Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Risky business

Life on Earth is a function of geology. The rocks shaped life, and continue to shape us. Importantly, they shape modern technology. Everything, from the pain on the walls to the keyboard I type with started with someone extracting specific coalitions of atoms from out of the Earth.

So the British Geological Society's "Risk List" makes for fascinating reading. It ranks the worlds elemental resources according to scarcity and risk of supply (including political governance).

Shock news - China accounts for 97% of all rare Earth metals - you know, those pesky ones we need for high technology (and probably the odd medicine). China is the chief source for 27 minerals - well over half.
As demand for metals and minerals increases, driven by relentless growth in the emerging economies in Asia and South America, competition for resources is growing. Human factors such as geopolitics , resource nationalism, along with events such as strikes and accidents are the most likely to disrupt supply. Policy-makers, industry and consumers should be concerned about supply risk and the need to diversify supply from Earth resources, from recycling more and doing more with less, and also about the environmental implications of burgeoning consumption.
It's hateful to think that war could result over access to these minerals -- and in the case of China, unthinkably horrible. What this illustrates is how we are dependent upon the same Earth, and can only succeed by full global, human co-operation, instead of trying to screw each other based on a capacity to deny access to patches of territory. The report, as it makes clear on the BBC is partly intended to promote policy makers to open up new deposits and diversify supply. Especially as demand for these minerals continues to rise:
Mobile phones embrace the use of these technology metals, with lithium batteries, indium in the screen, and REEs [Rare Earth Elements] in the circuitry.

With over 50 million new phones being made every year, the "volume of technology metals required is astonishing and the pace of demand is not letting up", said Alan McLelland of the National Metals Technology Centre.
Just a final note, The Democratic Republic of Congo is the chief source of Cobalt - that was a contributing factor of the War that saw 11 million die there.

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