Drive for Energy Independence Creates Rare Earth Dependence

Dec 15, 2010

The New York Times ran an interesting article today which you can find here:

Business Day
U.S. Called Vulnerable to Rare Earth Shortages
By KEITH BRADSHER
Published: December 15, 2010
A report from the Energy Department says that it could take 15 years to break American dependence on Chinese supplies of critical manufacturing minerals.

The article points out that many clean energy technologies “from compact fluorescent light bulbs to electric cars to giant wind turbines” rely on rare earth minerals.  The article further states that “96 percent of the most crucial types of the so-called rare earth minerals are now produced in China, and Beijing has wielded various export controls to limit the minerals’ supply to other countries while favoring its own manufacturers that use them.”

The article’s ironic, implicit subtext is that our drive for “independence” from Middle Eastern oil depends increasingly on Chinese rare earth minerals.  With all of the political, economic and xenophobic ways that you can spin this information, for me the key takeaway is that we operate in an unavoidable global economy.  Governments and businesses need to maintain political and economic ties with governments, suppliers and customers beyond their domestic borders whether those borders are a state or federal level.  The notion of wagon-circling “independence” is a fallacy.

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