If we are serious about demystifying the political economic peculiarities of the contemporary rare earth sector, we must move the environmental question from the category of unfortunate externality to center stage. This is essential because the market and security logics of rare earth supply chains are fundamentally shaped by the tension between the necessities for these resources and the known environmental hazards posed by mining and beneficiation. The environmental hazards push production to secluded regions far from population centers. Yet, rare earths are so strategically important that this outward push by the environmental pressures is reined in by the need to ensconce production within a national border, or at the very least, within a broader sphere of influence. This tension is played out in the negotiation over which spaces are sacrificed in order to mine and process rare earth elements. The question of national security has entered into the equation primarily to sequester the acute environmental and epidemiological hazards in landscapes and lives whose devastation does not portend immediate political consequences. Based on extensive fieldwork and official interviews in China and the United States, this chapter demonstrates how environmental destruction has been a central determinant of market dynamics, security considerations, and resource geopolitics of rare earth elements over the past three decades.
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- The Environment-Security Nexus in Contemporary Rare Earth Politics
Julie Michelle Klinger
- Palgrave Macmillan UK