Rare Earth Elements — an abandoned paper topic

I was toying with the idea of writing a foreign policy paper about the chemicals depicted below:

Source: Journal of Energy Security, “The Battle Over Rare Earth Metals”

It turns out that the above elements are crucial for the manufacture of a lot of gadgetry, including a large swath of “green” tech. The US and US allies also use them in various hi-tech weapons, e.g. guided missiles. 95% of the current supply of these chemicals is mined in China, which is moving both to restrict their export and increase their domestic consumption of the stuff.

The folks at BBC did a brief video piece on this topic, pointing out that the Chinese monopoly may annoy the Japanese in particular — a point also echoed here. (I would embed the BBC video here, but I don’t appear to be web savvy enough to download it…)

This NYTimes article takes a different angle, focusing on the high environmental cost of mining for these metals. Apparently the extraction process is devastating both to the environment and to communities in the vicinity (similar to uranium mining, I might add.) PBS did a blurb about this as well. So the question becomes: do the benefits of hybrid cars and windmills and cetera outweigh the costs of mining? That’s a legitimate question! It’s just not really a foreign policy question as such…


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