“China’s control of a key minerals market has US military thinkers and policy makers worried about access to materials that are essential for 21st-century technology like smartphones – and smart bombs,” the Wall Street Journal reports. Plus stealth fighter jets, digital cameras, computer hard drives – and wind turbine magnets, solar panels, hybrid and electric car batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs, catalytic converters, and more.
China’s dominance in mining and processing 17 “rare earth” metals “has raised alarms in Washington,” says the Journal. These unique metallic elements have powerful magnetic properties that make them sine qua non for high-tech, miniaturized and renewable energy equipment.
China currently produces fully 97% of the world’s rare-earth oxides, the raw materials that can be refined into metals and blended into specialty alloys for defense, commercial and power-generation components. However, the Middle Kingdom has slashed its rare-earth oxide and metal exports.
Beijing claims to be motivated by environmental concerns – reflecting the fact that rare earths are present in very low concentrations, mountains of rock must be mined, crushed and processed to get usable metals, and every step in the process requires oil, gasoline or coal-based electricity. A more likely reason is that the Chinese want to manufacture the finished goods, thereby creating countless “green” factory jobs, paid for with US and EU taxpayer subsidies, channeled through GE, Siemens, Vestas and other “socially responsible” companies that then install the systems across Europe and the USA.
So here we are, long beholden to foreign powers for petroleum – and newly dependent on foreign powers for “green” energy. National security issues (direct defense needs and indirect dependency issues) once again rise to the fore, and the Defense Department, Government Accountability Office, House Science and Technology Committee and others are busily issuing reports, holding hearings and expressing consternation. Congressman Bart Gordon (D-TN) worries that the United States is being “held hostage.”
As well he should. However, the fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves – or more precisely in our militant environmentalists.
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