Julie Klinger, Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, recently published an article examining how recycling and recovering rare earth metals could limit the social and environmental costs of destructive mining.
From the text of the article:
The anticipated spike in demand for “technology metals”, including rare earth elements, lithium, niobium, and coltan, has ignited fierce debates over the development destiny of some of Latin America’s most iconic places.
The remote Amazon, the Bolivian highlands, and the Sonoran desert in Mexico are rich in culture and biodiversity on the one hand, and in geological endowments on the other. Some estimates put Latin America’s combined reserves of these elements at 50 million tonnes, or roughly 40% of known global supply.
Mining technology metals presents a conundrum: is the sacrifice of local environments and livelihoods a fair price to pay for the proliferation of clean energy technologies?
They’re called technology metals because they’re essential for modern technology and indispensable to the clean energy technology transition. The practices of mining companies are as diverse as the landscapes they excavate. Mining companies from around the world have hastened to mine the lithium in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and Mexico to produce the batteries essential for electric cars, wind turbines, and other technologies, with little regard for the long-term livelihood security of the people who live in these places.
Julie Klinger specializes in development, environment, and security politics in Latin America and China in comparative and global perspective. She is currently completing a book project on the global geography of rare earth prospecting and mining, with a special emphasis on the development and geopolitics of resource frontiers in Brazil, China, and Outer Space.