Forty-six years ago, Denis Hayes and Senator Gaylord Nelson formalized our environmental consciousness, and celebrated the first Earth Day with over twenty million Americans. During the next several decades, recycling became routine and energy consumption data framed consumer-buying decisions. We modernized both our attitudes and our lives. We embraced “green” and the world is a better place. Bravo!
Time for an encore.
Mining may not top the list of activities we think of to celebrate this Earth Day, but if we are truly “green”, we must revolutionize our thinking again.
Why? Because in the midst of our “green” fervor, we opted to outsource the environmental impact of mining to China, rather than embrace the entire supply chain necessary for the very “green” products we presume will save the earth for our children.
So this year, let’s introduce Rare Earth Metals into our vocabulary, and celebrate the tiny minerals that are the basic building blocks of our 21st century lifestyle.
They create those vibrant reds on our smart phones, save our lives through MRI diagnostics, and make the smallest batteries and largest magnets work.
While they are scattered everywhere on the crust of the earth, they are very costly to mine, process, and purify. And are currently in limited supply.
Our clean energy solutions rely on the most precise scientific and engineering feats to convert passive sources of energy into usable power via extremely efficient motors. If we want solar and wind installations across the globe for cleaner air, then we must also encourage investment in rare metals—their mining, processing, and recycling. At current projections, we risk consuming more in a year than the existing global mining community can supply.
During the course of four years researching this topic for my upcoming novel, Rare Mettle (Balcony 7, May 2016), I discovered a woeful lack of consumer awareness. We toss one gadget away with irreplaceable components without a thought to their value—or rarity. Here in Silicon Valley, technologists tout innovative features without disclosing the long-term impact of those modern miracles on our environment. They rarely consider an economically efficient way to re-capture, re-purpose or recycle the rare metals housed within the tiny casings.
Our technology-centric lifestyle requires an ever-increasing and affordable supply of these rare metals. Therefore, we must re-think our environmental positions, and include their mining and manufacturing costs as part of the domestic investment in our “green” products. Twenty-first century scientists and engineers have fortunately developed smaller and less impactful mining sites, better controls, cleaner manufacturing techniques, and creative recycling solutions to so-called “toxic waste.”
Yet the topic of domestic mining and production is almost taboo. Our politicians and bureaucrats prefer to leave decades-old environmental regulations in place, safe from controversy. This is a failed process for our future needs, and requires updating. Otherwise, we may find ourselves beholden to China for our clean energy, which has over 93% control of the rare metals-based supply chain, just as we try to extricate ourselves from our decades-long reliance on Middle East oil and its attendant politics.
We need to:
–introduce new ideas and novel solutions into our daily dialog
–support scientific research on our shores
–teach our children about rare metals and their vital role at all grade levels and universities.
For if we continue to outsource our brain trust, we effectively cede the environmental leadership position bequeathed to us by the 1970’s activists.
Our world increasingly relies on technology, and therefore on the powerful properties of these rare metals. It’s time we learn all we can about our options to best use these tiny resources before we deplete them. Only then, can we again make wise choices and change our behavior accordingly . . . before we do even more damage to Mother Earth.
(This article originally appeared on Balcony 7 Media & Publishing’s SaucyJaw.com)