Rare Earths Mining And Processing Leading To Much Pollution In The East

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor


The BBC presented an engaging and informative report concerning how the unprecedented demand for rare earth elements is leading to environmental degradation, especially in developing countries. It proposes that one of the ironic tragedies of manufacturing green technologies is that it is leading to concentrations of pollution in specific areas. This also brings forth the importance of having a conversation about advanced, consumer societies needing to engage in much self reflection on the causes of the insatiable appetites consumers have for top of the line electronics.  Of which are designed with quick obsolescence as a business model.


In conversations I have had with others for over fifteen years concerning obsolescence and the cost to the consumer I used what I labeled the “Rake Approach”.

In this opinion, I am reminded of an old metal tined rake my father purchased in the early 1970’s. He used this rake for nearly twenty five years despite heavy amounts of use, including as a tamper for burning leaves. It was well built and lasted a generation. It did not need upgrades, special advanced metallurgy in the tines, or any feature that would need upgrades or replacements. It was, after all, just a rake.  Yet, low quality rakes and the new introduction of novel rakes, which in actuality perform the same task, are marketed to consumers who will buy one every other year or so.

Where we begin to fail in our never ending desire for resources via the upgrade business model is that features continually demanded result in significant waste to meet the need for small improvements that consumers are conditioned into demanding. While upgrades are certainly appropriate given actual needs for efficiency, one has to question the totality of circumstances when deciding if we need a new smart phone every year when a 2005 vintage cellphone, or even the 1960’s Bell rotary dial telephone will still work on the American telephone network.

The BBC describes that one of the reasons why China and Mongolia are becoming increasingly world dominant in the production of rare earths, is due to the economics of production deriving from a willingness to forego healthier environmental and remediation practices mandated by other nations, including the United States. Rare earths are not limited to sources in China alone, they are nearly as common elsewhere. The difference being the total cost of mining.

The news report offers much information that is certainly worthwhile to hopefully foster discussion and where we go with regard to the demands we place upon the earth. I invite you to read the BBC report at the following link:

The Dystopian Lake Filled By The World’s Tech Lust

By Darren Smith


BBC News

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

35 thoughts on “Rare Earths Mining And Processing Leading To Much Pollution In The East”

  1. Airdog

    Read up a little. Musk is now taking payloads to the ISS. You get your choice in this society, subsidizing coal or oil or advanced technology. You can now buy a Tesla and charge it for free in hundreds of spots in the US and Canada. These free charging stations will double in a year or two. A Tesla will go 250 to 400 miles and recharge in a half hour to half force. That means you can go from LA to SF or most other five to six hour day trips without charging and if you do, a sandwich and a coffee will get you another two hundred miles.

    Tesla is making its technology available without patent protection to promote the industry. Tesla is providing drive systems for the major auto companies so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

    What most of those criticizing don’t understand is that after a while the efficient and practical technology that will be in our daily life, at a reasonable price, will come as a result of these early years, experiments, failures, successes, subsidies, etc.

    There is something telling about those who hang out in enclosed spaces and criticize the geniuses in our society. “Ah, yes, there it is, the chink in the armor, and I found it. I guess that means I’m smarter than the genius.”

    I have a friend who is quite wealthy. He bought one of the first Priuses. Toyota spent almost 7K more on the car than it cost to buy. They serviced it almost for free. He had it for almost ten years and put on over 300,000 miles. He sold it in tip top shape to buy a Tesla. He has had a Tesla for over a year and can’t say enough about it. On a drive we took it was amazing to feel the power and control. The resale value is very high and he is thinking about trading up to a new two motor car that will get up to 400 miles on a charge.

    Even if this technology survives only as a part of an eventual hydrogen or other hybrid system, this is what it is all about. Or you can bring back the Stanley Steamer.

  2. Issac … when Elon Musk builds something that is not subsidized and stupid expensive, I’ll pay attention. Not likely I’ll have that option for a while, if ever.

    Some one builds an unsubsidized electric car with a 350+ mile range and re-charging available everywhere that takes less than 30 minutes (I suggest at diners and restaurants on well traveled routes where you can have lunch or whatever while your vehicle is recharged) I’ll buy in and own one. More efficiency and more power for the buck. Then you and our neighbors are not taxed to fund part of my indulgence.

  3. Elon Musk wants to nuke Mars to make it inhabitable What could possible go wrong there. The guy is a nut job. Looks like a nut job. Seen him interviewed, sounds like a nut job. His car is overpriced and horribly flawed. But, the Church of Environmentalism elders seem to love the guy, just like they worship Al Gore, the Pope.

  4. DBQ

    Some of your points are spot on but others not so. Electric vehicles may need rare metal batteries but they also need far fewer parts, need far fewer repairs, and pollute far less. The main obstacle in the way of advancing technology to change out of the ancient internal combustion engine, is the status quo. If and when more and more people buy and drive electric, hydrogen, and hybrid vehicles, millions of jobs will be lost and trillions in profits in the existing industries. However, new jobs will be created and new fortunes made.

    For every Elon Musk genius of today there were a few dinosaurs that had to be put out of their misery. In with the Elon Musks and sh*t can the Koch brothers.

  5. Detroit figured it out a while ago (but gave up?)…my “dog truck” is a 2003 Chevy model…and I can’t replace it with any American brand…almost did with a Chrysler model until the recent scandals…e.g., the buy it back mandate from the Feds and the sundry computer issues in the controls. So I’ve repaired everything in the under carriage and plan to keep it for 4-5 more years….at a cost of roughly 2% of the cost of replacement with any brand foreign or domestic. This truck has lasted far longer than anything from the 50’s or 60’s…guess that’s why Chevy stopped production of it. My better half has nice 2014 Cadillac crossover and I have yet to completely figure out how to use the controls…myriad things fixed that weren’t broken, nothing like more buttons and screens to make driving hard. Actually I could drive the thing, but I prefer not to do so. I don’t need the dashboard talking to me, nor have I lost the ability to read a map and memorize routes. We’ve reach a point of silliness…recently when my cell phone rang while I was driving I tried to just answer it simply and say I’ll call back later, but I hit one of those “buttons” that sent a message about not bothering me if not an emergency…and those who got it panicked….and called back incessantly. WTF? I fear more technology more than I do old stuff in ordinary things…but then I am an old dude 🙂 How’d I get this far without some computer voice guiding me?

  6. Fast obsolescence or not, the US economy is faced by other evolving conditions — that people no longer keep the same job, live in the same house, raise a family in the same place, for 30 years or more. In fact increasing numbers of USers no longer get married, no longer have children, are more mobile, don’t need a lot of furnishings, decorations, landscaping (no rakes needed), and don’t want a lot of clothing –today’s fashion is almost always casual levis and a T shirt. Pots and pans and dishes are not needed when we buy things in packages from which we eat it after we microwaved it. Nobody wants to bake or do fancy cooking because we’re mostly on diets of fresh vegatables, fruit, grains, and nuts. (no need to cook grains; they taste great uncooked.) Most people do not want the stuff they are paying to store in their storage units.

  7. Rare earths are a key component in many if not most of the so called “green” energy items that the government is intent on shoving down our throats. Electric car batteries. Components in wind turbines. Counter productive to say the least.

    In addition they are in all sorts of popular electronic items and as pointed out in things that are meant to fail and be replaced. They are a component in catalytic converters. Televisions. Computer parts.

    Not all uses are frivolous or unnecessary. X ray machines. Welder’s glass faceplates. For some examples of things that are useful and helpful.

    It is the planned obsolescence that is one of the problems. If people would, as in Darren’s rake example, be able to purchase things that would LAST…there would not be any need to keep re-manufactuing the same items to replace the crappy defective ones that we have to use. Keep the same rake for years. Drive the same car for years. We do this! Other than my car which is a 2002 Blazer, every vehicle is older, no computerized components to go on the fritz, able to be easily fixed, inexpensive to register and insure. The next newest vehicle is 1982 and our oldest is a neato 1962 International Travelall. Bullet proof vehicles. By driving older vehicles, we are keeping the costs of production down and WE are saving the earth in a more productive way than someone who drives a Prius. 😀

    Of course, the industrial complex would hate this idea of making items that last because they wouldn’t be able to get more money from the people. They wouldn’t be able to churn the sales. So they make crap that is planned to fail, break and become useless in a short period of time.

    It is OUR demand for these things that is driving the pollution in other parts of the world and depleting the resources of the earth to continually make the same items over and over.

    So……go ahead and feel smug about your “green” lifestyle, drive your green weenie clown car and feel proud of “saving the planet”………and ignore the results of your own actions.

  8. One of the abject failure of capitalism and modern economics is that they have always viewed environmental issues as “externalities”, something that will be managed by others. And somehow we, the people, let them get away with it. Here in America, and then shifted to poor countries overseas as people here started to become concerned with toxic waste and pollution.

    Capitalize the profits, socialize the losses. We take the gold, copper, coal, gas, neodymium, and sell it. You pay for the cleanup, the remediation, the new sea-walls.

    Sadly, neither communism nor classic socialism have done any better at cleaning up after themselves. In fact some of the most polluted places on Earth have suffered at the hands of communist regimes.

    The Clean Air and Water acts, the formation of the EPA, have done some good, but we have to do better. There is no planet “B”.

  9. Back in the late sixties, when Detroit was still the millionaire you can’t argue, there was an article in Psychology Today titled, ‘The Misery of Choice’. The author predicted that along with the fall in quality a major reason for consumers to turn away from the myriad of choices presented on TV and in the showrooms each Fall by Detroit was that they are becoming increasingly unable to make up their minds. For every make there is a model and for every model there is another sub model with a variety of variations.

    The Japanese and Germans were offering a few models with options of minimum and maximum. It was easier to choose a Honda Accord when the design did not change every year, the statistics showed it had improved over the past years, and if you wanted to shop then you could look at a Civic or a Datsun.

    In the end, people want quality, simplicity, and anything approaching assurance that they won’t have to go through the excruciating experience of gambling with buckets of money on a car often. A car is something that one wants to become familiar and trustworthy.

  10. Regarding the US auto industry. The great author, David Maraniss, has a new book out titled, Once in a Great City. He focuses on a couple years in the 1960’s when Detroit was a shining city on a hill, showing the signs, even during the hay days, of it’s demise. If you don’t know Maraniss, he usually writes bios, Clinton, Clemente, Lombardi. But he also writes about the Sixties. He wrote, The Marched into Sunlight, about 1960’s Viet Nam protests in his hometown of Madison. Marnaiss is a liberal, but intellectually honest, a unique combo. He is a superb writer. I’ve read all his books and have his newest on my list.

  11. A group of 20 scientists has written to Obama asking that other scientists who do not get on the global warming bandwagon be prosecuted under the RICO statutes. Galileo was hounded by his rivals as well.

  12. Planned obsolescence has been around for a long time. Caveat Emptor. The demise of the American automobile industry was chrome over quality. In an economy where gas was .30 a gallon and the middle class industrial worker could afford it he bought a new car every three to four years. So, Detroit’s geniuses made them to last only three to four years. So, whether for that new car smell or because the car had to be taken in for repairs too often, every three to four years in the late sixties and early seventies, American cars turned into junk.

    During the same time the Japanese and Germans were making the same model over and over again refining and perfecting until you could buy a Honda Accord or Civic that would get twice the gas mileage or better and run many times longer before needing attention. Then gas prices skyrocketed and the good ole boys with their ‘If it ain’t broke why fix it?’ philosophy saw their industry shrink to a fifth of what it was. The ‘second car’ first became Japanese or European and then the first car.

    The demise of the American automobile industry is a perfect illustration of the demise in general of American manufacturing. Quality products from countries that had/have populations that could never afford planned obsolescence are making their way into the US. Now that the reality of the situation is changing from a well paid middle class that can afford a ‘throw away’ society to a workforce forced to work for as minimum a wage as is legally possible, consumers will only be able to afford products that are the best manufactured for the lowest price.

    Instead of refining American industry the ‘leaders’ sent the jobs overseas and now there is little to refine or improve. Prices of goods from China will rise as their average income does and their lower paid workers demand better quality. There is a reason why goods from Japan, Germany, and other countries are better made and more advanced than goods made in the US. Their consumers cannot afford that ‘new car smell every three to four years’.

    The question is will America’s back have to be placed up against the wall before it smartens up or will America fix it before it gets broke.

  13. The Church of Environmentalism is using garbage collectors in Seattle to snoop in trash cans and fine citizens and businesses w/o due process. When environmentalism becomes a religion, garbage collectors become the police.

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