Watched us a very interesting PBS segment on Copenhagen, green technology, rare earths and China the other night.
The producer of the segment contended that all the efforts to control green house gases in Copenhagen were worthless without first addressing the environmentally ruinous practice of extracting a rapidly shrinking supply of rare earths which are at the heart of the renewable energy industry and which 95% of its production is located in China.
Let’s see: China, environmentally unsound mining, increasing demand, decreasing supply. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, what could go wrong is exactly what one would predict given this scenario. China is cutting back on rare earth exports citing environmental concerns and a shrinking supply of these rare earths. Good for China’s environment – not so good for the world’s green technologies.
And, as predictably, according to the PBS piece, China is leveraging this export cut back to force green industry to move to China and indeed, have mastered-planned a business-city in Bayan Obo, the epicenter of China’s rare earth extraction activities, to facilitate this.
And this remains our heartburn with our country’s and much of the world’s business approach to green technology: Instead of relying on true R&D at the university and professional society level that can “look around the corner” and forecast and react to potential dead-ends like the rare earth dilemma, we have locked ourselves into, both legislatively and monetarily (picking winners and losers), the production of electric cars, solar panels and wind turbines – technologies all that may well be DOA before they are even market-viable because of the rare earths shortage and its environmental and geo-political ramifications.
In the meantime...
...anyone up for an alternative to alternative energy until we truly get this whole renewable energy thing figured out?