China’s dominance of the rare earth market is less about geology and far more about the country’s willingness to take an environmental hit that other nations shy away from. And there’s no better place to understand China’s true sacrifice than the shores of Baotou toxic lake.Years ago I was chatting with someone who was very enthusiastic about hybrid automobiles, which at the time were only newly available in the U.S. An early adopter, enviro-weenie myself, I took my key fob out of my pocket and said something to the effect of, "OK, but look, here in this fob, from the petro-chemical plastic outer casing to the chip and battery inside, there is more environmental destruction than in a single Tin Lizzie. How many miles do I have to drive my Prius to make up in gasoline savings in order to offset the incredible amount of energy and resources that went into the battery pack, the dashboard computer display" -- this was pretty new at the time -- "and all the other technology and materials that went into it?"
Where do the two curves meet, I wonder: the energy and resources that go into a key fob, versus the energy and resources that go into a particular year and model of an American car? It's thoughts like these that keep me wound up and unable to sleep in the wee hours.