The world, may be a bit ambitious but, has never experienced the pressure it is experiencing today throughout history. Economic, political, social and environmental problems are growing day by day and are descending on humanity like a dark cloud. The troublesome part is the fact that these multi-layered problems are interconnected and the system will collapse if the necessary transformation is not achieved for all of them.
The pandemic has destroyed basic daily life practices. Almost the entire world was shut down for a substantial period of time. Afterwards, there were breaks in the economy, supply chains, famous globalization, business life and human expectations and desires. On the other hand, issues such as the future of the planet, the environment, and sustainability began to be spoken more loudly and come to the fore.
The Russia-Ukraine crisis has put feathers on the troubled world. While the pandemic and the problems of globalization and the ability of countries to be self-sufficient were discussed, the war in the north revealed how much of a thread the world’s energy and food supply depend on. EU countries, which gave speeches on carbon, global warming, new energy and production policies, quietly turned to fossil fuels, their old and ancient friends, after Russia turned off the natural gas taps.
France, Italy, Austria and the Netherlands have announced plans to reactivate their old coal plants. The most ambitious exit was made by the industrial giant Germany. It announced a comprehensive plan to restart a full 21 coal plants or to delay planned closures for the next two winters. Coal-filled freighters began to take off from Australia and South Africa to Europe.
Meanwhile, despite global commitments to reduce emissions, last year was already a record year for coal. This year, obviously, new records will come!
Humanity needs energy!
Technologies are changing. But the energy need of humanity does not change, on the contrary, it increases exponentially. Energy production based on coal, oil and gas for the last two hundred years seems to be dependent on rare metals with the agenda of ‘green energy’ in the coming period, although not completely today. Just as fossil fuels determine the new world order with the industrial revolution, rare metals and the countries that have them will determine the course of this era, which is developing with greener and digital technologies. The increase in new technologies, renewable energy systems and electric vehicles will increase the dependence on rare metals all over the world.
Rare metals, which until now were stuck in the element table on the school walls and went unnoticed for years, are now everywhere. Rare metals are now used even in hybrid cars, computers and tablets, next-generation wind turbines, missile defense systems, solar panels, F-16 aircraft and warships.
If Europe is to go to its 2050 carbon neutral target, it will need 26 times more rare metals than today. Solutions such as solar power, wind power and electric vehicles depend entirely on rare metals. Not only these. Due to digitalization, the demand is increasing significantly.
Rare metals as a political force!
Here, too, there is a serious issue of geopolitics of supply. China is the world’s largest producer of rare metals. Russia is the fourth. Just as in the natural gas supply today, the supply security of these substances is a very important threat to the rest of the world. So much so that in this period when the world is slipping, even critical defense systems, where the primitive war motivation is supported by the latest technology, need rare metals. For example, about four tons of rare metals are used in the construction of a US Virginia-class submarine. At the extreme point of the USA/EU and Russia/China polarization, think about the crises caused by the rare metals issue, where China and Russia will completely block its supply!
Another vital issue is the serious damage to the environment in the extraction of rare metals. Rare metal mining produces enormous amounts of toxic and radioactive material. That’s not all. At least 200 cubic meters of acid-saturated water is used to treat one ton of rare metals, and this water often ends up in rivers, soil and groundwater without any treatment.
China is paying a high ecological price as a country whose environmental sensitivity is at the bottom. Today, 10% of the arable land in China is contaminated with heavy metals. 80% of the groundwater is not suitable for consumption. This ecological destruction is, of course, not only China’s problem, but the world’s!
Keep on destroying the planet!
Guillaume Pitron, in his book The Rare Metals War, says that over the next three decades, “people will need to extract more ore than they have mined in the last 70,000 years.” This alone is a threat that could exacerbate the already morbid condition of the planet today.
Now it is time to manage all these issues sincerely instead of ‘let it go’. But humanity seems to be far from making predictions and taking action even 6 months from now, let alone taking a step towards a sustainable future, with the basic concerns of today.
Thus, it seems that sustainable healthy future steps, which have accelerated seriously in the last one or two years, will skid a lot and be interrupted by these developments.