I'll never see my electronic gadgets the same way again! In this amazing book, David Abraham surveyed our current uses of rare metals, where they come from, how dependent on them we are, and what those consequences are. There was a great balance of science and tech and international politics and policy. As we work to make our lives better, more convenient, and greener (think batteries!), we're using more and more elements most people have never heard of. And since we don't mine those elements here in America, we lack both the awareness and the expertise to grasp the effects. Abraham bemoans the lack of American study and oversight of the technological changes we've made: is it okay to rely on China to mine these resources for us, outsourcing our pollution? Japan recently learned the hard way that rare elements are the foundation of their tech economy -- when China withheld them, Japan capitulated to China's policy demands. A small fraction of American's recycle their gadgets, but even when they do, only a small fraction of the metals are recovered; can we make recycling more green?
The stat that really got my attention early on in the book was the fact that, though an Intel chip in the 1990s was built with only 15 elements, today Intel chips are manufactured with nearly 60 different elements. The supply chain is not secure; in fact, most companies don't really know where this stuff is coming from. Our own military has only recently realized that the security of this supply chain is a new vulnerability and set out to study it. As a 21st-century nation, we don't really train people in mining anymore. Colorado School of Mines is pretty much the only institution doing it, and they're rather isolated and short on funds.
Abraham calls for some action as well as awareness. These rare elements are already major international policy players. We should be organizing to ensure that we can influence how they are harvested, how much is supplied and how they are used. Before I read the book, that would have been a yawner for me. Not so anymore, which means that Abraham has a good chance of accomplishing what he set out to do. Now we just need to get enough folks to read it.
I got a free copy of this from Net Galley.