Posted: January 27th, 2010 by Militant Libertarian
What industries are those? The automobile industry uses tens of thousands of tons of rare earth elements each year, and advanced military technology depends on these elements, too. Lots of “green” technologies depend on them, including wind turbines, low-energy light bulbs and hybrid car batteries. In fact, much of western civilizationdepends on rare earth elements such as terbium,lanthanum and neodymium.
So what’s the problem with these rare elements? 97 percent of the world’s supply comes from mines in China, and China is prepared to simply stop exporting these strategic elements to the rest of the world by 2012.
If that happens, the western world will be crippled by the collapse of available rare earth elements. Manufacturing of everything from computers and electronics to farm machinery will grind to a halt. Electronics will disappear from the shelves and prices for manufactured goods that depend on these rare elements will skyrocket.
These 17 rare earth elements (REE) — all of which are metals — are strategic resources upon which entire nations are built. In many ways, they are similar to rubber — a resource so valuable and important to the world that many experts call it the “fourth most important natural resource in the world,” right after water, steel and oil. Without rubber, you couldn’t drive your car to work or water your lawn. Many medical technologies would cease to work and virtually all commercial construction would grind to a halt.
Many of the strategic battles fought in World War II were fought, in fact, over control of rubber, most of which now comes through Singapore and its surrounding regions (Malaysia and Indonesia).
Global shortage of Rare Earth Elements coming…
Now, by threatening to cut off the world’s supply of rare earth elements, China appears to be attempting to monopolize this extremely important strategic resource. According to information received by The Independent, by 2012 China may cease all exports of rare earth elements, reserving them for its own economic expansion.
An article in that paper quotes REE expert Jack Lifton as saying, “A real crunch is coming. In America, Britain and elsewhere we have not yet woken up to the fact that there is an urgent need to secure the supply of rare earths from sources outside China.”
And yet virtually no one has heard of this problem! People are familiar with peak oil, global warming, ocean acidification, the national debt and the depletion of fossil water, but very few are aware of the looming crisis in rare metals… upon which much of western civilization rests.
For those who still aren’t convinced this is a big deal, consider this: Without rare earth elements, we would have no iPhones. Yeah, I know. That’s a disaster, huh?
Demand outstrips supply
The problem with the supply of rare earth elements is that demand has skyrocketed over the last decade from 40,000 tons to 120,000 tons. Meanwhile, China has been cutting its exports. Now, it only exports about 30,000 tons a year — only one-fourth of the demand the world needs.