If you’re after the face of savagery, look no further than the cracks that run between our rustling tectonic plates, drowned in a league of salt water and kept in perfect pitch. This is the freezing darkness home to humanity’s wrecks of war and exploration – the true deep in which time lags, dragging creatures from our evolutionary twilight out from fragile pockets of refuge in all their awkward horror.
In the black, an orb of light is dangled. It bobs temptingly – Lucifer’s light bulb in what may as well be the void between stars.
Like all false hope it wavers, flickering strangely as naive prey approach. What remains unseen are the thousands of thin razors protruding from a jaw that’s all awkward angles and hard lines of bone. Translucent fins loiter as threads set adrift, waiting for a tremble in the water. This is the ambush predator lying in wait with its mouth open. It’s heard the tiny fish coming across the darkness and kept very still. For hours, they duck and weave between its rows of fangs. When the jaws close, the lights go out and the trap closes with barely a ripple.
Beneath – deeper still – the gashes that cross the ocean floor smoulder. Columns of scorching water claw up through the cold leaving semi-precious metals glinting on the seabed produced by an infinite tectonic factory where brimstone breeds treasure.
Let’s talk about deadlines…
For better or worse, our civilisation has latched its survival to the ‘Rare Earth’ industry. A somewhat unexpected creation, the roots of this monstrosity run right to the core of our technological empire, wrapping themselves around sunken coffers while anchoring onto trade portfolios like the Face-Huggers of Alien.
To imagine a world without Rare Earth operations is to envisage the Dark Ages from the deck of a ship adrift without a sail.
We are Rare Earth dependants. ‘Rare Earth’ refers to the mining and production of seventeen chemical elements essential to our technological revolution. The culprits are:
Cerium(Ce), Dysprosium(Dy), Erbium(Er), Europium(Eu), Gadolinium(Gd), Holmium(Ho), Lanthanum(La), Lutetium(Lu), Neodymium(Nd), Praseodymium(Pr), Promethium(Pm), Samarium(Sm), Scandium(Sc), Terbium(Tb), Thulium(Tm), Ytterbium(Yb), Yttrium(Y).
Paradoxically, excusing our radioactive friend Promethium, none of these elements are rare. Instead they are diffuse meaning that although ore deposits are widespread their low concentrations require intensive mining to extract meaningful quantities. So, whilst you can hoe down into a nice solid vein gold and call it a day, if you want to get your hands on some of the 100 tonnes of Dysprosium extracted every year for computers, wind turbines, electric vehicles and batteries, you’ll have to carve out a sizable slice of Southern China.
Not only are these things a bit on the sparse side, they’re also weak-minded. You’ll find Rare Earth elements in compound packs or hanging with their phosphate buddies. Expect to spend the rest of your natural life tearing these bastards away from tight chemical embraces at great expense, tedium and unsavoury environmental practices.
This is why they have a bad reputation.
If you plug it in or slap a #renewables sticker on the side, chances are it began its life in the filthy open-cut mines sprawling across the East. That is the reality of electronics. That is the truth of our marriage to renewable technology.
All you need to understand about Rare Earth elements inside the world economy is that they are essential, irreplaceable and finite.
The last part of this trio caused a stir twenty years ago when concerns surfaced that mining operations would fail to meet demand on several fronts. What had quietly started as a fringe, expensive luxury industry exploded across the globe as TVs, computers, military weapons, white goods and music devices went mainstream. This fear of the empty mine scraping the bedrock gave rise to the electronic recycling craze that has now been largely forgotten. While yes, it’s best that these items don’t find their way into landfill (even though they do) the idea behind the push was not to save the environment but to salvage material.
It soon became obvious that even if recycling recovered all elements from discarded products, the electrical industry was growing exponentially and their addition to the pool of resources barely moved the metaphoric cliff edge two fifths of bugger all. Simply put – it was cheaper to go digging for more.
No matter how you cut it, China produces upwards of 90% of all Rare Earth materials. This is not because they are in possession of the world’s coveted stockpile – it is because they are prepared to decimate their landscape with cheap labour and rampant destruction that would cause the environmentalists of the West to breakdown in fits of hysteria. There are no endangered frog ‘GoFundMe’s or activists chaining themselves to finches – only an authoritarian regime arriving with a DA and a bulldozer. Local resistance and tragedy count for little in a dictatorship and virtue signalling companies of the West purchasing the end product aren’t often caught shedding a tear over the birth of their solar panels at the expense of an ancient fishing village.
The industry did not start in China.
Europe, the United States, South America, India and Australia have all toyed around with Rare Earth mining to varying degrees but China’s dubious practices have allowed it to severely undercut the market. However, China’s monopoly over this critical industry is tenuous.
Unlike high quality Uranium which exists in very few ancient geological landscapes, Rare Earth elements are everywhere. Mining them is a pain in the arse, not a logistical impossibility and so in 2010 when China attempted to use their market dominance as a political rifle over a territorial scuffle in the South China Sea, the world heard the first irritating shrieks of a doomsday alarm. Learning that an allegedly friendly totalitarian State was not above using market supremacy as blackmail took a bit of getting used to.
With a lot of very worried eyes looking on, Chinese trawler captain Zhan Qixion of the Minjinya 5179 sparked a major dispute when he had a careless head-on collision with the Japanese Coast Guard in the waters around the Senkaku Islands (claimed by Japan, Taiwan and China). Like everything in the South China Sea, it’s a diplomatic mess of ancient claims mixed with post-war surrenders and a whole lot of underwater oil.
Things went about as well as you’d expect.
The Japanese detained Zhan. China demanded he be released. Japan added ten days to the man’s detention and the reports began that China had halted Rare Earth exports to Japan and rounded up some Japanese employees as insurance. Although everyone eventually decided to back down and call it a day, at the conclusion to this enlightening confrontation, Representative Donald Manzullo said:
“China’s action against Japan fundamentally transformed the Rare Earths market for the worse. As a result, manufacturers can no longer expect a steady supply of these elements, and the pricing uncertainty created by this action threatens tens of thousands of American jobs.”
This little flourish of power ultimately did not work in China’s favour. Properly alarmed, manufacturers pressed ‘snooze’ on the global financial apocalypse then carefully assessed their economic situation over a stiff coffee. Many realised that they were using Rare Earth materials because they were cheap and readily available but not indispensable. They changed to synthetic alternatives or significantly reduced their use. Japan learned the harshest lesson, immediately setting aside 53.3 billion yen and doubled down by investing heavily in alternate sources of Rare Earth exploration including deep sea deposits.
Call it a rustling of the predator’s fins, if you will, and a fleeting retreat by a few baby fish.
Nothing dramatically changed.
The technology boom created a spectacular plume into the fledgling century. Environmental scrutiny from the United Nations ensured that Western countries stayed well away from the dirty Rare Earth industry, shoring up China’s position who had also forcibly amalgamated its mining companies into a fleet of six so that should it choose to waggle its eyebrows, no one could slide anything precious under the table.
Well, admittedly there was an organised crime problem. As Rare Earth prices soared due to China’s restriction on exports, illegal mines (imagine the horror from Australian activists) started popping up all over the place selling to the West on the cheap. At one point they represented a third of the market.
Meanwhile the world’s parent, ‘America’ had a hard think back to why it left the industry in the first place.
California’s Mountain Pass premier Rare Earth Mine was at capacity operations throughout the 1990’s producing 850 gallons of salt-infused, Thorium and Uranium tainted radioactive waste water every single minute. During operations it suffered a catastrophic leak and eventually closed in 2002, unable to handle its toxic output. China was more than happy to exploit Western distaste for mining operations but given the Pacific problem, America thought to hell with it and had another go, ordering its reopening.
Why? Here’s the rub…
America realised that as a nation it was facing a future in which the beacon of freedom on the world stage would be 100% reliable on China for military components for defence. It didn’t take a genius to work out that something had to change. Rare Earth had become a national interest and a serious security risk. China knows this but many climate enthralled activists do not.
America understood the climate for re-opening a Rare Earth enterprise had worsened but did it anyway. Most countries ignored the problem, including Australia.
The ‘Green’ revolution was well on its way and mandated via treaties from the United Nations. At the same time, politicians scrounging for the ‘youth vote’ pulled a swifty on doe-eyed Millennials, leading them to believe in a China-owned renewable energy future, adding another hook to the problem. So far, only India had raised its hand, shifting about 5% of the market balance away from the East but they have their own market risk, playing Cold War with Pakistan every other week.
Like most valuable geological shit, Australia has more than her fair share. If we really wanted to, we could start a Rare Earth revolution in our own backyard to match the Uranium Age (which we should be having). Of course, considering the trouble caused trying to build a small coal mine, the chances of a Labor or Labor-lite Conservative governments chasing the international golden egg is about as good as Theresa May’s political future.
If anything, Australia is rolling backwards off the civilisation table, putting as many of our eggs in China’s basket as possible despite the clear and present danger our expansionist neighbour poses. Suppose the Greens got their way (as they are likely to do) and drove Australia to 100% renewable energy reality – our basic service would then be 100% tied to China. Without power, you don’t have a nation – or the ability to defend one. I’ll leave you to ponder what a smart, ruthless nation looking for a bit of extra real estate might do with that information.
In relation to China, the globe really was in deep shit without a snorkel.
What to do? The competing ideologies of the age make for devastating bedfellows and a political minefield.
Today’s world is obsessed with ‘environmentalism’ at the expense of survival. A generation of inner-city reality-virgins believe bustling modern metropolises can exist with zero impact to the planet and thus, oddly, do everything they can to destroy the demon-farmers that provide them with food. This is joined by the contradictory ‘renewable energy’ obsession thrust upon us by the United Nations – who coincidentally have the South-South redistribution of wealth from the West to the Socialist Empire as one of their pet projects championed by luvvies like Gaddafi and Chavez.
The regress of Western Civilisation appears to be led by a tiny pack of elites making money off the back of conflict like modern arms dealers but these ambitions cannot co-exist forever.
Overall, the United Nation agenda has been successful. The West is getting poorer but the third world is not creating significant wealth beyond that which is gifted to them. By driving ourselves into the economic ground whilst laying seeds for a terrible technical stagnation in our immediate future, as a general trend we will slow down our purchasing of products from China. As the pool of money dries up and with an enormous domestic market to satisfy, China will eye off our resources. It’s not all about mining opportunities for them – food and space are always high on the agenda when you have over a billion people to look after.
‘Open borders’ as a misguided philosophy exasperates the problem. Raising welfare to support ill-settled refugees drains the temple chests while putting additional stress on infrastructure not to mention fostering a population loyal to other nations – as has proved disastrous for Germany and the recent trend for Erdogan’s 1.4 million strong supporter base inside Germany to meddle in German politics while still propping up the AKP in Turkish elections.
As the ancient world knows, countries who do not dream of their future won’t have one. A nation who fails to recognise their own value voluntarily places themselves on the global auction heap at a discount.
This is the fracturing world being laid down as we watch.
The natural progression is a period of upheaval, a global re-shuffling of borders through opportunistic conquest and the collapse of the modern Roman Empire aka The West, folded in to the dictatorial superpowers. If you don’t think the winds of war have started to creep in over the seas, you haven’t been paying attention.
‘Peace’ is not our default setting.
As the generation who exchanged their horses for cars begins to dwindle so too do those who remember what it is to watch the pieces of the world knock up against each other in moments of violence. When they pass over the horizon, it will be left to our wide-eyed youth to stumble into the open seas without a map, let alone a GPS.
In this global skirmish over natural resources, countries like Australia have our throats held tight and our Western arses ransomed beyond our means. There is no running from the storm so we may as well hold our ground and take a closer look at the flickers of light branching across its girth. Every now and then a few gnarled economic rocks breach in the trough of a wave – perhaps scuff the side and take a bit of paint off in the form of political squabble.
…and so on to the alluring deposits of Rare Earth loot hiding under the waves.
This ‘Fool’s Gold’ is forged in the mantle, dragged through the crust like veins from the Earth’s heart before exploding from hydrothermal vents. These towering creations that dwarf buildings sit there ready for the plunder of deep sea mining operations who see this as their solution to the unpopular open-cut mines.
Plans are well under way to harvest tens of thousands of square kilometres of the ocean floor for the express purpose of stabilising the Green-Renewable industry, circumnavigating China entirely. They are coming for the sulphides in the thermal stacks, the manganese littered over the Abyssal Plains and the cobalt crusts running down the flanks of submerged mountains.
Unfortunately this underwater world is not a barren wasteland of volcanic activity – it is a delicate ecosystem for our most precious and rare extremophiles – the creatures we barely understand who may hold secrets we haven’t dreamt of.
So I wonder if the children protesting in the streets for our Green revolution – if the academics on the public payroll killing any hope of our nation’s energy future and if the politicians waving their virtue-drenched placards around can square the fact that their obsession with Climate Change dogma is driving the mechanism of environmental destruction whilst stretching out the fragile threads that hold our international peace to breaking point?
Do not bother looking for the surface.
Australia is in too deep.