Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Rarer than oil

Posted by Dave Bath on 2010-10-19

Finally the mainstream press is recognizing the battle for economic supremacy, indeed survival, being waged over not oil, but the more critical rare earths.  To get a feel for how tight the supply of rare earths are, and how they are both necessary for waging wars of both economic and military varities, and the incentive for such wars, review the summary of rare earth reserves and usage in "Climate change might not be our worst problem" (2007-05-27).

China has a better grip on rare earths, essential for any electronics, than OPEC has had on hydrocarbons.  Unlike oil which can be made from hydrogen and carbon by a host of means, you cannot make rare earths except by smashing atoms in an accelerator.

China has already been sabre-rattling, with typical "official plausible deniability", with supplies to Japan threatened using the pretext of a maritime border dispute.

Controlling more than 95% of rare earth production, and a third of reserves, making heavy political efforts into Africa which has some good reserves, China’s actions are making US economists and strategists take notice and worry, long after the scientists started raising alarm, particularly over things like Indium and Hafnium

Now, admittedly, it is possible to improve recycling of the rare earths, but it’s a lot harder to extract them as trace doping-agents in from computer chips than it is from an ore.

So… throttle supply of rare earths and all the technology required to go green becomes unavailable, the tools of advanced warfare become unavailable, and general production of goods and services becomes less efficient.  Hit the US that way, then add in a few sanctions for CO2 equivalent per capita pollution (the US and Australia emit many times per capita the amount of the average Chinese person), and the Chinese become the world’s single hyperpower within a few decades.

Admittedly, Oz is better off than the US, as we have about half the hafnium in the world, but that’s just one of the rare earths, and like vitamins, you need a bit of everything.

Notes/See Also


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