Rare Earth Elements, Global Power & the China Dynamic

Read about the latest wrinkle in this global resources story — the NYTimes‘ Dec. 28, 2010 article “China to Tighten Limits on Rare Earth Exports.”

Rare-earth oxides . Clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, and gadolinium. (U.S. Agriculture Dept.)

In James Cameron’s blockbuster “Avatar,” the essential object of desire is “unobtainium” – a fabulously important element on a faraway planet. In real life, the essential element is not out in space.

It’s called “rare earth” – rare earth elements with astonishing and obscure qualities that are essential to everything from cell phones and hybrid cars, to wind turbines and guided missiles.

But  the catch is that  China has quietly cornered the market on 97 percent of rare earth. Basically all of it. That’s power. It’s an incredible story, with bracing implications.

-Tom Ashbrook


Peter Ford, Beijing bureau chief for the Christian Science Monitor.

Anthony Mariano, geologist and world-renowned expert on rare earth elements.  He has fifty years of experience working with rare earth elements, in the lab, and in the field across multiple continents.  He serves on the advisory boards of several rare-earth-related companies.  The mineral “marianoite” was named in his honor in 2008.

Christine Parthemore, fellow at the Center for a New American Security, where she directs the Natural Security Project, specializing in how the production and consumption of natural resources affect national security and foreign policy.

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