The Magic of Rare Earth Elements & the Hypocrisy of Clean Energy
What is the purpose of the game Monopoly? To drive your opponents into poverty so that you get rich. This is the meaning of success that we all grew up on.
Break Free with Karen Hunt is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
One-time or recurring donations can be made at Ko-Fi
Mongolia. I’ve always wanted to go there. About seven years ago, I packed what I had into a storage unit (I’ve never been big on material possessions, I’m a serious wanderer) and took off with a small bag, my most important possession being my computer to write on, and began traveling wherever I wanted to go. This didn’t mean staying in resort hotels, it meant going off the beaten track and living in places for periods of time, from a few months in Sucre, Bolivia, Costa Rica and the Sahara Desert, to almost three years in Luxor, Egypt, and many places in-between. I made it back to Phoenix, Arizona from Egypt about six months into the pandemic.
Mongolia could well have been next on my list. But now, with the way things are going, I wonder if I will ever make it. I refuse to be vaccinated with an experimental gene therapy, and the hoops one has to jump through to fly internationally have made travel lose its appeal.
So perhaps the city of Baotou, whose name translated means “place with deer,” will remain of mystery. The nearby Gobi desert calls to me. I love deserts more than anything. Long ago, the region was free of cities, inhabited by nomads. I would like to have seen it back then. With the Industrial Revolution, Baotou became known as “the city of steel.” Now it is known for processing rare earth elements, metals, or minerals, mined in Bayan Obo.
Processing rare earth elements, or REEs, is a deadly and dirty business. In order to extract the ore from the radioactive materials around it, carcinogenic toxins like sulfates, ammonia and hydrochloric acid must be used. It’s hard to even fathom how toxic this process is. Processing one ton of rare earths produces 2,000 tons of toxic waste; Baotou's rare earths enterprises produce 10m tons of wastewater per year.
The villages surrounding Baotou are now desolate, the inhabitants long gone. Where once there was greenery and fields, there are now factories. With the factories came tailing ponds, containing toxic chemicals along with radioactive elements such as thorium, which, if ingested, causes cancers of the pancreas and lungs, and leukemia. Li Guirong secretary general of the local branch of the Communist party, is one of the few who dares to talk about it. It was in 1958, when he was 10, that a state-owned concern, the Baotou Iron and Steel company (Baogang), started producing rare-earth minerals. The lake appeared at that time. “To begin with we didn’t notice the pollution it was causing. How could we have known?”
The soil and groundwater are now saturated with toxic substances. Eventually, Li had to get rid of his sick pigs, the last survivors of a collection of cows, horses, chickens and goats, killed off by the toxins.
Lately, I’ve become fascinated with metals, rare and otherwise. Not all of them are “rare,” they are mostly called this because they can be so difficult to mine. Like the alchemists of old, their magic is in how something invaluable can be separated and made into something valuable. In ancient times, alchemists dreamed of turning ordinary metals into gold, fit for kings.
Now the kings of our earth have found ways to turn these metals into fabulous riches for themselves, beyond what anyone could imagine. Indeed, they hold the key to the most desired goal of all: space migration. Who knows what richest we could find to exploit out there?
It should be of no surprise that these metals, whose processing is so toxic, need to be known to the general public NOT as pollutants, but as the key to ushering in an era of “clean energy.”
Most of us don’t think much about REEs. But our modern lives would be impossible without them. There are 17 in all, and from cellphones to missile guidance systems, rare-earth metals are an essential component of thousands of consumer products and military weapons. The rarest of the rare is francium – at $1 billion per gram. However, one gram of francium has never been observed. One of the most important is neodymium, because it’s used in permanent magnets.
Like Li, we also say, “How could we have known?” Just as we couldn’t have foreseen how addictive the drugs Big Pharma fed us would become, little did we realize how addictive our technological devices would become, nor did we understand the dark secrets of how they were made.
Let’s look at a few other metals that we couldn’t live without and that have a romantic history.
Cobalt is known as the “goblin ore.” Long ago, when German miners fell sick from inhaling toxic fumes while extracting the ores, they blamed it on goblins. Cobalt is used in magnets, high speed motors and even guitar picks.
Niobium is the “tear of the goddess.” It is named after the Greek goddess of tears, Niobe. She was the daughter of the mythical Tantalus, whose name was given to the metal tantalum. These two metals are always found together in nature. The magic of niobium is that when it is added to steel, it creates an incredible strength, far beyond its 0.1% representation of the alloy. Niobium is used in jet engines, superconducting magnets and MRI machines.
Lithium is known as the “prime matter.” It is a soft, silvery white alkali and the lightest and least dense solid element. Lithium is one of three elements formed during the Big Bang. It is said there should be 3 times as much Lithium in the universe than there is and no one knows what happened to the rest of it. Lithium has many uses, such as in aircraft manufacture, batteries, optics and air purification. It is even used in mental health as a treatment for bipolar disorder. Where would we be without it?
Rare earth elements and other metals can help build a rocket ship to space or an atomic bomb to destroy the world.
In 1939, Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner, and Fritz Strassmann discovered nuclear fission of uranium, identifying rare earth elements in fission products leading to the invention of the atomic bomb. The United States built an atomic bomb, known as the Manhattan Project, thanks to the expertise of rare earth chemist, Frank Spedding. In the process of purifying the uranium, rare earths needed to be separated and removed. Out of this grew the Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University, now the U.S. government’s premier rare earth elements research facility.
It was fine to pursue this process for specific needs such as atomic bombs. But on a larger scale, separating rare earths from the materials they are embedded in is extremely difficult and costly. Moving production to other countries that had looser controls made these products cheaper for Americans to buy.
And that’s where China comes in.
A Forbes, March 11, 2021 article tells us “While the extraction of these minerals is dispersed across countries, all roads lead to China. The Asian giant has a near-monopoly position in transforming these raw materials into usable products, controlling roughly 80% of the world’s rare earth production capacity, 43% of exports, and nearly 90% of refining. Beyond REEs, China also leads global refining capacity for lithium, cobalt and nickel, accounting for 61%, 72%, and 16% respectively. The People’s Republic only trails Russia in nickel refining capacity, which holds 20% of the world total.
“US nickel production was virtually nonexistent in 2020, accounting for less than 1% of the world total. In fact, the US is 50-100% dependent on imports for 28 of the 35 minerals on the critical minerals list. Although REE deposits have been identified in 19 states, there is only one active mine in the US. Some 95% of America’s REE imports come from China. This is a strategic vulnerability.”
And herein lies one of the great mysteries of REEs. If they are so necessary, why hasn’t the US done more to become energy independent? Instead, it seems we have done the exact opposite.
It was in 1997 that America’s leading rare earths company was sold to an investment consortium consisting of Archibald Coz, Jr (son of the Watergate prosecutor) and two Chinese state-owned metals firms, San Huan New Materials and China National Nonferrous Metals Import and Export Company. Everything moved to China at that point. The only remaining rare earths producer was Molycorp, which owned the Mountain Pass rare earth mine in California. That company bit the dust in 2015, however there have been attempts to revive it, interestingly, partly funded by, yes, you guessed it, a Chinese company.
Trump was the only United States president since Nixon to achieve what every president had promised: energy independence. Under Trump, the U.S. relied less on foreign energy than any other time since 1991. As a businessman not a politician, Trump recognized that we didn’t need more talks and photo ops with world leaders making promises they had no intention of keeping. We needed to get out of the way of companies and let them do what they do best: produce.
In contrast, the Biden administration is doing the opposite. For example, even as he has cut oil production at home, he has called for oil-producing countries to "do more." In his withdrawal from Afghanistan, disastrous on so many levels, Biden abandoned untapped reserves of rare-earth metals in Taliban hands. Yes, rare earth metals are notoriously difficult to extract, however, during all those years in Afghanistan it is interesting that no attempt ever got off the ground to mine these metals. It will be further interesting to see what China does with this new opportunity.
We all understand the need to reduce use of fossil fuels. But in reducing them, all we have done is shift to other energy needs that promise to far outstrip our cravings for oil and natural gas, and with potentially worse consequences for the planet. Furthermore, when making such a shift, surely our government shouldn’t kill the economy of its own people while boosting the economies of those it claims are our enemies?
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Colorado-based Western Energy Alliance, states, “I’ve actually never seen an energy issue crystalize so clearly in the American mind, as people are feeling the squeeze of high energy prices and looking on with disbelief as this president favors OPEC+ over American producers,”
Demand for REEs is currently outstripping supply by about 3,000 tons per year according to Julie Klinger, the author of "Rare Earth Frontiers." The US needs 10X more rare earth metals to hit Biden’s Electric Vehicle goals. As for defense, if you just take an ordinary F-35 fighter, it contains nearly 1,000 pounds of rare earths. Every cell phone and every Electric Vehicle motor needs powerful permanent magnets made from REEs.
Unlike the West, China has never had a problem with polluting its own land or exploiting its own people. In the West, our leaders have had to give the appearance of caring about the planet. For Americans, we’ve been molded into thinking that appearance is everything. And so, just as we feigned horror over the morality of gain of function research, allowing China to do the dirty work for us while continuing to fund it, we have done the same with REEs.
The greed and hypocrisy of our leaders has only seemed to grow exponentially with the necessity to hide it—something that has proved increasingly difficult to do with the advent of the internet. Along with hiding the truth about COVID, the need to hide the truth about clean energy has meant that the internet is now being regulated and access to information beyond the State sanctioned narrative is increasingly hard to find.
There is a brilliant new series out called Comrade Detective. The episodes are presented as a fictional lost 1980s era Romanian television show, commissioned by the Communist Party as propaganda against the evils of capitalism.
Two detectives, Gregor and Iosef, are the heroes of the show and they spend all their time fighting capitalist corruption and greed in the form of gangsters who smuggle products into Romania such as jeans, drugs and soda.
An hilarious scene involves the game of Monopoly. The two detectives find the game hidden in the lining of a car seat and can’t figure out what it is. Gregor says he knows two people who can help them, but he warns Iosif to watch out as they are crafty and dangerous. Gregor and Iosif travel in their decrepit little car to a prison outside of town. There they interrogate a dejected older couple who’ve been imprisoned for betraying their country after falling under the temptations of capitalism.
When Gregor asks them about Monopoly, this is what happens:
Male prisoner: The object of the game is to purchase property and hope that your opponent lands on the property that you own.
Gregor (confused): Why?
Female prisoner: That way they pay you rent. The more rent you get paid, the more money you make, the more properties you purchase.
Male prisoner: And when your opponents have no money left and are completely in your debt, then, and only then, do you win the game.
Iosif (shocked and disgusted): You’re telling me that the purpose of this game is to drive your fellow citizens into poverty so that you may get rich?
Female prisoner laughs.
Iosif: That’s diabolical!
Female prisoner shrugs: It’s just a game.
Male prisoner: Nowadays the West finds it a useful tool to indoctrinate young children into the capitalist system.
Gregor and Iosif leave the prison in subdued silence. Iosif can tell something is bothering Gregor. He asks Gregor how he knew about the two criminals. Gregor confesses with loathing that they are his own parents. He is the one who turned them in.
Iosif nods in understanding and tells Gregor he did the right thing.
The scene is funny, but it’s also disconcerting. I’d played Monopoly a hundred times as a kid but had never looked at it like that. How about the game Risk? I’d been very good at killing off everyone else and taking over the world. What if these games had really been a sinister plot to indoctrinate youth and turn them into evil capitalists? Because, looked at from this perspective, capitalism surely is diabolical, just as Iosif says.
Even more diabolical, what if the ultimate purpose had been to make children accept that only a few succeed at the expense of everyone else because that’s the meaning of success?
Maybe people will find my saying this about capitalism offensive, but in the end, how is the ultimate result of capitalism any different from the ultimate result of communism? Or fascism? Or any political ideology ever, for that matter?
On Sunday, October 31st, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will begin in Glasgow, Scotland. It will last 12 days and promises to be the largest gathering of world leaders ever to take place on British soil. I can assure you, the conference is all for show. It is behind the scenes that the important deals are made. And many of them are about REEs.
Conspicuously missing will be Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. But really, why should they attend? What do they have to gain by parading about for the sake of a few media photo ops? Unlike Western leaders, they don’t play those self-righteous games.
Western world leaders are still convinced that if they at least appear to be clean energy warriors, people will believe them.
Just a few nights ago, some of the cream of the crop dined with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Among them were Bill Gates; Goldman Sachs boss, David Solomon; JP Morgan chief executive, Jamie Dimon; Jes Staley, head of Barclays; Larry Fink, boss of the investment firm BlackRock; Stephen Schwarzman, the chief executive of the private equity firm Blackstone.
These are the men who quietly run the world. The pandemic has been good to them. Bezos and Musk weren’t at that dinner but they will be at COP26. In their cozy little competition to rule the world, Musk just sent Bezos a silver medal emoji on Twitter, now that Musk, as the richest man on the planet, is worth almost $30 billion more than Bezos.
Musk successfully sold the story that his electric vehicles are “clean” energy because they are run with a lithium-ion rechargeable batteries instead of dirty oil. This is a complete and utter lie. There is nothing clean about lithium. Oh, but it will be in the future.
Elon Musk’s electric vehicles use from 100-150% more of these vital metals and REEs than cars with internal combustion engines. He tweeted in February that “nickel is our biggest concern for scaling lithium-ion cell production," adding that nickel production in the US is "objectively very lame."
US nickel production was virtually nonexistent in 2020, accounting for less than 1% of the world total. Research firm Wood Mackenzie estimated that demand for the mineral will increase by 64 percent between 2019 and 2025. It could even be more now. Canada Nickel Company claims it can extract the metal almost carbon free, but that remains to be seen. How much will that cost?
It will take years for the United States to catch up with China in processing of REEs, if it ever does. Processing facilities cost hundreds of millions of dollars each.
In the meantime, where have all these leaders who claim to care about the environment been getting their REEs?
Mostly from China, of course!
While small business owners saw their doors closing and families were unable to pay their mortgages and rents, the top 1 % saw their wealth grow to 16 % greater than the bottom 50 %—not because they cared about the planet but because they exploited it. As a result, the wealthiest 10% of Americans own about 89% of stocks and mutual funds held in the U.S. as of the first quarter of 2021, according to Fed data. The bottom 50% of U.S. households hold around 0.5%.
And just watch. As they ramp up production of the REEs they crave, the common people will need to subsist on less and less, all the while being blamed for any disastrous effects incurred upon the planet.
The “National Intelligence Estimate” on climate warns how “a changing climate could upend societies and topple governments,” and how we need to “inoculate the public against misinformation on climate change.”
Interesting the choices of the words inoculate and misinformation.
If there’s anything we are supposed to have learned during the course of this pandemic it’s that nothing makes you safer than an inoculation!
And it wouldn’t be surprising if spreading misinformation soon became a crime, punishable by prison.
And rightly so!
There have been so many dangerous conspiracy theories floating about lately. Luckily, we have expert fact checkers to shut them down—like that absurd idea that the NIH was funding gain of function research in China.
But climate change, now that’s real, and honestly, I’m not saying it isn’t. But just like the lying State experts on COVID, we cannot trust the “data” or the “science” on climate change, we would be fools to do so.
We have all heard the ominous predictions of rising sea levels, shrinking mountain glaciers, accelerating ice melts in Greenland, Antarctica and the Arctic, resulting in mass migrations, unrest, famine and drought if we don’t do something about it.
Never fear. The elite are coming to the rescue—when have they ever let us down before? Watch in amazement as they arrive at COP26 in their private jets, having left their massive mansions in the care of housekeepers and security guards.
Besides those in the highest echelons of power, up to 25,000 government representatives, media and campaigners from around the world will be scurrying about at the convention, wheeling and dealing.
It’s no surprise, given the importance of this conference, that the pandemic has promised to stay away. Unlike the rest of us who find our freedoms increasingly dependent on whether or not we’ve submitted to an experimental gene therapy injected into our bodies, the attendees of the CPO26 will not be required to be fully vaccinated.
Yes, you heard that right.
Remember, this is a pandemic. Only yesterday, an old friend of mine who no longer talks to me, posted on Facebook how her own son suffered from tinnitus and severe fatigue after receiving the vaccine. But that’s better than dying, right?
Yes, she said that.
If we don’t get the shot we will die. Many believe this. Even as the elite travel quite happily without such restrictions. It is really quite incredible how well they have succeeded in their propaganda campaign.
I don’t recall reading about the elite holding parties during the Bubonic Plague. Once they realized how dangerous it was, they wasted no time in scurrying off to their country estates where they locked themselves down until everyone outside of the gates who was going to die did. Only then, did they reappear.
Obviously, the overlords have gained some kind of superhero powers since the 1300s, where the illnesses that kill the rest of us don’t affect them at all.
Thankfully so, since they have such important work to do, all to protect the rest of us.
The goal of the climate czars is to keep the earth’s temperature from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. If we don’t do this, we will be living under water, or maybe there will be no water at all. Or it will all be polluted. The air will be unbreathable. Earth will become a desolate wasteland.
Whatever. It will all be bad.
Where Trump called out the hypocrisy of the climate hysteria and withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, Biden has eagerly joined again, offering up the United States as an example of self-sacrifice. Biden has pledged the United States will cut greenhouse emissions in half by 2030 and will reach 0 emissions by 2050.
China’s leaders are chuckling and rubbing their hands together in glee. China obviously understood something the rest of the world didn’t. As far back as 1992, Deng Xiaoping stressed that “the Middle East has oil; China has rare earths.”
While COP26 will be for show, the biggest deals are the ones we rarely ever hear about. What is the ultimate goal? Something I’ve talked about through other lenses in previous essays: The wide open expanse of Space and the riches it surely holds. Because, just as all roads lead to China when it comes to REEs, all roads lead to space when it comes to the ultimate use of those REEs. And to get there, the overlords must perpetuate the lie that they will replace dirty energy with clean energy.
As we have seen, up until the very moment I am writing these words, calling the mining of REEs “clean” energy has been a lie. What reason do we have to think, based on everything we know from history, that this reality will change in the future?
During Trump’s reign, he signed an executive order to support moon mining and to tap asteroid resources. This added on to a 2015 federal law allowing American companies and citizens to mine moon and asteroid resources but stressed that there would not be a need to get bogged down with international treaties to do so. In other words, neither the Moon nor asteroids would be viewed as “global commons.”
Meaning that, just like your very DNA can now be owned by Bill Gates and Big Pharma, the moon and other locations can be owned by whoever gets there first and plants their flag. Our overlords fully intend to exploit everything they can here on earth so that they can then exploit what they find in space. Elon Musk has said his first task will be to beam down ads from space. Just think how rich he can get doing that?
The sky above us will be owned. No more gazing at the mystery of the twinkling stars. No kissing under the light of the moon. No more magic at all.
Hmm, I wonder what the Chinese have to say about that? Or the Russians? Judging by the wars we have engaged in on earth, just imagine the wars over ownership in space. Star Wars will pale in comparison.
If there are aliens out there, no wonder they are monitoring us. Clearly they are more advanced than we are and I can’t see them being any too happy about such a violent race making its way beyond planet Earth.
I watched with some fascination as William Shatner came back after being shot into space by Bezos’s penis-shaped rocket. He hugged a rather stiff Bezos and thanked him. “What you’ve given me is the most profound experience I can imagine,” he said. Adding that it was “unbelievable” and something “everyone in the world needs to do.”
I grew up watching Captain Kirk explore “space, the final frontier” in the Star Ship Enterprise. The crew had all kinds of adventures I’d love to have, encountering aliens both good and evil, traveling at warp speed, and shooting lazar guns. Now, here was the real man, William Shatner, being shot a mere 65 miles into the air and realizing the profundity of even that small distance.
Out there was death. While looking back at Earth, he saw Life.
Shatner was teary-eyed in his thanks, only to have Bezos bring us all back to harsh reality by popping open a champagne bottle and interrupting Shatner with the jarring words, “Here, you want a little of this?” An offer Shatner declined.
This is of no surprise. To Bezos, Shatner’s trip to the edge of space wasn’t some spiritual awakening. It was a golden media moment, calculated to bring him more success. The success Comrade Detective talks about.
But now, the strangest thing of all. We’ve been told by our own government that there could likely be aliens out there. Apparently, just as they lied to us for our own good about COVID, they’ve been lying to us about aliens and UFOs for all these years. Or maybe not. Who knows why they say something is true one day and then retract it the next?
Why are they letting that information out now? I do not have the answer to that question. Years ago, the revelation that UFOs might really be real would have been greeted as the biggest story of all time. But now? People are so bogged down with worries of catching COVID from the unvaccinated, being evicted from their homes, rising gas and food prices, backlogs of supplies at sea ports, and on and on, who cares about aliens being out there and possibly invading our planet?
Whatever they turn out to be, evil or good, or just another story made up to manipulate us, they certainly must be shaking their heads in perplexity. Just one look at our highways and the horrific crashes must have them wondering how we faithfully get into our death machines every day with the odds of 1 in 103 dying, while simultaneously cowering in our homes over fear of a virus with a 99.9% survival rate.
Observing Bezos’s rocket shoot into the atmosphere must have looked to the aliens like a group of ants climbing onto a blade of grass and claiming they were exploring the entire world when all they were doing was exploring a tiny section of someone’s backyard.
It might be a good idea to clean up that backyard first—truly clean it up—before we ventured into space. Somehow, I feel the overlords out there won’t go for us expanding our mess beyond our own planet.
Is there still a chance I can make it to Mongolia one day? I certainly hope so!
As always, thank you for reading. I look forward to your comments and please share if you so desire.