Klinger in The Hill on Rare Earth Elements

Julie Klinger, Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, co-wrote a recent Op-Ed on rare earth elements and the importance of capitalizing on shared global interests to ensure that the new rare earth supply chains are sustainable.

Klinger’s Op-Ed, entitled “R&D, Not Greenland, Can Solve Our Rare Earth Problem,” was published in The Hill on September 18, 2019. The Op-Ed was co-written by Roger Turner.

 From the text of the article:

While President Trump‘s proposal to buy Greenland lit up social media feeds and left many scratching their heads, people who work on rare earth elements were not surprised. Greenland has rare earth elements, and currently most are mined in China. Meanwhile, the president’s trade war with China could disrupt access to these metals crucial to green energy, defense systems and consumer technology.

The “rare earth” label implies scarcity or extreme value, but the label is little more than a stubborn artifact of 18th-century naming conventions. The mineral gadolinite, first dug up in 1788 and from which the first rare earth elements were separated, was “rare” because it had never been found before, and “earth” because it could be dissolved in acid.

The antiquated label persists because it fuels scarcity myths, which in turn have proven useful to justify extreme measures to secure these metals — like repealing mining moratoriums in Greenland or granting U.S. citizens property rights to outer space resources.

Because the rare earth elements are largely produced in China, Americans of all ideological stripes tend to project their anxieties about China onto the rare earths. People use the rare earths to tell stories of American industrial decline, the power of China’s authoritarian central planning or of American vulnerability. Rarely told is the story of what is shared by China and the U.S. — worries about pollution, desires to reap the benefits of natural resources, histories of imposing the health and environmental costs of production on marginalized people distant from the centers of power.

Julie Michelle Klinger, PhD, specializes in development, environment, and security politics in Latin America and China in comparative and global perspective. Her recent book Rare Earth Frontiers: From Terrestrial Subsoils to Lunar Landscapes (Cornell University Press in Fall 2017) received the 2017 Meridian Award from the American Association of Geographers for its “unusually important contribution to advancing the art and science of geography.”