By Chris Berry (@cberry1)
For a PDF of this note, please click here.
In the Autumn of 2011, my father and I were approached to present to a group of faculty and undergraduate environmental studies majors at a major university here on the East Coast of the United States. The topic was rare earths. What struck me was the fact that nobody was taking notes using a pen and paper – each student was typing away on his or her Mac or PC. While the presentation went well, we were astonished at the lack of knowledge the students had regarding the global supply chain risks inherent in many of the metals and minerals used in the technology that we take for granted. Were the students aware that the cobalt in their computer was quite likely not ethically sourced? This generated several questions. Would they be willing to pay more for a product if they could be sure people weren’t being exploited along the entire supply chain? What about the fact that many of these metals and minerals are critical for national defense and China (a strategic adversary) essentially controls the bulk of production of many of them? There were no easy answers to these questions then and there are none today. But the general ignorance of the supply chain dynamics and the strategic and tactical threats have likely increased despite a horribly depressed metals market.
Unfortunately, these students were likely a microcosm of the broader populace who are unaware of the destabilizing effects of foreign mineral dependence on supply chains for rare metals. For this reason, David Abraham’s excellent new book titled “The Elements of Power – Gadgets, Guns, and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age” couldn’t have come at a better time.