a02.html
http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/1021/p03s01-usju.htm

There are other sources, but those were the few I could pull out of Google quickly.

People who think drug abuse does not have an impact on society are either drug addicts themselves or living in ignorance. All substances that have addictive properties have the potential to influence behavior. The differences are how strongly they alter the persons mental and physical being. Caffeine maybe addictive, but if you take most peoples coffee away they won’t shoot you in the head. Now, walk up to a meth head and take it away… making it legal would not help the situation at all.

piperonal says:

Re: Re: Re: Good

You’re somewhat correct in saying meth is cheap, in terms of dollars/hour high.

But it’s still vastly overpriced compared to its *industrial* production cost.

Dingy, pollution-spewing home labs typically do a harsh reduction on pseudo-ephedrine with a potent electron donor like lithium hydride–often harvested from LiH batteries.

The costs are much higher than an industrial process starting with phenyl-2-propanone and methylamine, an order of magnitude or more.

Then on top of their expensive production, they mark up the price to reflect the street reality of a proscribed substance and its attendant risks.

Therefore your argument is disingenuous at best. It IS the high cost and black market which drive the crime, not the psychosis of its users. Given a choice, they’d stay home and obsessively clean while picking imaginary scabs–not venture out into the scary demon-face hallucinated public.

Casper says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Good

“Therefore your argument is disingenuous at best. It IS the high cost and black market which drive the crime, not the psychosis of its users. Given a choice, they’d stay home and obsessively clean while picking imaginary scabs–not venture out into the scary demon-face hallucinated public.”

So your saying the industrial cost of manufacturing is raised significantly more on the black market then if it were a salable legal product under regulation? You need to get your facts strait. Do you have any idea the costs associated with legal production of a drug that is so high risk? How much do you think it would cost to make it since it is one of the most polluting production processes performed by individuals? How about the taxes that would be placed on it.

Sorry, your way off base in your argument. Also, if they are home cleaning obsessively, how are they paying for their massive dental bills, let alone the next fix?

ConceptJunkie (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Good

Addicted is addicted and it probably means that person is not a productive member of society, which means everyone else pays to take care of him.

A gaming addict probably won’t end up code blue in an emergency room somewhere, but if he’s on the dole or homeless because of his addiction, it’s still a huge expense for society.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Good

I have a friend that argues that bike helmet laws are good because they reduce the amount of tax dollars paid towards bike accidents.

I bring up the point that perhaps we should fight the real enemy and that is welfare. The discussion ends there.

The same can be said for seat belt laws.

BTW, this concerns adults only. Children need to be protected from stupid parents.

piperonal says:

Re: Re: Good

Go, Jesse!

*OF COURSE* this problem would dwindle or disappear if the drugs weren’t illegal.

Prohibition supports artificially high drug prices, and drive the unstoppable market demand underground. Both factors drive theft to support users’ habits.

Most currently illegal drugs would drop in price by a factor of 10-100 if they were decriminalized and sold at cost plus a tax. Their ready availability would drive a rapid Darwinian selection, pushing habitual users either to rehab (supported by tax revenues) or to death. Users *cannot* be changed by external pressure; they must “find their own bottom”. High prices merely delay the inevitability of one of these two outcomes.

I am not unsympathetic to the plight of the addicted, I have friends and family who have been in recovery. It is that experience which has made me so passionately pro-legalization, because it is only through legalization that we can bring addicts to recovery and quit this stupid Puritan posturing.

Casper says:

Re: Re: Re: Good

“Most currently illegal drugs would drop in price by a factor of 10-100 if they were decriminalized and sold at cost plus a tax.”

How do you figure that? Right now the markets are flooded with cheap illegal drugs. Meth costs very little, and a difference of a few dollars won’t change the fact that the users are unemployed and have to steal for money.

This is not a matter of legalizing drugs being a better idea the having them illegal, but rather people like to feel better without restrictions. If meth was legal and sold everywhere, the problem would multiply by a factor several times equal to the amount distributed. If it was not illegal there would be no reason for people not not try it. You may call it “Puritan posturing” but in reality people are far to stupid to make good decisions on their own when it comes to a mind altering substance.

piperonal says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Good

Oh Casper–“…but in reality people are far to stupid to make good decisions on their own…”

So we must legislate, and use our All-Benevolent and Wise Big Brother to protect us, poor stewards that we are of our little lives!

Until the early 1900’s, the government had not yet seen fit to overstep its constitutional bounds and legislate what you could and could not consume. Unsurprisingly, we had relatively little trouble with the supposedly helpless drug-addled.

Fast-forward to today after a futile 80-year War On Some Drugs (WOSD), and a good portion of Federal prisoners are incarcerated for nothing more than possession or the hazily-defined “possession with intent to distribute”.

The costs are astronomical; just direct costs of the WOSD are about $20B a year, and that ignores the huge costs of imprisonment, police action, lost revenues, and the costs of the drugs themselves–with most of the profits going overseas.

And yet–the percentage of hard-core addicts refuses to budge. Casual use shifts to substances with less Draconian enforcement; the most common being alcohol and tobacco, by far the most harmful drugs in terms of annual deaths.

Isn’t it funny that Adolf Coors (appropriately named) funds the WOSD? Afraid of competition? Big Tobacco, too.

Casper says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Good

Actually drug use was almost nonexistent by the 1950’s and was on the decline until the 1960’s when it resurged as a form of rebellion. You might want to check your facts before you speak.

“Casual use shifts to substances with less Draconian enforcement; the most common being alcohol and tobacco, by far the most harmful drugs in terms of annual deaths.”

You also might want to think about the numbers. The number of people using tobacco for extended periods of time vs the number of people using illegal drugs for a long period of time are not comparable.

Please THINK about your position before posting about it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Good

“in reality people are far to stupid to make good decisions on their own when it comes to a mind altering substance.”
That is why I choose education over legalization. I am more against the state serving as the moral authority since I became a parent. Primarily I realize it is my duty to properly raise my kids and to depend on a life of choices limited only by what the state has determined legality to be… well that is a recipe for disaster.

That said, there is a universe of difference between my viewpoint and that of someone engaging in illegal activity just because they don’t like it. I work within the system, I don’t subvert it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Good

the same can be said of people who let themselves fly into a rage… the effects are violent. Perhaps we should regulate “anger”. That sounds good at first until you realize that most anger is not bad when you allow yourself to deal with it in a healthy way.

When you point out that substance abuse renders an individual incapable of self regulation… I agree with you 100%
However, I should add that logically the legality of their actions and choices will then not factor in at all.
Oh and yes, I DO believe these people need help… I just don’t think the state is the one to do it. If they, under the influence of anything at all, commit a crime then you severely punish them for that crime.

Then again, I am in favor of forced castration of child molesters.

Jared says:

Re: Re: Re: Good

Wow. Both you and the idiot you’re supporting have a mind bogglingly stupid position. Legalizing drugs such as meth, crack, marijuana etc is NOT going to solve the problem. Education may make a MINOR dent but it’s not an effective prevention mechanism. My entire class and i in school are D.A.R.E graduates so we were all educated about drugs. That did not stop the majority of my class from trying/regularly using some illegal substance. This is all just another facet of the stupid liberal position on crime of not punishing the criminal but trying to “help” them so nobody gets their feelings hurt. A criminal is not a sick freak that needs to be locked up for the rest of their life. Oh no. They’re a poor misguided individual that needs help and somehow society is at fault rather than the direct perpetrator. How ridiculous.

The logic that if the drugs were legal the users would follow a road to rehab or death, while technically true, is faulty in at least one way: You assume that they would just quietly overdose themselves into oblivion in the safety of their own homes. What about the user that slams their car into a busload of schoolchildren in a drug induced stupor and kills one or all of them? Do you really want to add more drugs to the stable alongside alcohol that already creates a plague of idiot drivers killing innocents every day?

Casper says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Good

“Do you really want to add more drugs to the stable alongside alcohol that already creates a plague of idiot drivers killing innocents every day?”

Exactly, people point at alcohol and say “look, it’s legal and the world hasn’t ended!” The problem with that idea is that alcohol is not as addictive as most illicit drugs and the effects are far more temporary. Look at all the problems drunk drivers cause, they kill more people then the entire war in Iraq. In 2004 there were 16694 drunk driving related fatalities. Of course those same people turn around and say that the drunk driving laws are too harsh because unless they kill someone they have not done anything wrong.

piperonal says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Good

“…alcohol is not as addictive as most illicit drugs…”

You’re unfamiliar with alcoholism, I see. As a resident on call in a psychiatric unit, the most severe and life-threatening withdrawals I’ve seen come from the DT’s–delirium tremens, alcohol withdrawal. Untreated they can be fatal.

There are few illicit drugs with such severe withdrawal, and they’ve rightly earned a bad reputation with users; barbiturates, for one.

I challenge you to find the per-dose, per-person, per-year injury and fatality rates for various drugs including alcohol, then argue from a knowledgeable stance.

Casper says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Good

“I challenge you to find the per-dose, per-person, per-year injury and fatality rates for various drugs including alcohol, then argue from a knowledgeable stance.”

How many meth addicts do you have come in with withdrawals? Oh wait, they are ELECTROCUTED trying to get their next fix.

Per person consuming alcohol, the number of alcoholics is very low in comparison to meth users and meth addicts. Think about the difference before you respond.

Dewy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Good

such as meth, crack, marijuana etc
…………………………………………………..

Isn’t that like saying Hand grenades, landmines and snap-n-pops?

legalizing marijuana should not be tied into the debate with legalizing DANGEROUS drugs. I am all for personal choice… but we don’t need DuPont making a cheaper form of crack…

These “drugs” need to be regulated… some are only dangerous if you have a 100lb bale dropped on your head. Others change the brain chemistry, and could be exploited in a “free market” to the detriment of the consumer. Very different from “freedom of choice”.

There’s a reason can’t you make a Drink with Caustic acid… oh wait… we do that already…

There’s a reason you can’t produce dangerous drugs in greater quantities than needed… wait, we do that too… All of those folks abusing oxycontin aren’t making it in their bathtub.

Yeah, I guess it is a War on Some drugs… the ones we can’t tax.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Good

I’ll pretend you are not a troll, sir.

Your logic is flawed because you fail to factor in redundancies and the rule of law.

Some respect the rule of law and would like to see it stronger.

If addict Joe slams a car into someone, A) he is not likely to care about legality, and B) because of existing laws will face punishment from the legal system.

Perhaps instead of adding more laws, we should have stronger and fewer ones. Its like with gun laws… why add more when the judicial system refuses to enforce the ones we already have?

Plus there is the argument that factors in both effectiveness and efficiency. How effective is the war on drugs? How efficient is the war on drugs?
Next, take a step back and exchange “drugs” with “alcohol”… so how did that work out? What crime resulted from that experiment? Organized crime… thanks congressmen! Great job!

Lets just learn from history, please.

This message brought to you by someone who CHOOSES not to drink or use any chemical substances. But does eat red meat… when will that become illegal for my “protection”?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Good

Ummm, if most of your class did drugs after education… does that not logically imply that the legality of those said drugs didn’t factor in?

Oh, and since when was the justice department’s mission or mandate that of reformation? No, it is punishment as it should be.

This is not some text book discussion of liberal vs. conservative. You are going to HAVE to use your own brain and think this thing through.

I personally am for victim rights and severely punishing criminals. However, (and perhaps because of that) I don’t believe we should be defining what makes one a criminal based upon their own protection. That is liberal ideology that conservatives have adopted as their own.

If a user wrecks a vehicle then get them for DUI and wreckless driving. If they assault someone then get them for assault.

Drug laws and the constitution side-stepping enforcement tactics they use are as pointless as hate crime laws.

Like most big government liberal ideology, the reformation of drug users should be the ward of church and other organizations… not the state. Why are we arresting kids for smoking dope and then ruining their entire lives while some child molestor gets out on parole to rape again?

No sir, I will not allow my children to be prey. I will not forgo my responsibility as a parent to the state and become another lazy parent saying, “but look, its already taken care of by the laws”

Republican GUn (user link) says:

Price of Copper

I thought this article was going to be about the fact that copper has gone up in price, not bums electrocuting themselves.

Copper has risen so much in price that a roll of pennies is worth more than a roll of nickels. What does that say about inflation? Or the fact that our Federal Reserve Notes aren’t worth that much either.

Old Guy says:

Re: Price of Copper

Inflation is a fact of life…controlling the rate is the key.
As far as Fed notes…They are controlled by a private banking concern, not the Federal Gov’t. As a matter of fact the gov’t has little or no control over what the Fed does. Don’t believe me…check out the Fed’s open website

http://www.federalreserve.gov/generalinfo/faq/faqfrs.htm

As long as bankers are allowed to print money and actually have a major direct effect on the economy, we’ll get screwed.

J says:

Ethernet != Twisted Pair

Ethernet is the way that data is formatted when transmitted over some medium. It can be carried over copper, fiber, wireless, etc. The Chinese operator in the article is probably going to use a wireless ethernet technology (not necessarily wifi) or maybe fiber as it can go further wouldn’t be as prone to theft for sale as scrap.

Anonymous Coward says:

Regarding the telecom operators not caring about people dying – I don’t care either. If someone dies trying to steal something of mine, I guess they won’t be trying that again…just as long as they don’t successfully steal it.

Regarding the copper content of pre/post 1982 pennies – yes even the post 1982 copper plated ones are selling for more for metal content than the value of the coin.

norman619 (profile) says:

What's the problem?

I have no pitty for the idsiots who knowingly risk their lives doing something very stupid. They knew the risks going in and decided to throw the dice. I thought this article was going to be how the rising price of copper is impacting undistires. I do IT for an automotive company and OMG it’s kicking our butts. It’s taking a huge bite out of our proffits. We are looking at possible layoffs. Who cares if a few Junkies and Theives (smameless plug) die trying to steal copper cable?

Dewy (profile) says:

Re: What's the problem?

Well, there is their families… they probably care, as I’m sure their dealer and the recycler they were going to use. Not to mention the NET team or local enforcement agencies who won’t get to use these particular drug addicts to boost their revenue or vote totals this year.

But of this crowd of humanitarians… you stand out not giving a damn about a fellow human being. We’re all in awe of you ability to put your inconvenience above the welfare of fellow humans.

Brian (profile) says:

My story wins!

I win. Nobody’s going to beat this copper-theft story, and it’s recent!

http://www.nola.com/newslogs/tpupdates/index.ssf?/mtlogs/nola_tpupdates/archives/2006_12_14.html#215784

…just a teaser paragraph:

“Addison also said he didn’t get the urns directly from the cemetery. Instead, he told deputies he took them from Delaune, who grabbed them from the cemetery”
(in other words, he’s not a grave-robber. He’s just a thief. Grave-robbing would be wrong.)

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