Minerals essential for wind, solar, and high-tech, are anything but clean and green

This is a book review of Pitron’s “The rare metals war”.  To produce the metals and minerals to make a transition to wind, solar, nuclear and so on would be incredibly destructive and filthy. A fifth of China’s arable land is laden with toxic heavy metals from mining and industry.  And huge amounts of CO2 would be emitted by the fossils used to mine, smelt, fabricate, and transport these short lifespan devices. They’re rebuildable, not renewable.

The U.S. and other nations are frightened that China is the sole provider of many essential minerals, and demanding that rare earth and other mines be opened within our own nation so that we can control them. But so what if the Chinese have cornered the market on many essential minerals as well as vertically to make products from them?  It’s a pyrrhic victory, they’ve poisoned their land, water, and air doing so, and in other nations where they’ve set up mining operations. If they’ve put booby traps in computer chips we bought to put in our missiles so that they don’t work in combat, all the better, it would really be stupid to use remaining oil to fight wars!

Related posts:

Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Pitron G. 2020. The Rare Metals War: The Dark Side of Clean Energy and Digital Technologies. Scribe US.

The solution seems obvious: reopen rare metal production in the United States, Brazil, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, and even in the ‘dormant mining giant’ of France. Enter the next predicament: mining these rare minerals is anything but clean! Says Pitron, ‘Green energies and resources harbor a dark secret.’ And he’s quite right: extracting and refining rare metals is highly polluting, and recycling them has proved a disappointment.

We are therefore faced with the paradox that the latest and greatest technology (and supposedly the greenest to halt the ecological countdown) relies mostly on ‘dirty’ metals. Thus, information and communication technologies actually produce 50% more greenhouse gases than air transport!

From the 1970s, we turned our sights to the superb magnetic, catalytic, and optical properties of a cluster of lesser-known rare metals found in terrestrial rocks in infinitesimal amounts. Some of the members of this large family sport the most exotic names: rare earths, vanadium, germanium, platinoids, tungsten, antimony, beryllium, fluorine, rhenium, tantalum, niobium, to name but a few. Together, these rare metals form a coherent subset of some thirty raw materials with a shared characteristic: they are often associated with nature’s most abundant metals.

Eight and a half tonnes of rock need to be purified to produce a kilogram of vanadium; sixteen tonnes for a kilogram of cerium; fifty tonnes for the equivalent in gallium; and a staggering 1,200 tonnes for one miserable kilogram of the rarest of the rare metals: lutecium. On average a kilogram of rock has 120 milligrams of vanadium, 66.5 milligrams of cerium, 19m milligrams of gallioum, & 0.8 of lutecium

a minute dose of these metals emits a magnetic field that makes it possible to generate more energy than the same quantity of coal or oil. So less pollution, and at the same time a lot more energy.

(wind turbines, solar panels, and electric cars) are packed with rare metals to produce decarbonized energy that travels through high-performance electricity grids to enable power savings. Yet these grids are also driven by digital technology that is heavily dependent on these same metals.

Enter the military, which is pursuing its own energy transition. Or strategic transition. While generals are unlikely to lose sleep over the carbon emissions of their arsenals, as oil reserves dwindle they will nevertheless have to consider the possibility of war without oil. Back in 2010, a highly influential American think tank instructed the US army to end its reliance on fossil fuels by 2040 (Parthemore 2010 Fueling the future force). How will they do this? By using renewable energy, and by raising legions of electrically powered robots. These remote-controlled weapons, which can be recharged using renewable-energy plants, would be a formidable destructive force and solve the conundrum of getting fuel to the front line (the plan is small renewable energy plants less vulnerable to attacks see Bardi’s extracted). This form of combat is, in fact, already colonizing new virtual territories: cyber armies alone could win future conflicts by targeting the enemy’s digital infrastructure and altering its telecommunication networks.

China has used barely credible chicanery to position itself as the sole supplier of the most strategic of the rare metals. Known as ‘rare earths’, they are difficult to substitute, and the vast majority of industrial groups cannot do without them.   Most rare earths cannot be substituted. See “Commission to the european parliament, the council… on the 2017 list of critical raw materials for the EU” page 4+ and Annex 1 which has substitution indexes EI/SR

An ecological observation: our quest for a more ecological growth model has resulted in intensified mining of the Earth’s crust to extract the core ingredient — rare metals — with an environmental impact that could prove far more severe than that of oil extraction. Changing our energy model already means doubling rare metal production approximately every 15 years.

At this rate, over the next thirty years we will need to mine more mineral ores than humans have extracted over the last 70,000 years.

The continued existence of the most sophisticated Western military equipment (robots, cyberweapons, and fighter planes, including the US’s supreme F-35 stealth jet) also partly depends on China’s goodwill. This has US intelligence leaders concerned, especially as one high-ranking US army officer states that ‘only war can now stop Beijing controlling the South China Sea’.

By seeking to break free from fossil fuels and turn an old order into a new world, we are in fact setting ourselves up for a new and more potent dependence.

We thought we could free ourselves from the shortages, tensions, and crises created by our appetite for oil and coal. Instead, we are replacing these with an era of new and unprecedented shortages, tensions, and crises.

From tea to black oil, nutmeg to tulips, saltpetre to coal, commodities have been a backdrop to every major exploration, empire, and war, often altering the course of history. (see Bill laws 2010 Fifty plants that changed the course of history)

They are associated with abundant metals found in the Earth’s crust, but in minute proportions. For instance, there is 1,200 times less neodymium and up to 2,650 times less gallium than there is iron.

Every year, 160,000 tonnes of rare-earth metals are produced — 15,000 times less than annual iron production of two billion tonnes. Likewise, 600 tonnes of gallium are produced annually, which is 25,000 times less than the 15 million tonnes of annual copper production.

For almost three centuries we have been working tirelessly at developing new engines with increasingly impressive power-to-weight ratios: the more compact and less resource-intensive they are, the greater their mechanical energy output. Enter rare metals.

Magnets are now — to a vast majority of electric engines — what pistons have been to steam and internal-combustion engines. Magnets have made it possible to manufacture billions of engines, both big and small, capable of executing certain repetitive movements  (Note: note, not all engines have them, i.e. heating, ventilation, air-con. But electric vehicles and some wind turbines have them)

Without realizing it, our societies have become completely magnetized. To say that the world would be significantly slower without magnets containing rare metals is not an understatement. (These super magnets are produced with the rare-earth minerals neodymium and samarium alloyed with other metals, such as iron, boron, and cobalt. Magnets are usually 30% neodymium and 35% samarium. The scientific community refers to them as ‘rare-earth magnets’.

Electric engines did more than make humanity infinitely more prosperous; they made the energy transition a plausible hypothesis. Thanks to them, we have discovered our ability to maximize movement — and therefore wealth — without the use of coal and oil.

That is merely scratching the surface of rare metals, for they possess a wealth of other chemical, catalytic, and optical properties that make them indispensable to myriad green technologies. An entire book could be written on the details of their characteristics alone. They make it possible to trap car-exhaust fumes in catalytic converters, ignite energy-efficient light bulbs, and design new, lighter, and hardier industrial equipment, improving the energy efficiency of cars and planes, and the  semiconducting properties regulate the flow of electricity in digital devices.

Between the ages of antiquity and the Renaissance, human beings consumed no more than seven metals; this increased to a dozen metals over the twentieth century; to twenty from the 1970s onwards; and then to almost all eighty-six metals on Mendeleev’s periodic table of elements.

The potential demand for rare metals is exponential. We are already consuming over two billion tonnes of metals every year — the equivalent of more than 500 Eiffel Towers a day.

By 2035, demand is expected to double for germanium; quadruple for tantalum; and quintuple for palladium. The scandium market could increase nine-fold, and the cobalt market by a factor of 24. (Marscheider-Wiedemann 2016 ‘raw materials for emerging technologies’. German mineral resources agency (DERA), Federal institute for geosciences and natural resources (BGR).

The 10,000 or so mines spread across China have played a big role in destroying the country’s environment. Pollution damage by the coal-mining industry is well documented. But barely reported is the fact that mining rare metals also produces pollution, and to such an extent that China has stopped counting contamination events. In 2006, some 60 companies producing indium — a rare metal used in the manufacture of certain solar-panel technologies — released tonnes of chemicals into the Xiang River in Hunan, jeopardizing the meridional province’s drinking water and the health of its residents. (ft. 2006. Environmental disaster strains China’s social fabric). In 2011, journalists reported on the damage to the ecosystems of the Ting River in the seaside province of Fujian, due to the operation of a mine rich in gallium — an up-and-coming metal for the manufacture of energy-efficient light bulbs.

in Ganzhou, where I landed, the local press recently reported that the toxic waste dumps created by a mining company producing tungsten — a critical metal for wind-turbine blades — had obstructed and polluted many tributaries of the Yangtze River.

There is nothing refined about mining. It involves crushing rock, and then using a concoction of chemical reagents such as sulphuric and nitric acid. ‘It’s a long and highly repetitive process,’ explains a French specialist. ‘It takes loads of different procedures to obtain a rare-earth concentrate close to 100 per cent purity.’ That’s not all: purifying a single tonne of rare earths requires using at least 200 cubic metres of water, which then becomes saturated with acids and heavy metals. (2016 Dwindling supplies of rare earth metals hinder China’s shift from coal). Will this water go through a water-treatment plant before it is released into rivers, soils, and ground water? Very rarely.

As rare metals have become ubiquitous in green and digital technologies, the exceedingly toxic sludge they produce has been contaminating water, soil, the atmosphere, and the flames of blast furnaces

Today, China is the leading producer of 28 mineral resources that are vital to our economies, often representing over 50% of global production. It also produces at least 15% of all mineral resources, other than platinum and nickel.   

Ten per cent of its arable land is contaminated by heavy metals, and 80 per cent of its ground water is unfit for consumption. Only five of the 500 biggest cities in China meet international standards for air quality,

The Pascua Lama example inspired the entire Latin American mining sector. Large-scale lithium mining

now sparks environmental activism. As with any mining activity, it requires staggering volumes of water, diminishing the resources available to local communities living on water-scarce salt flats.

Extracting minerals from the ground is an inherently dirty operation. The way it has been carried out so irresponsibly and unethically in the most active mining countries casts doubt on the virtuous vision of the energy and digital transition. A recent report by the Blacksmith Institute identifies the mining industry as the second-most-polluting industry in the world, behind lead-battery recycling, and ahead of the dye industry, industrial dumpsites, and tanneries (2016 the world’s worst pollution problems, the toxics beneath our feet). It has moved up one rung since the 2013 rankings, in which the much-maligned petrochemical industry doesn’t even crack the top ten.

We need to be far more skeptical about how green technologies are manufactured. Before they are even brought into service, the solar panel, wind turbine, electric car, or energy-efficient light bulb bear the ‘original sin’ of its deplorable energy and environmental footprint. We should be measuring the ecological cost of the entire lifecycle of green technologies.   

Comparing the carbon impact of a conventional fuel-driven car against that of an electric car, Aguirre (2012) found that the production of the supposedly more energy-efficient electric car requires far more energy than the production of the conventional car. This is mostly on account of the electric car’s very heavy lithium-ion battery.

Then there’s the composition of the lithium-ion battery: 80 per cent nickel, 15 per cent cobalt, 5 per cent aluminum, as well as lithium, copper, manganese, steel, and graphite. (2016 Extraordinary raw materials in a Tesla Model S’ Visual capitalist).

Industrializing electric vehicles is three to four times more energy-intensive than industrializing conventional vehicles.

The caveat of this research is that it was conducted on a medium-sized electric-vehicle battery with a 120-km range in a market that is growing so fast that none of the cars being rolled out today have a range below 300 km. According to Petersen, a battery that is powerful enough to drive a vehicle for 300 km emits twice as much carbon as production-phase emissions — a figure we can then triple for batteries with a 500-km range. Therefore, over its entire lifecycle, an electric car may produce as much as three-quarters of the carbon emissions produced by a petrol car.

John Petersen’s conclusion? Electric vehicles may be technically possible, but their production will never be environmentally sustainable.  This concurs with similar research conducted along the same lines. The 2016 report by the French Environment & Energy Management Agency (ADEME) finds: ‘The energy consumption of an electric vehicle [EV] over its entire lifecycle is, on the whole, similar to that of a diesel vehicle.

Digital technology requires vast quantities of metals. Every year, the electronics industry consumes 320 tonnes of gold and 7,500 tonnes of silver; accounts for 22 per cent (514 tonnes) of global mercury consumption; and up to 2.5% of lead consumption. The manufacture of laptops and mobile phones alone swallows up 19% of the global production of rare metals such as palladium, and 23% of cobalt. This excludes the other forty or so metals, on average, contained in mobile phones.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, for the energy and digital transition will require constellations of satellites — already promised by the heavyweights of Silicon Valley — to put the entire planet online. It will take rockets to launch these satellites into space; an armada of computers to set them on the right orbit to emit on the correct frequencies and encrypt communications using sophisticated digital tools; legions of super calculators to analyze the deluge of data; and, to direct this data in real time, a planetary mesh of underwater cables, a maze of overhead and underground electricity networks, millions of computer terminals, countless data-storage centers, and billions of tablets, smartphones, and other connected devices with batteries that need to be recharged.

Feeding this digital leviathan will require coal-fired, oil-fired, and nuclear power plants, windfarms, solar farms, and smart grids — all infrastructures that rely on rare metals.

Unlike traditional metals such as iron, silver, and aluminum, rare metals are not used in their pure state in green technologies. Rather, the manufacturers in the energy and digital transition are increasingly partial to alloys, for the properties of several metals combined into composites are far more powerful than those of one metal on its own. For example, the combination of iron and carbon gives us steel, without which most skyscrapers would not be standing. The fuselage of the Airbus A380 is in part composed of GLARE (Glass Laminate Aluminum Reinforced Epoxy), a robust fiber–metal laminate with an aluminum alloy that lightens the aircraft. And the magnets contained in certain wind turbine and electric vehicle motors are a medley of iron, boron, and rare-earth metals that enhance performance.

Alloys need to be ‘dealloyed’ to be recycled.  Manufacturers have to use time-consuming and costly techniques involving chemicals and electricity to separate rare-earth metals from other metals.

Metals in Japan’s waste dumps are hidden treasures that no economic model today can retrieve. It is the prohibitive cost of recovering rare metals — a cost that currently exceeds their value — that is holding industry back. The price of recycled metals could be competitive were it not for the fact that commodity prices have been structurally low since the end of 2014.

For manufacturers, there is little point in recycling large quantities of rare metals. Why rummage through e-waste dumps when it is infinitely cheaper to go straight to the source? It is not surprising, therefore, that only 18 of the 60 most used industrial metals have a recycling rate above 50% (aluminum, cobalt, chrome, copper, gold, iron, lead, manganese, niobium, nickel, palladium, platinum, rhenium, rhodium, silver, tin, titanium, zinc).

An additional three metals have a recycling rate over 25% (magnesium, molybdenum, iridium), and three more a rate of over 10% (ruthenium, cadmium, tungsten). The recycling rate of the remaining thirty-six metals is below 10 per cent (UNEP 2011 Recycling rates of metals: a status report. United nations).  For rare metals such as indium, germanium, tantalum, and gallium, as well as certain rare-earth metals, the rate is between 0 and 3 per cent.

Even recycling nearly 100% of lead has not been enough to stop its mining and extraction, because of perpetually growing demand.

‘Green’ technologies require the use of rare minerals whose mining is anything but clean. Heavy metal discharges, acid rain, and contaminated water sources — it borders on being an environmental disaster. Put simply, clean energy is a dirty affair.

While Europe produced nearly 60% of the world’s heavy metals in 1850, its momentum steadily declined to produce no more than 3% today. Mining production in the US hasn’t fared any better: after peaking in the 1930s, accounting for close to 40% of global production, it now represents around 5%.

The United States, when they realized after the Second World War that their own oil reserves would not be enough to meet their growing energy needs, turned to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its extraordinary crude oil reserves. The ‘Quincy Pact’, signed on 14 February 1945 between President Roosevelt and the Saudi king, Ibn Saud, gave Washington privileged access to Riyad’s petroleum in exchange for military protection.

There are many more examples of export restrictions, as observed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Its most recent report on trade in raw materials gives an inventory of all basic product export restrictions declared around the world, and identifies 900 such cases between 2009 and 2012.

Trump took the Chinese policy of slapping quotas on rare metals exports to reignite — and amplify — resource sovereignty across five continents. ‘China galvanized the nationalism of resources,’ says an American expert, ‘not only on its own territory, but all over the world.’ From that point, it was no longer a question of if new trade crises would occur, but rather when they would occur.

We know that an electrical charge coming into contact with the magnetic field of a magnet generates a force that creates movement. Traditional magnets made out of the iron derivative ferrite needed to be massive to generate a magnetic field powerful enough for more sophisticated applications

By orchestrating the transfer of magnet factories, the Chinese accelerated the migration of the entire downstream industry — the businesses that use magnets — to the Baotou free zone. ‘Now they’ve moved onto producing electric cars, phosphors, and wind turbine components. The entire value chain has moved!’  This makes Baotou much more than just another mining area. The Chinese prefer to call it the ‘Silicon Valley of rare earths’. The city hosts over 3,000 companies, fifty of which are backed by foreign capital, manufacture high-end equipment, and employ hundreds of thousands of workers who generate revenues of up to €4.5 billion every year.

Thus, rare-metal restrictions did more than serve China’s sporadic embargos. The second stage of its offensive is far more ambitious: China is erecting a completely independent and integrated industry, starting with the foul mines in which begrimed laborers toil, to state-of-the-art factories employing high-flying engineers. And it’s perfectly legitimate. After all, the Chinese policy of moving up the value chain is not dissimilar from the viticulture strategy of winemakers in the Napa Valley in California, or the Barossa Valley in South Australia. As one Australian expert put it, ‘The French don’t sell grapes, do they? They sell wine. The Chinese feel like rare earths are to them what vineyards are to the French.’

Industrial robots require terrific amounts of tungsten. China has always produced this rare metal in abundance, but there are other tungsten mines around the world, ensuring supply diversity for manufacturers.

During the 1990s, the Chinese machined their own cutting tools — ‘Some hammers, a few drills … really crumby tools,’ said an Australian consultant. But they wanted to move up the value chain in this area as well. ‘They drove down tungsten prices [from 1985 to 2004], hoping that Westerners concerned about getting their raw materials at the best price would buy exclusively from the Chinese, and that competing mines would shut down.’ We can guess what could have happened next: the Middle Kingdom — now the hegemonic power in tungsten production — would have used the same blackmail tactic to force the Germans to move their factories as close as possible to the raw materials. The Chinese would have crushed any German lead in the cutting-tools industry, and would then have made off with the machine-tools segment — a pillar of the Mittelstand.

The Germans saw the Chinese coming, and aligned instead with other tungsten producers (Russia, Austria, and Portugal, among others). ‘They preferred paying more for their resources to sustain the alternative mines and not depend on the Chinese

By now a pattern is emerging, and it is being applied to molybdenum and germanium, a journalist I met in Beijing told me. Lithium and cobalt should go the same way. ‘They’re using the same industrial policy for iron, aluminum, cement, and even petrochemical products,’ warned a German industrialist. In China, there is even talk of applying this policy to composite materials — new materials resulting from alloys of several rare minerals.

The West is starting to put words to what has happened with China: whoever has the minerals owns the industry. Our reliance on China — previously limited to raw materials — now includes the technologies of the energy and digital transition that rely on these raw materials.

Bangka is the world’s biggest producer of tin — a grey-silver metal essential to green technology and modern electronics, such as solar panels, electric batteries, mobile phones, and digital screens. Every year, over 300,000 tonnes of tin are mined around the world. Indonesia represents 34% of global production, making it the biggest exporter of this high-tech mineral, which is nevertheless not considered rare. The archipelago recognized the value of this outstanding mineral: from 2003, as a spokesperson for one of Indonesia’s biggest mining houses, PT Timah, explained: ‘Tin became the first mineral to be used in an embargo.’ It would be the first of a very long series of embargos. From 2014, all of Indonesia’s mineral resources — from sand to nickel, and diamonds to gold — were no longer exported in raw form. As explained by Indonesian authorities, ‘The minerals we don’t sell now will be sold tomorrow as finished products.’

As in China, this policy was a powerful way to generate wealth. By some calculations, preserving the added value in this way quadrupled profits on iron, increased profits on tin and copper sevenfold, bauxite profits by a factor of as much as eighteen, and nickel profits by as much as twenty.

The reality is that China’s definition of indigenous innovation is reworking and adjusting imported technologies to develop its own technologies. ‘The plan is considered by many international technology companies as a blueprint for technology theft on a scale the world has never seen,’ a US report published in 2010 asserted. It continued: ‘With these indigenous innovation industrial policies, it is very clear that China has switched from defense to offense.’ The Chinese applied this very tactic to rare-earth magnets: it enticed — or forced — foreign businesses onto its territory under the guise of joint ventures, and then launched a process of ‘co-innovation’ or ‘re-innovation’.

This is how China purloined the technologies of Japanese and US super-magnet manufacturers. Having reaped the benefits of the invention of others, Beijing built an ecosystem of endogenous creation to ‘move from factory to laboratory’, starting with a variety of research programs that began in the early 1980s.

China has many weaknesses: relative to its population size, it has far fewer researchers than France or the UK; there remain colossal challenges to education; while rural China — a massive part of the country — is sidelined from this momentum.

Some of China’s characteristics do little to aid its cause. While an interventionist regime may have allowed a strategic state to flourish, it leaves no room for any deviation. How can an administration that employs two million government agents to restrict online freedom of expression encourage creativity? A government that stymies the freedom to criticize — and therefore to think differently — nurtures a potent culture of copying, and turns the lack of inventiveness into a building block.  ‘The Chinese have the technology, but they are stuck in an organizational and intellectual logic that dates back to 1929,’ concluded a former Western diplomat posted to Beijing.

No one could have imagined what happened next,’ admits a European journalist based in Beijing. China’s astounding progress in the electronics, aerospace, transport, biology, machine tools, and information technology sectors caught everyone off guard — including the upper realms of the Communist Party. In aerospace, China has already put a robot on the moon, and it plans to send an astronaut as well by 2036. In 2018 alone it launched some 37 space missions, dethroning Russia as the US’s main competitor in the new space race. Beijing wants to move beyond the demand side of new technologies by trading its status of being a skills consumer for that of a skills supplier. In 2018, China filed a staggering 1.4 million patents — more than any other country in the world.

It wants to explore the still-unknown properties of rare earths to develop the applications of the future. Some of its university research programs are advanced enough to both astonish and alarm a researcher at the US Department of Defense: ‘Losing our supply chain was tragic enough. But now China is busy getting a ten-year head start on us. We could easily find ourselves without the intellectual property rights of the applications of the future that matter the most.’

Beijing has already designed a stealth fighter jet more advanced than that of its Japanese rivals. From 2013 to 2018, the most powerful super computer on the planet came from China. This earned China the title of ‘the leading IT power globally’. It has also put into orbit the first quantum communications satellite with reputedly impregnable encryption technology.

Donald Trump succeeded in reaching the White House because he could count on the voters in the de-industrialized states of the Rust Belt. In these swing states, where votes can tip the result of a national election, the Republican candidate vigorously denounced the anti-competitive practices of the Chinese and offshoring, and emphasized the need to protect the US from the industrial war spearheaded by Beijing.

Around the twelfth century BC, in the south of modern-day Turkey, the Hittites melted an even lighter and more widely available metal — iron — to forge weapons that were more powerful and easier to wield. This, say some historians, led ultimately to the European conquest of the Americas. Then came steel, which in 1914 tipped Europe into an industrial war. The iron and carbon alloy was used to make shell casings, the first modern fragmentation grenades, hardier helmets for soldiers, and armored tanks — all of which contributed to the bloodbath that was the First World War.

Every time a people, civilization, or state masters a new metal, it leads to exponential technical and military progress — and deadlier conflicts. Now it is rare metals, and in particular rare earths, that are changing the face of modern warfare.

The premise of the Sixteen-Character Policy was pragmatic: given the difficulty in procuring war technologies due to the US arms embargo, China would buy foreign companies whose know-how in civil applications could be repurposed for more hostile ends. In the years that followed, this strategy would lead to an extraordinary proliferation of Chinese espionage against the US. According to a former US counterintelligence agent, ‘China’s intelligence services are among the most aggressive [in the world] at spying on the US.’ A European researcher explained that Beijing’s interest was in two technologies in particular: those used in network-centric warfare, allowing armies to use information systems to their advantage; and smart bombs, containing the very magnets produced by Magnequench.

Nicknamed the ‘aircraft carrier killer’ and operational since 2010, the DF-21D has been central to Beijing’s policy of prohibiting access to the South China Sea these past few years. Having control over this strip of ocean running from its coasts to the south of Vietnam would increase China’s strategic leverage, and give it access to prodigious quantities of offshore hydrocarbon resources, as well as an eye on the comings and goings of half the world’s oil. This scenario is unacceptable to Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines, but especially to the US, which several years ago planned to position 60% of its warships in the Pacific by 2020. Barely a week goes by without a naval incident of some sort, making the territory the powder keg that could ignite a Sino-American conflict.  Beijing’s capability in advanced ballistic technologies has already shifted the balance of power in the South China Sea.

Wouldn’t the US be vulnerable against an adversary that is also the source of its most critical defense components? And would China not take timely advantage of this dependence, either by playing the rare-earths card during trade negotiations, or by hampering America’s military efforts?

The US Department of the Interior has identified no less than 35 minerals considered critical to the country’s national security and economy.

Another broader question of national security that the US has asked itself time and again: how does it prevent the infiltration of Trojan horses in the microchips and other semi-finished goods containing rare metals sold by the Chinese around the world, including to Western armies? A 2005 report by the Pentagon even raised the possibility of electronic systems that are used extensively in US weapons being infected by malware that could disrupt combat equipment mid-operation.

Digital technologies, the knowledge economy, green energies, electricity logistics and storage, and the new industries of space and defense are diversifying and expanding our need for rare metals exponentially. Not a day goes by that we don’t discover a new miracle property of a rare metal, or unprecedented ways of applying it.

By 2050, keeping up with market growth will take ‘3,200 million tonnes of steel, 310 million tonnes of aluminium, and 40 million tons of copper’.

Indeed, wind turbines guzzle more raw materials than previous technologies: ‘For an equivalent installed capacity, solar and wind facilities require up to 15 times more concrete, 90 times more aluminum, and 50 times more iron, copper, and glass than fossil fuels or nuclear energy.’ According to the World Bank, which carried out its own study in 2017, the same applies to solar and hydrogen electricity systems, which ‘are in fact significantly more material intensive in their composition than current traditional fossil-fuel-based energy supply systems’.  

We will consume more minerals than in the last 70,000 years, or five hundred generations before us. Our 7.5 billion contemporaries will absorb more mineral resources than the 108 billion humans who have walked the Earth to date.

Just as we have a list of threatened animal and plant species, we may soon have a red list of metals nearing depletion. At the current rate of production, we run the risk of exhausting the viable reserves of 15 or so base and rare metals in under 50 years (antimony, tin, lead, gold, zinc, strontium, silver, nickel, tungsten, bismuth, copper, boron, fluorite, manganese, selenium); we can expect the same for five additional metals (including currently abundant iron, rhenium, cobalt, molybdenum, rutile) before the end of the century.   Surprising critical materials 2017 (in French probably)

In the short to medium term, we are also looking at potential shortages in vanadium, dysprosium, terbium, europium, and neodymium (2013. Critical metals in the path towards the decarbonization of the EU energy sector. Joint research centre of the European commission).

What if climate change drastically reduces the water reserves needed to extract and refine minerals?

China is ready to stockpile what it produces — for itself. It already consumes three-quarters of the rare earths it extracts — despite being the sole supplier — and, given its appetite, it may well use up all of its rare earths by 2025 to 2030. The output of any of China’s future rare metals mines inside or outside its borders will not go to the highest bidder, but will be taken off the market and channeled to Chinese clients only.

A lack of mining infrastructure. ‘It takes 15 to 25 years to get a mine up and running, from the moment we say “Let’s do it” to the time we start extracting minerals,’ explained an expert. But according to some projections, a new rare-earths mine will need to be opened every year from now until 2025 to accommodate growth needs. Any delay will cost us dearly in the next two decades. ‘We do not produce enough metals today to meet our future needs,’ stated an American specialist. ‘The numbers just don’t add up.

Lastly, the energy return on investment (EROI) — the ratio of the energy needed to produce metals to the energy generated using the same metals — is against us. Extracting one to five grams of gold requires crushing one tonne of rocks — up to 10,000 (times?) more rocks than the metal itself,

Rare metals require increasing amounts of energy to be unearthed and refined.  Producing these metals takes 7 to 8 per cent of global energy (UNEP 2013 Environmental risks and challenges of Anthropogenic metals flows and cycles: a report of the working group on the global metal flows)

Ugo Bardi (extracted) writes that, in Chile, ‘The energy required to mine copper rose by 50% from 2001 and 2010, but the total copper output increased just 13% … The US copper mining industry has also been energy hungry.  The limits to mineral extraction are not limits of quantity; they are limits of energy.

For the same amount of energy, mining companies today extract up to 10 times less uranium than they did 30 years ago — and this is true for just about all mining resources. 

Countries are therefore striking up new alliances for rare metals exploration: Tokyo and Delhi have concluded an export agreement for rare earths mined in India; Japan has deployed its rare-earth diplomacy offensive in Australia, Kazakhstan, and Vietnam; Chancellor Angela Merkel has made numerous trips to Mongolia to sign mining partnerships; South Korean geologists have made official their discussions with Pyongyang on the joint exploration of a deposit in North Korea; France is carrying out prospecting activities in Kazakhstan; Brussels has engaged in economic diplomacy to encourage mining investment with partner states; and in the US, Donald Trump has expressed his interest in buying Greenland — rich in iron, rare earths, and uranium (Cilizza. 2019.  5 questions about Donald Trump’s interest in buying Greenland, answered. CNN)

It is a new world that China wants to fashion to its liking, as corroborated by Vivian Wu: ‘Given the growth of our domestic demand, we will not be able to meet our own needs within the next five years.’ Beijing has therefore begun its own hunt for rare metals, starting in Canada, Australia, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, and Vietnam.

Many observers believe that Beijing was manipulating prices. ‘The Chinese do absolutely whatever they want on the rare-earths market,’ deplored Christopher Ecclestone. They can decide to stockpile just as they can decide to slash prices by flooding the market. It has become a headache for non-Chinese mining companies to design long-term economic models with a behemoth like China intentionally destabilizing the market. How can they escape bankruptcy when mineral prices are five to ten times lower than forecasted?

The vast majority of alternative projects that emerged after the embargo have been scuppered. The Californian mine Molycorp went bankrupt and reopened, but then had to export its minerals to China for processing due to a lack of adequate refinery facilities. The Lynas mine in Australia has long been running at a reduced speed, and is being kept afloat by Japan out of its refusal to eat from the hand of its sworn enemy. In Canada, entire battalions of mining companies have shut their doors. Mining licenses — once worth their weight in gold — now go for no more than a few hundred dollars.

When Beijing doesn’t manage to hamper operations, it deploys a strategy of acquiring competing mines. Despite the Chinalco group expressing interest in buying the Mountain Pass mine in California, it was acquired in 2017 by MP Mine Operations LLC — a consortium whose investors include a Chinese mining group, Shenge Resources Shareholding Co. Ltd. China also barges its way into the partial ownership of competing companies: in Greenland, the same group acquired a sizeable stake in the operations of the Kvanefjeld site, rich in rare earths and uranium. What better way to build up economic intelligence and possibly undermine the emergence of a serious rival? It’s as if Saudi Arabia, which holds the largest proven reserves of oil worldwide, took it upon itself to control the oil reserves of the now thirteen members of OPEC.

When China is not undermining the capitalistic foundations of alternative mines, it takes diplomatic action to torpedo them. Such is the case of Kyrgyzstan: the chairman of Stans Energy accused China of putting pressure on the Kyrgyz president to withdraw the Canadian mining house’s operating licence without any valid reason.

An environmental nonprofit organization in the US has listed a staggering 500,000 abandoned mines (NYT 2015 When a river runs orange). According to the Environmental Protection Agency, ‘Mining pollutes approximately 40% of the headwaters of Western watersheds and … cleaning up these mines may cost American taxpayers more than $50 billion.

They condemn the effects of the very world they wish for. They do not admit that the energy and digital transition also means trading oilfields for rare metals deposits, and that the role of mining in the fight against global warming is a reality we have to come to terms with.

As for the entire rare metals industry, the Government Accountability Office in the US believes it would take at least 15 years to rebuild the industry. (US GAO warns it may take 15 years to rebuild U.S. Rare Earths Supply Chain. Mineweb. 2010).  While Western countries wait …, their mining culture is wasting away. Training is insufficient, and young people are no longer drawn to careers in geology. As the last of the talents disappear, there is a real risk that the sector’s revival may be decades in the making.

Relocating our dirty industries has helped keep Western consumers in the dark about the true environmental cost of our lifestyles, while giving other nation-states free rein to extract and process minerals in even worse conditions than would have applied had they still been mined in the West, without the slightest regard for the environment.

The effects of returning mining operations to the West would be positive. We would instantly realize — to our horror — the true cost of our self-declared modern, connected, and green world. We can well imagine how having quarries ‘in our backyard’ would put an end to our indifference and denial, and drive our efforts to contain the resulting pollution. Because we would not want to live like the Chinese, we would pile pressure onto our governments to ban even the smallest release of cyanide, and to boycott companies operating without the full array of environmental accreditations.

We would protest en masse against the disgraceful practice of the planned obsolescence of products, which results in more rare metals having to be mined, and we would demand that billions be spent on research into making rare metals fully recyclable.

Perhaps we would also use our buying power more responsibly, and spend more on eco-friendlier mobile phones, for instance. In short, we would be so determined to contain pollution that we would make astounding environmental progress and wind back our rampant consumption. Nothing will change so long as we do not experience, in our own backyards, the full cost of attaining our standard of happiness.

Some countries have even resorted to subterfuge: China has gone as far as building artificial islands in the South China Sea so that it can claim exclusive use of the surrounding marine territory.

The exponential growth of our need for rare metals will increasingly commoditize the world’s backwaters, which have long been spared from humanity’s greed. But it will be decades before mining in the ocean becomes technically and ecologically possible.


Aguirre K, et al. 2012. Lifecycle analysis comparison of a battery electric vehicle and a conventional gasoline vehicle. UCLA institute of the Environment & Sustainability.

PEBI. 2016. World’s worst pollution problems. The toxins beneath our feet. Pure Earth Blacksmith Institute.

RealClearEnergy. 2017. Cost of Elon Musk’s dream much higher than he and others imagine.


‘The Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy: achieving US national security objectives in a changing environment’, US Department of Defense, 2015

Grasso, Valerie Bailey. 2013. Rare earth elements in national defense: background, oversight issues, and options for congress. Congressional research service.

USGS. 2018. Interior releases 2018’s final list of 35 minerals deemed critical to U.S. national security and the economy.

Manchin, Capito. 2019. Reintroduce rare earth element advanced coal technologies act. U.S. Senate committee on Energy & natural resources.

UNEP. 2013. Environmental risks and challenges of anthropgenic metals flows and cycles. United Nations environment program.

IEA. 2014. World energy outlook 2014 factsheet: power and renewables.

Petersen. 2016. How large lithium-ion batteries slash EV benefits.

VIDEO: Guillaume, Pitron “Rare earths: the dirty war” 2012

                Miodownik, BBC 2017 “secrets of the super elements”

Rare Earth & Platinum-group metals are used in many products:

  1. Magnets (Neodymium, Praseodymium, Terbium, Dysprosium, Samarium): Motors, disc drives, MRI, power generation, microphones and speakers, magnetic refrigeration
  2. Metallurgical alloys (Lanthanum, Cerium, Praseodymium, Neodymium, Yttrium): NimH batteries, fuel cells, steel, lighter flints, super alloys, aluminum/magnesium
  3. Phosphors (Europium, Yttrium, Terbium, Neodymium, Erbium, Gadolinium, Cerium, Praseodymium): display phosphors CRT, LPD, LCD; fluorescent lighting, medical imaging, lasers, fiber optics
  4. Glass and Polishing (Cerium, Lanthanum, Praseodymium, Neodymium, Gadolinium, Erbium, Holmium, Baryte): polishing compounds, decolorizers, UV resistant glass, X-ray imaging
  5. Catalysts (Lanthanum, Cerium, Praseodymium, Neodymium, ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, platinum): petroleum refining, catalytic converter, diesel additives, chemical processing, industrial pollution scrubbing
  6. Other applications:
  • Aerospace: Beryllium
  • Aluminum production (fluorspar), alloys (Magnesium, Scandium)
  • Catalytic converters (Cerium)
  • Cathode-ray tubes (Gadolinium, Terbium, Yttrium)
  • Ceramics (Fluorspar)
  • Computer chips (Indium)
  • Defense (Neodymium, Praseodymium, Dysprosium, Terbium, Europium, Yttrium, Lanthanum, Lutetium, Scandium, Samarium)
  • Drilling oil and gas (Baryte)
  • Electric vehicles (Niobium) electric motors (Samarium)
  • Electronics and electricity (Tungsten)
  • Fertilizers
  • Fire retardants (Antimony)
  • Fiber optics (Germanium, Erbium)
  • Fuel cells (SOFC use lanthaneum, cerium, prasedymium)
  • Healthcare (Baryte, Erbium)
  • Hybrid engines (Dysprosium)
  • Integrated circuits (silicon metal)
  • Lasers (Europium, Holmium, Ytterbium)
  • LCD screens (Indium)
  • Lenses (Lanthanum)
  • Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) (Gallium)
  • Lighting (Lanthanum, Samarium, Europium, Scandium)
  • Luminescent compounds (Promethium)
  • Metallurgy and alloys (Baryte, Cerium)
  • Nuclear power (Europium, Gadolinium, Cerium, Yttrium, Sm, Erbium, Beryllium, Niobiumm /sanaruyn)
  • Oil refinery (Cerium)
  • Optics (fluorspar)
  • Phones, computers, hybrid vehicles, magnets (Cobalt)
  • Photovoltaic cells (Germanium, silicon metal)
  • Pigments
  • Satellites (Niobium)
  • Semi-conductors (gallium, Holmium)
  • Solar panels: copper, indium, gallium, selenide (CIGS) solar cells
  • Steel production (coking coal, fluorspar, vanadium, Ytterbium)
  • Superconductors (high-temperature) Bismuth, Thulium, Yttrium
  • Superconductive compounds (Lanthanum)
  • Telecommunications and electronics (Beryllium)
  • Thermoelectric auto generators (Bismuth)
  • Water Treatment
  • Wind turbines (7 of 10 most powerful: V164 by Vestas, AD-180 & ADS-135 by Adwen, SWT 8.0 Siemens, 6 MW Haliade General Electric, SCD 6.0 Ming Yang, & Dong Fang/Hyundai 5.5 MW)
Posted in Battery - Utility Scale, Elements: Critical, Elements: Rare Earth, Mining, Peak Resources, Photovoltaic Solar, Recycle, Wind | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Book list: What to do about peak everything and limits to growth

survive-collapseIf you search on prepping you’ll get 62 million results, but that hasn’t been my focus. I’m madly in love with my techno-optimist husband, we’re both senior citizens, and so we’re not going anywhere or preparing.   Where best to be will keep changing – initially cities might be the best as they have more wealth and buy up food and other goods from the interior.  But eventually at some point of oil decline, tractors, harvesters, and food distribution trucks will not be able to supply cities and you’ll wish you were in a farming region, preferably growing whatever food you can in your own yard.  So if you’re looking for a place to move to, be sure to check out Day and Hall’s book below.

No matter where you are, you’ll want to stockpile food and water — Germany recently recommended that people should have at least 10 days worth (2016 Reuters). Not just for collapse, but earthquake, hurricane, and other natural disasters, or when the electric grid is down.

And above all, stockpile worthwhile books of how to do stuff, and entertaining books so you have something to do when the electricity is out.

More booklists

Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


  • Stan Cox.  Any way you slice it. The past, present, and future of rationing
  • USDOE. June 1980. Standby Gasoline Rationing Plan. U.S. Department of Energy Economic Regulatory Administration, Office of Regulations and Emergency Planning. (search energyskeptic for my review of it).

Where to Live

Given the popularity of concentration camps, involuntary conscription into armies, enslavement, civil war and chaos in other collapsing or war-torn nations, not only do you need to have useful skills, but where you live will play the biggest factor.

Energy Descent & Peak Oil Plans

  • Alexander S. 2020. The simpler way: collected writings of Ted Trainer. Simplicity Institute.  Many free books: http://simplicityinstitute.org/ted-trainer
  • BTC. November 2010. (German) Armed Forces, capabilities and technologies in the 21st century environmental dimensions of security. Sub-study 1. Peak oil security policy implications of scarce resources. Bundeswehr Transformation Centre, Future Analysis Branch
  • De Decker, Kris. 2007-present. The Low Tech Magazine website has hundreds of useful articles about how to prepare for the future, energy, and related  topics. https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/
  • Heinberg R, et al. 2006. The Oil Depletion Protocol. A plan to avert oil wars, terrorism & economic collapse. New Society Publishers.
  • Heinberg R. 2011. The end of growth: Adapting to our new economic reality. New Society Publishers.
  • Hirsch RL, et al. 2005. Peaking of World Oil Production: impacts, mitigation, & risk management. U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Hopkins R. 2008. The transition handbook: from oil dependency to local resilience. UIT  Cambridge Ltd.
  • Hopkins R. 2016. Transition companion: Making your community more resilient in uncertain times. Green books.
  • Kunstler JH. 2007. The Long Emergency: Surviving the end of oil, climate change, and other converging catastrophes of the 21st century. Grove Press.
  • Lawrence KS. 2011. Solutions to peak oil vulnerabilities: a response plan. Lawrence Kansas Mayor’s peak oil task force.
  • Lerch D. 2007. Post carbon cities: planning for energy and climate uncertainty. Post carbon institute.
  • Odum HT, et al. 2008. A prosperous way down. University Press of Colorado.

Richard Heinberg has written several books worth reading:

  1. The Oil Depletion Protocol. 2006. A Plan to Avert Oil Wars, Terrorism And Economic Collapse
  2. Powerdown. 2004. Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World
  3. The Party’s Over. 2003. Oil, war, and the Fate of Industrial Societies

Other ideas

Howard T. Odum. 2008. The Prosperous Way Down: Principles and Policies
Ted Trainer. A list of his books is here


I think we’re heading back eventually to 90% farmers as it was before fossil fuels. Given that most of the land in the U.S. is owned by wealthy individuals, corporations, and the government (see Fellmeth 1973 Politics of Land), this probably means the future will be one of brutal feudalism.

And if you do go back to the land, you should understand why this movement failed the last time in my book review of Agnew’s Back from the Land: How Young Americans Went to Nature in the 1970s, and Why They Came Back.

  • Jeavons J. 2002. How to grow more vegetables..on less land than you can imagine
  • Bender J. 1994. Future Harvest: Pesticide-Free Farming
  • Bane P, et al. 2012. The permaculture handbook: garden farming for town and country
  • Smil V. 2004. Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production. MIT Press.


Lifespans doubled because of public health measures taken to treat water and sewage as explained in Laurie Garrett’s Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health.

One of the best books I’ve ever read for many reasons  is John Barry’s The Great Influenza. The epic story of the deadliest plague in History. The lesson to be learned is that people with poor / malnutrition were the most vulnerable to flu to dying.  Only two percent of America’s population died because the population was well-fed, but some countries may have lost up to half their population.

Best overview books on energy and the rise and fall of civilizations

I find it comforting to know that the rise and fall of civilizations has happened before many times. It makes me feel better to know that, and if you are trying to figure out where to move to, these may help. Plus they’re fascinating in their own right.

  • Ahmed N. 2016. Failing states, collapsing system, biophysical triggers of political violence. Springer.
  • Catton W. 1982. Overshoot: the ecological basis of revolutionary change. University of Illinois Press.
  • Cline EH. 2014. 1177 B.C. The year civilization collapsed.
  • Diamond, J. 2004. Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed.
  • Hall CAS, et al. 2012. Energy & the Wealth of Nations: Understanding the Biophysical economy. Springer.
  • Harper K. The fate of Rome. Climate, disease, and the end of an empire.
  • Hardin G. 1995. Living Within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos. Oxford University Press.
  • Heather P. 2009. Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe. Oxford University Press.
  • Meadows D. 2004. The Limits to Growth: The 30-year update. Chelsea Green Publishing.
  • Opuls W. Immoderate greatness: why civilizations fail.
  • Ponting CA. 2007. New green history of the world: The environment & the collapse of great civilizations. Penguin books.
  • Perlin J. 2005, A Forest Journey: The Role of Wood in the Development of Civilization. Countryman Press
  • Turchin P. “Secular cycles” and “War and Peace and War”
  • Vogel S. 2002. Prime Mover: A Natural History of Muscle. W W Norton & Co Inc.
  • Youngquist W. 1997. Geodestinies: The Inevitable Control of Earth Resources over Nations & Individuals

Mineral Resources

  • Bardi U, et al. 2014. Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth Is Plundering the Planet.  Chelsea Green Publishing.
  • Beiser V. 2018. The world in a grain: the story of sand and how it transformed civilization.
  • Courland R. 2011. Concrete Planet.
  • Klare M. 2012. The Race for What’s Left: The Global scramble for the world’s last resources. Picador.
  • Mann CC. 2012, 1493: Uncovering the new world Columbus created. Vintage.

Best big picture books on other topics

  • Bryson B. 2003. A short history of nearly everything. Broadway books.
  • Ward PD. 2003. Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe. Copernicus.
  • Weart SR. 2004. The Discovery of Global Warming
  • Wilson EO. 2012. The Social Conquest of Earth. Liveright.
  • Wrangham R. 2010. Catching Fire: How cooking made us human. Basic Books.

To preserve knowledge, have something to do when the grid goes down, and find hundreds of other books worth reading, check out my other book lists at:  http://energyskeptic.com/category/books/book-list/

Good luck everyone!

Posted in Advice, Book List, Where to Be or Not to Be | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

328 Million Americans use 3.2 million pounds of minerals, metals, and fuels in their lifetime

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Preface. Even if you go off the grid, society is using up minerals at an exponential rate to maintain the non-negotiable American lifestyle, which in 2006, required 3.7 million pounds of minerals, metals, and fuels in each person’s lifetime, or 47,769 lbs per person per year.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


The amount of minerals per person is going down because the population is going up (not efficiency or less consumption) — we are simply each getting tinier pieces of pie every year

2007 population 301,200,000 / 2019 328,200,000

  • Copper 1,398 lbs / 980
  • Phosphate rock 18,447 lbs / 14,337
  • Coal 578,956 lbs / 330,573
  • Aluminum (bauxite) 5,417 lbs / 2,066
  • Iron Ore 32,654 lbs / 20,127
  • Cement 75,047 / 53,071
  • Natural Gas 5.71 million cubic feet (mcf) / 7.7 mcf
  • Lead 911 lbs / 953 lbs
  • Petroleum 82,199 gallons / 75,327
  • Stone, sand, & Gravel 1,720,000 lbs / 1,360,000 lbs
  • Zinc 773 lbs / 466
  • Clays 20,452 lbs / 12,182
  • Salt 31,909 / 30,190

How one earth do we use that much?

  1. 130 million homes (2010) need heating, cooling, and lighting. Each needs insulation (silica, feldspar, trona
  2. 2 million new housing units are built every year and each needs a quarter million pounds of minerals and metals.
  3. 4 million miles of roads that need to be built and maintained. 85,000 tons of aggregates are required for each mile of interstate highway.
  4. 255,917,664 passenger vehicles weighing an average of 3,000 lbs driven 12,000 miles/yr using 550 gallons of oil. travel these roads, consuming an average of 3 gallons of oil per day. The average automobile contains more than a ton of iron and steel, 240 lbs of aluminum, 50 lbs of carbon, 42 lbs of copper, 41 lbs of silicon, 22 lbs of zinc, and more than thirty other mineral commodities, including titanium, platinum, and gold?
  5. Each of them requires insulation (silica, feldspar and trona), roofing (silica sands, limestone and petroleum) and hardware (iron, zinc, copper, steel, brass). Glass windows are made of trona, silica sand, limestone and feldspar. Foundations consist of concrete made from sand, gravel and cement. Cement is made of limestone, bauxite, clay, shale and gypsum. The concrete is reinforced with steel rods.
  6. Over131 billion cans are produced / year;  63% of the steel cans and 52% of the aluminum cans are recycled.
  7. 80% of the electricity used in the U.S. is generated by fuels obtained by mining: 47% from coal, 20% from natural gas and oil, 21% from nuclear power. Only 7% is generated by hydro, with another 5% from geothermal, solar, wind and biomass combined.
  8. 1.28 billion cell phones sold worldwide in 2008 each has $1 of gold, plus 42 other minerals and metals.

Exponential growth is not sustainable. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) says that “demand for critical mineral resources is increasing at a rapid rate. That means that we are depleting our known mineral deposits at an increasing rate.”

  • 1776: 2,800,000 people : 1,200 lbs of minerals per year.
  • 1900: 76,000,000 people:  7,714 lbs of minerals per year, 6 times more than 1776.
  • 2006: 300,000,000 million people: 47,769 lbs of minerals per year, 40 times more than 1776.

Per Year every American consumes (2007):

  • 12,464 lbs. Stone to make roads; buildings; bridges; landscaping; numerous chemical and construction uses
  • 9,718 lbs. Sand & Gravel for concrete; asphalt; roads; blocks & bricks
  • 965 lbs. Cement  roads; sidewalks; bridges; buildings; schools; houses
  • 420 lbs. Iron Ore  steel  buildings; cars, trucks, planes, & trains; other construction; containers
  • 410 lbs. Salt used in various chemicals; highway deicing; food & agriculture
  • 237 lbs. Phosphate Rock fertilizers to grow food; animal feed supplements
  • 263 lbs. Clays  floor & wall tile; dinnerware; kitty litter; bricks & cement; paper
  • 70 lbs. Aluminum (Bauxite) used to make buildings; beverage containers; autos; airplanes
  • 18 lbs. Copper buildings; electrical & electronic parts; plumbing; transportation
  • 12 lbs. Lead  75% used for transportation— batteries; electrical; communications; TV screens
  • 10 lbs. Zinc used to make metals rust resistant; various metals & alloys; paint; rubber; skin creams; health care; and nutrition
  • 44 lbs. Soda Ash used to make all kinds of glass, in powdered detergents, medicines, as a food additive, photography, water treatment.
  • 6 lbs. Manganese used to make almost all steels for: construction; machinery; transportation
  • 665 lbs. Other Nonmetals numerous uses glass; chemicals; soaps; paper; computers; cell phones; etc.
  • 30 lbs. Other Metals numerous uses same as nonmetals, but also electronics; TV & video equipment; recreation equipment; etc.

Maintaining the American standard of living required 7.1 billion tons of rocks and minerals last year, or 48,000 pounds of new minerals for every person in the USA.  125 million houses require heating, cooling, and lighting, and 2 million new houses a year each need 250,000 pounds of minerals and metals.  There are 4 million miles of roads that need to be built and maintained. 237 million motor vehicles. And so on.


300 Million Americans use 7 Billion Tons of minerals a year. March 2007. Mineral information institute.

MEC. 2020. Mining and mineral statistics. Minerals Education Coalition. https://mineralseducationcoalition.org/mining-mineral-statistics


Posted in Elements: Critical, Mining, Recycle | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Batteries are made of rare, declining, critical, and imported elements

Preface.  Since oil and other fossils are finite and emit carbon, the plan is to electrify society with batteries.  But doh!  Minerals used in batteries are finite too.  And dependent on fossil-fueled transportation and manufacturing from mining trucks, to smelter, to fabrication, to delivery.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Batteries use many rare, declining, single-source country, and expensive metals.  They consume more energy over their life cycle, from extraction to discharging stored energy, than they deliver.  Batteries are an energy sink with negative EROI, which makes wind, solar, and other intermittent sources of electricity energy sinks as well.

Minerals used to make batteries are subject to supply chain failures (stockpiles will eventually run out).

Depletion Peaks, Including Recycling, for Battery Minerals

Peak Year

There are four main components to a battery: the casing, chemicals, electrolytes, and internal hardware.  The main minerals used are cadmium, cobalt, lead, lithium, nickel, and rare earth elements.

The U.S. has a list of 35 critical elements essential for defense and other industires

Antimony (critical). 29% of antimony in the USA is used for batteries (35% flame retardants, 16% chemicals, 12% ceramics and glass, etc).

Arsenic (critical): the grids in lead acid storage batteries are strengthened by the addition of arsenic metal

Cadmium: Nickel-Cadmium (NiCd) batteries.  It’s also used in photovoltaic devices. China uses it in the lead-acid batteries used by electric bicycles. In 2005 1,312,000 pounds of cadmium were used in rechargeable batteries.

Cobalt (critical): 23,800,000 pounds of cobalt were used in rechargeable batteries (2005).

Graphite (critical).

Lead-acid batteries. These consume 86% of lead production. In just the first 8 months of 2012, 81,700,000 lead-acid automotive batteries were produced.

Lithium-ion batteries.  This article makes the case for lithium shortages coming soon “Back to Land Lines? Cell Phones May Be Dead by 2015

Manganese (critical): dry cell batteries

Nickel: 426,000,000 pounds used in rechargeable batteries (2005) with peak production in sight, this will also affect stainless steel


Rare Earth Elements (lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium ytterbium and lutetium)

Zinc: dry cell batteries


Mineral Commodity Summaries 2013. U.S. Dept of the interior, USGS.

Do we take minerals for granted? USGS.

19 March 2010. L. David Roper. Depletion of Minerals for Batteries.

Posted in Batteries, Elements: Critical, Elements: Rare Earth, Mining | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Livestock threatened by toxic invasive species on rangeland

Preface.  Will cattle, sheep,goats, and horses have to be raised on feed lots in the future to prevent range land poisoning from invasive plants? Each year poisonous plants adversely affect 3-5% of the cattle, sheep, and horses that graze western range lands. There are many causes of livestock losses including (Global Rangelands 2020): 

  • Animals graze infested range lands when plants are most toxic.
  • Animals are driven, trailed through, or unloaded from trucks onto range land or pasture areas infested with poisonous plants.
  • Animals are not watered regularly or are allowed to become hungry, making them more likely to eat lethal quantities of poisonous plants.
  • Animals are allowed to graze in heavy stands of plants that are highly poisonous.
  • Animals are grazed on range lands early in the spring when there is no other vegetation except poisonous plants.

The USDA article below suggests livestock could be fed on feedlots to prevent them from eating toxic invasive plants on rangeland, but after oil decline, the energy to transport crops to feed lots is unlikely, and growing extra crops for livestock will be difficult without pesticides (see post “Chemical industrial farming is unsustainable”).

Rangeland and pastures comprise nearly half of the total land area of the United States. There are over 300 rangeland weeds in the U.S. that reduce carrying capacity and cost over $5 billion a year to control.  These species also reduce wildlife habitat and forage, deplete soil and water, the quality of meat, milk, wool, and hides, poison livestock, and reduce biodiversity (Mullin 2000, DiTomaso 2010).

In the U.S. invasive plants occupy 200,000 square miles of rangeland and are spreading at a rate of 14% a year.  Invasive plant-infested areas also experience far more wildfires at greater intensity and area burned (DiTomaso 2017).

More research needs to be done on this now while there is still time to do so, such as research on how and when to get animals to graze on yellow star thistle (Voth 2016).  Reduced livestock postcarbon may also reduce homo sapiens carrying capacity.

Alice Friedemann  www.energyskeptic.com  author of “Life After Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Energy, 2021, Springer, “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer; Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


USDA. 2011. Plants Poisonous to Livestock in the Western States. United States Department of Agriculture.

Poisonous plants are a major cause of economic loss to the livestock industry. Each year these plants adversely affect 3 to 5 percent of the cattle, sheep, goats, and horses that graze western ranges.

All too often the losses to individual livestock operations are large enough to threaten the viability of that ranch. Livestock losses can be heavy if animals:

  • graze ranges infested with poisonous plants when plants are most toxic.
  • are driven, trailed through, or unloaded from trucks onto range or pasture areas infested with poisonous plants. Animals are less selective in their grazing at these times of stress.
  • are not watered regularly.
  • are allowed to become hungry. Such animals are more likely to eat lethal quantities of poi- sonous plants.
  • are grazed on rangelands early in spring when there is no other green vegetation except poisonous plants.
  • are stressed, such as when they are trucked, penned, or handled (branding, vaccination, etc.).
  • are not limited on how much and how fast they consume the plants

Economic Impact of Poisonous Plants on Livestock Direct losses (effects on animals) include the following: • Deaths of livestock • Abortions • Birth defects • Weight loss (due to illness or decreased feed intake • Lengthened calving interval • Decreased fertility • Decreased immune response • Decreased function (due to damage to organs such as the nervous system, lungs, liver, etc. • Loss of breeding stock due to deaths, functional inefficiency, etc.

Indirect losses (management costs) include the following:
• Building and maintaining fences • Increased feed requirements • Increased medical treatments • Altered grazing programs • Decreased forage availability • Decreased land values • Opportunity costs • Lost time to management • Stress to management

Hundreds of plants are poisonous to livestock. Here are a few of the toxic plants or toxic plant categories in the West:

Bracken Fern (Western Bracken)
Colorado Rubberweed (Pingue)
Death Camas
False Hellebore (Veratrum)
Groundsel (Threadleaf and Riddell) and Houndstongue
Halogeton (invasive)
Hemp Dogbane
Nitrate-accumulating Plants
Poison Hemlock
Ponderosa Pine Needles
Rayless Goldenrod
Selenium-accumulating Plants

Snakeweed (Broom and Threadleaf)
Spring Parsley
St Johnswort
Sweet Clover
Tansy Ragwort
Water hemlock
Yellow Star Thistle and Russian Knapweed (invasive)
Yew Taxus

Other Poisonous Plants
Noxious Weeds

Leafy spurge, an unpalatable European plant invading Western rangelands,andUnpalatable Eurasian plants-spotted knapweed infests 7 million acres in nine states and two Canadian provinces

Foreign weeds spread on Bureau of Land Management lands at over 2,300 acres per day and on all Western public lands at twice that rate.

Increased wildfires

The spread of fire-adapted exotic plants that burn easily increases the frequency and severity of fires, to the detriment of property, human safety, and native flora and fauna. In 1991, in the hills overlooking Oakland and Berkeley, California, a 1,700-acre fire propagated by Eucalyptus trees planted early in this century destroyed 3,400 houses and killed 23 people [including my home — now there is a group fighting removal of eucalyptus because they’re “pretty”]

Meleuca invasion in Florida: sawgrass dominates large regions of Florida Conservation Area marshes, providing habitat for unique Everglades wildlife. Although sawgrass may be more than 9 feet tall, introduced Australian melaleuca trees are typically 70 feet tall and outcompete marsh plants for sunlight. As melaleuca trees invade and form dense monospecific stands, soil elevations increase because of undecomposed leaf litter that forms tree islands and inhibits normal water flow. Wildlife associated with sawgrass marshes declines. The frequency and intensity of fires change, as do other critical ecosystem processes. The spread of melaleuca and other invasive exotic plants in southern Florida could undermine the $1.5-billion effort to return the Everglades to a more natural state

In parts of the southern Appalachians, two related insects, the hemlock woolly adelgid and the balsam woolly adelgid, defoliate and kill dominant native trees over vast tracts.

Schmitz, DC. 9 July 1997. Biological Invasions: A Growing Threat. An army of invasive plant and animal species is overrunning the United States, causing incalculable economic and ecological costs. issues in science and technology. National Academy of Sciences.

A quarter of U.S. agricultural gross national product is lost to foreign plant invaders and the costs of controlling them. Exotic species have contributed to the decline of 42 percent of U.S. endangered and threatened species.

The chestnut blight fungus, which arrived in New York City in the late 19th century from Asia, spread in less than 50 years over 225 million acres of the eastern United States, destroying virtually every chestnut tree. Because chestnut had comprised a quarter or more of the canopy of tall trees in many forests, the effects on the entire ecosystem were staggering.

References & Recommended reading

DiTomaso JM, et al. 2010. Rangeland invasive plant management. University of Arizona.

DiTomaso JM, et al. 2017. Invasive plant species and novel rangeland systems. In: Briske D. (eds) Rangeland Systems. Springer Series on Environmental Management. Springer.

Global Rangelands. 2020. Poisonous plants on Rangelands.

McKnight BN ed. 1993. Biological Pollution. The Control and Impact of Invasive Exotic Species. Indianapolis. Ind.: Indiana Academy of Sciences.

Mullin BH, et al. 2000. Invasive plant species. Council for Agricultural Science and Technology Issue paper #13.

Sandlund OT, et al. 1996. Proceedings of the Norway/UN Conference on Alien Species. Trondheim, Norway: Directorate for Nature Management and Norwegian Institute for Nature Research.

U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. 1993. Harmful Non-Indigenous Species in the United States. Washington, D.C.

Voth K. 2016. Grazing reduces yellow starthistle. Onpasture.com

Williamson, M. 1996. Biological Invasions. London: Chapman & Hall, 1996.

USDA. April 2011. Plants Poisonous to Livestock in the Western States. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service Agriculture Information Bulletin Number 415


Posted in Agriculture, Biodiversity Loss, BioInvasion, Peak Food | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Extreme flooding from slow hurricanes a danger to farms

Preface. Yet another danger from climate change for agriculture will be slow hurricanes and cyclones dumping a foot or more of rain over a few days such as the recent hurricanes Harvey (2017), Florence (2018), and Dorian (2019).

Journal reference: Zhang G, et al. 2020. Tropical cyclone motion in a changing climate. Science Advances.

Alice Friedemann  www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Le Page M. 2020. Slower-moving hurricanes will cause more devastation as world warms. NewScientist.

Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding in 2017, killing 68 people and costing $125 billion in damages. One reason it was so destructive is that it moved unusually slowly and remained over the same area for days – and as the world warms, there are going to be a lot more slow-moving tropical cyclones like Harvey, according to high-resolution climate models.

A slow-moving tropical cyclone dumps far more rain in one place than a fast-moving storm of a similar size and strength. The winds can also do more damage, because they batter structures for longer.

Harvey, for instance, dumped more than a metre of rain in parts of the Houston area. “Imagine that much water falling in one spot,” says Gan Zhang at Princeton University. “It is too much for the infrastructure to handle.”

Other recent storms, including Hurricane Florence in 2018 and Hurricane Dorian in 2019 have also been slow-moving, leading to suggestions that climate change is increasing the odds of slow-moving storms.

Read more: We all get poorer every time a climate disaster strikes

Now Zhang and his colleagues have run about 100 high-resolution simulations of how tropical cyclones behave in three types of conditions: those between 1950 and 2000, those similar to the present and also various future scenarios.

They saw a marked slowdown as the world warms, due to a poleward shift of the mid-latitude westerly winds. It is these prevailing winds that push cyclones along and determine how fast they travel.

This will increase the risk of storms causing extreme flooding that, among other things, could break dams and spread pollution from factories and farms, says Zhang.

Other studies suggest that warming will lead to tropical cyclones becoming stronger, producing more rainfall, intensifying faster – giving people less time to prepare – and forming in and affecting a wider area than they have previously.

Journal reference: Science AdvancesDOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz7610

Posted in Agriculture, Climate Change, Floods, Hurricanes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

800 scientists: burning forests for electricity or heat releases more 1.5 x more CO2 than coal, 3x more than natural gas

Preface. The 2015 Paris climate change agreement states that burning biomass is carbon neutral.

Not true.

Over 800 scientists have written the European Parliament to tell them that burning wood for heat or electricity emits 1.5 x more CO2 than coal and 3 x more than natural gas. It puts forests all over the globe in danger and destroys biodiversity.

Excerpts below (tables and other references left out).

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Searchinger TD, et al. 2018. Europe’s renewable energy directive poised to harm global forests. Nature Communications 9:3741.

Abstract. This comment raises concerns regarding the way in which a new European directive, aimed at reaching higher renewable energy targets, treats wood harvested directly for bioenergy use as a carbon-free fuel. The result could consume quantities of wood equal to all Europe’s wood harvests, greatly increase carbon in the air for decades, and set a dangerous global example.

In January of this year, he Parliament of the European Union voted to allow countries, power plants and factories to claim that cutting down trees just to burn them for energy fully qualifies as low-carbon, renewable energy. It did so against the written advice of almost 800 scientists that this policy would accelerate climate change. Because meeting a small quantity of Europe’s energy use requires a large quantity of wood, and because of the example it sets for the world, the Renewable Energy Directive profoundly threatens the world’s forests.

Makers of wood products have for decades generated electricity and heat from wood process wastes, which still supply the bulk of Europe’s forest-based bioenergy. Although burning these wastes emits carbon dioxide, it benefits the climate because the wastes would quickly decompose and release their carbon anyway. Yet nearly all such wastes have long been used.

Over the last decade, however, Europe has expanded its use of wood harvested to burn directly for energy, much from U.S. and Canadian forests in the form of wood pellets. Contrary to repeated claims, almost 90% of these wood pellets come from the main stems of trees, mostly of pulpwood quality, or from sawdust otherwise used for wood products.

Greenhouse gas effects of burning wood

Unlike wood wastes, harvesting additional wood just for burning is likely to increase carbon in the atmosphere for decades to centuries. This effect results from the fact that wood is a carbon-based fuel whose harvest and use are inefficient from a greenhouse gas (GHG) perspective. Typically, around one third or more of each harvested tree is contained in roots and small branches that are properly left in the forest to protect soils but that decompose and release carbon. Wood that reaches a power plant can displace fossil emissions but per kWh of electricity typically emits 1.5x the CO2 of coal and 3x the CO2 of natural gas because of wood’s carbon bonds, water content and lower burning temperature (and pelletizing wood provides no net advantages).

Allowing trees to regrow can reabsorb the carbon, but for some years a regrowing forest typically absorbs less carbon than if the forest were left unharvested, increasing the carbon debt. Eventually, the regrowing forest grows faster and the additional carbon it then absorbs plus the reduction in fossil fuels can together pay back the carbon debt on the first stand harvested. But even then, carbon debt remains on the additional stands harvested in succeeding years, and it takes more years for more stands to regrow before there is just carbon parity between use of wood and fossil fuels. It then takes many more years of forest regrowth to achieve substantial GHG reductions.

The renewability of trees, unlike fossil fuels, helps explain why biomass can eventually reduce GHGs but only over long periods. The amount of increase in GHGs by 2050 depends on which and how forests are ultimately harvested, how the energy is used and whether wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas. Yet overall, replacing fossil fuels with wood will likely result in 2-3x more carbon in the atmosphere in 2050 per gigajoule of final energy. Because the likely renewable alternative would be truly low carbon solar or wind, the plausible, net effect of the biomass provisions could be to turn a ~5% decrease in energy emissions by 2050 into increases of ~5–10% or even more.

Consequences for forests

The implications for forests and carbon are large because even though Europe harvests almost as much wood as the US and Canada combined, these harvests could only supply ~5.5% of its primary energy and ~4% of its final energy. If wood were to supply 40% of the additional renewable energy the wood volumes required would equal all of Europe’s wood harvest. In fact, the Renewable Energy Directive sets a goal to increase by 10% renewable energy for heat, sourced overwhelmingly from wood, which would likely by itself use ~50% of Europe’s present annual wood harvest. European Commission planning documents projected somewhat smaller roles for bioenergy based on lower renewable energy targets, but they scale up to ~55–85% of Europe’s wood harvest at the larger target ultimately adopted. Supplying this level of wood will probably require expanding harvests in forests all over the world.

The global signal may have even greater effects on climate and biodiversity. At the last global climate conference, tropical forest countries and others, including Indonesia and Brazil, jointly declared goals “to increase the use of wood … to generate energy as part of efforts to limit climate change”. Once countries and powerful private companies become invested in such efforts, further expansion will become harder to stop. The effect can already be seen in the United States, where Congress in both 2017 and 2018 added provisions to annual spending bills declaring nearly all forest biomass carbon free—although environmentalists have so far fought to limit the legal effects to a single year. If the world met just an additional 2% of global primary energy with wood, it would need to double its industrial wood harvests.

Why the RED sustainability criteria are insufficient

Unfortunately, various sustainability conditions would have little consequence. For example, one repeated instruction is that harvesting trees should occur sustainably, but sustainable does not equal low carbon. Perhaps the strictest version of sustainability, often defended as a landscape approach, claims GHG reductions so long as harvest of trees in a country (or just one forest) does not exceed the forest’s incremental growth. Yet, by definition, this incremental growth would otherwise add biomass, and therefore carbon storage to the forest, holding down climate change. This carbon sink, in large part due to climate change itself, is already factored into climate projections and is not disposable. Harvesting and burning this biomass reduces the sink and adds carbon to the air just like burning any other carbon fuel. The directive only requires forests to maintain existing carbon stocks in limited circumstances, but given the size of the global forest sink, even applying such a rule everywhere would still allow global industrial wood harvests to more than triple.

The directive also repeatedly cites a goal to preserve biodiversity, but its provisions will afford little protection. Prohibitions on harvesting wood directly for bioenergy apply only to primary forests—a small share of global forests. In addition, any forests could be cut to replace the vast quantities of wood diverted from existing managed forests to bioenergy.

Some argue that increasing carbon in the atmosphere for decades is fine so long as reductions eventually occur, but timely mitigation matters. More carbon in the atmosphere for decades means more damages for decades, and more permanent damages due to more rapid melting of permafrost, glaciers and ice-sheets, and more packing of heat and acidity into the world’s oceans. Recognizing this need, the EU otherwise requires that GHG reductions occur over 20-years, but that timing does not apply to forest biomass.

Instead, the directive incorporates the view that forest biomass is inherently carbon neutral if harvested sustainably. Although the directive requires that bioenergy generate large greenhouse gas reductions, its accounting rules ignore the carbon emitted by burning biomass itself. They only count GHGs from trace gases and use of fossil fuels to produce the bioenergy, which is like counting the GHGs from coal-mining machinery but not from burning the coal.

The main new Commission thinking, reflected in the sustainability provisions, is that bioenergy rules do not need to count plant carbon so long as countries that supply the wood have commitments related to land use emissions under European rules or the Paris accord. But this thinking repeats the confusion that occurred at the time of the Kyoto Protocol between rules designed only to count global emissions and laws designed to shape national or private incentives. Under accounting rules for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), countries that burn biomass can ignore the resulting energy emissions because the countries that cut down the trees used for the biomass must count the carbon lost from the forest. Switching from coal to biomass allows a country to ignore real energy emissions that physically occur there, but the country supplying the wood must report higher land use emissions (at least compared to the no-bioenergy alternative). The combination does not make bioenergy carbon free because it balances out global accounting, the limited goal of national reporting.

But this accounting system does not work for national energy laws. If a country’s laws give its power plants strong financial incentives to switch from coal to wood on the theory that wood is carbon-neutral, those power plants have incentives to burn wood regardless of the real carbon consequences. Even if a country supplying the wood reports higher land use emissions through the UNFCCC, that carbon is not the power plant’s problem. Only if all potential wood-supplying countries imposed a carbon fee on the harvest of wood, and this fee equaled Europe’s financial incentive to burn it, would European power plants have a financial reason to properly factor the carbon into their decisions. No country has done that or seems likely to do so.

In fact, few countries have any obligation to compensate for reduced carbon in their forests because few countries have adopted quantitative goals in the land use sector as part of the Paris accord. Even if countries did try to make up for reduced forest carbon due to bioenergy with additional mitigation of some kind, all Europe would achieve is a requirement that its consumers pay more to do something harmful for the climate so that other countries could then spend additional money to compensate.

Europe has also created a kind of reverse strategy by treating forest and all other biomass as carbon neutral in its Emissions Trading System, which limits emissions from power plants and factories. While the not yet realized hope is to reward countries for preserving carbon in forests, this bioenergy policy means forest owners can be rewarded for the carbon in their trees—so long as they cut them down and sell them for energy. The higher the price of carbon rises, the more valuable cutting down trees will become. Strangely, this policy also undermines years of efforts to save trees by recycling used paper instead of burning it for energy. Even as recycling polices push consumers to save trees, this policy will encourage others to burn them.

Although some scientists support this use of forests, and the IPCC has found it difficult to speak clearly about biomass in the face of different views, the fact that ~800 scientists came forward provides hope of a clearer and stronger message from the scientific community. The fate of the biosphere appears at stake. Individual European countries still have discretion to pursue alternatives to forest biomass. Whatever their fields, all scientists who care should educate themselves, overcome a natural reluctance to venture into a separate and controversial field, speak with great clarity and hold public institutions to account.

Posted in Biomass, Climate Change, CO2 and Methane, Deforestation | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

At current rates of deforestation, civilization will collapse in 20-40 years

Preface.  At current rates of deforestation, forests will be gone in 100-200 years. Long before that, in 20-40 years, the effects will be felt, with a 90% chance of civilization collapse likely.  

Since it looks like world conventional oil peaked in 2018, I’m putting my money on energy decline as the civilization crasher, but the Limits to Growth model and Rockstrom’s (2009) paper (Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity) of nine existential crises facing us makes my peak oil bet a bit less certain.  Though with oil we can fend off and delay the other threats for a while.  Destroyed the topsoil?  Then grow food in vertical farms. Out of water? Drill down 1,000+ feet, and so on.

Below are excerpts from an article by Nafeez Ahmed, who is summarizing the findings of:  Bologna M, et al. 2020. Deforestation and world population sustainability: a quantitative analysis. Nature Scientific reports.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Ahmed, N. 2020. Collapse Within Several Decades Deforestation and rampant resource use is likely to trigger the ‘irreversible collapse’ of human civilization unless we rapidly change course. Vice.com

Two theoretical physicists specializing in complex systems conclude that global deforestation due to human activities is on track to trigger the “irreversible collapse” of human civilization within the next two to four decades. 

If we continue destroying and degrading the world’s forests, Earth will no longer be able to sustain a large human population, according to a peer-reviewed paper published this May in Nature Scientific Reports. They say that if the rate of deforestation continues, “all the forests would disappear approximately in 100–200 years.”

“Clearly it is unrealistic to imagine that the human society would start to be affected by the deforestation only when the last tree would be cut down,” they write.  

This trajectory would make the collapse of human civilization take place much earlier due to the escalating impacts of deforestation on the planetary life-support systems necessary for human survival—including carbon storage, oxygen production, soil conservation, water cycle regulation, support for natural and human food systems, and homes for countless species.  

In the absence of these critical services, “it is highly unlikely to imagine the survival of many species, including ours, on Earth without [forests]” the study points out. “The progressive degradation of the environment due to deforestation would heavily affect human society and consequently the human collapse would start much earlier.” 

Tracking the current rate of population growth against the rate of deforestation, the authors found that “statistically the probability to survive without facing a catastrophic collapse, is very low.” Its best case scenario is that we have a less than 10 percent chance of avoiding collapse.

The underlying driver of the current collapse trajectory is that “consumption of the planetary resources may be not perceived as strongly as a mortal danger for the human civilization”, because it is “driven by Economy”. Such a civilization “privileges the interest of its components with less or no concern for the whole ecosystem that hosts them.”  

The most effective way to increase our chances of survival is to shift focus from extreme self-interest to a sense of stewardship for each other, other species, and the ecosystems in which we find ourselves. 

McKenna, Phil. 2015-11-26. Sputtering Corporate Effort to Save Forests Highlights a Big Issue for Paris Talks. InsideClimate News

Key findings:

  • There are no signs that the annual rate of forest loss is slowing.
  • Only 8% of 250 “powerbroker” corporations—and less than 1% of the 150 leading lenders and investors in agricultural companies—have polices in place to eliminate or reduce deforestation.
  • Deforestation accounts for about 10 percent of global man-made emissions through the razing and burning of trees. Because tropical forests are potent carbon sponges, stopping deforestation—and allowing damaged forests to recover—could deliver as much as 40 percent of the emissions cuts needed to keep global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

The New York Declaration on Forests was supposed to help halve forest loss by 2020, but an initial assessment published last week by the Amsterdam-based consulting company Climate Focus along with a group of non-governmental organizations said deforestation has not slowed in the countries that signed the pact. Very few of the world’s leading companies whose practices drive deforestation have changed their policies to begin to tackle the issue, according to a separate report published last week by the Global Canopy Programme.

The declaration was signed in September 2014 by 52 companies—including Unilever, Walmart and General Mills—as well as more than 30 countries and 100-plus subnational governments, indigenous groups and non-governmental organizations. They committed to 10 goals, meant to cut the world’s forest loss in half by 2020 and end it by 2030. The declaration was notable for its ambitious targets and rare collaboration among countries and corporations, and for tackling the root causes of deforestation, primarily corporate agriculture practices. The majority of tropical forest loss and degradation is driven by the production of only six commodities: palm oil, soy, beef, leather, timber, and pulp and paper.

Cutting the rate of deforestation in half, the goal of the New York declaration, would require $20 to $30 billion a year, significantly more than current pledges, which remain less than $10 billion a year, according to Boucher of the UCS.

Posted in Deforestation, Limits To Growth | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Only a fifth of Earth’s land has little human influence

Preface. Humans have basically taken over the best land on the planet, the places where we aren’t ruining it are really cold, high or dry areas of land, such as arctic landscapes, mountainous areas or deserts.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Riggio J, et al. 2020. Global human influence maps reveal clear opportunities in conserving Earth’s remaining intact terrestrial ecosystems. Global Change Biology.

Humans inhabit most of the planet with just 20% of ice-free land free of our influence.

A team of researchers led by Jason Riggio at the University of California, Davis, analyzed four maps showing global human influence around the world at different times between 2009 and 2015, and created a single global map highlighting areas where people have the least influence.

Very low human influence of land is either not occupied or used by people, or has low density populations of indigenous peoples. These are primarily wilderness areas where humans are visitors, not residents.

After excluding the estimated 10 per cent of Earth that is ice-covered such as Antarctica and most of Greenland, or glaciers elsewhere in the world, and calculating the level of agreement between the four maps, they found that 21% of the remaining land on Earth has very low human influence.

Most of the low human influence areas on the planet are really cold, high or dry areas of land, such as arctic landscapes, montane areas or deserts. In contrast, only about 10% of grass lands and dry forests have low human influence.

The analysis suggests “the overall trend is that we continue to lose natural landscapes and overall human influence is increasing globally”, says Riggio.

“A global human influence map is critical to understand the extent and intensity of human pressures on Earth’s ecosystems,” says Riggio. Highlighting the few remaining areas on Earth with little human impact could also help governments and organisations to plan and prioritise which areas of the world to protect.

Posted in Biodiversity Loss, Deforestation, Limits To Growth, Overpopulation | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Escape collapse on a DIY floating island

Preface. Build your own sustainable floating compound. At Freedom Cove, food preparation takes up a large part of the day. Without a refrigerator or freezer, the couple catch fish and grow almost all the food they consume in a large garden as well as four green houses packed tightly together with tomatoes, peppers, swiss chard, apples and corn.

To see even more pictures of this wonderful island, go here.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Gopal, T. 2020. How one couple has lived for 29 years on an island they built themselves. CNN.

gbs off the grid homemade island pkg_00000220.jpg

Off the grid on a homemade island

As stay-at-home orders due to the ongoing pandemic have forced many of us to learn to love solitude and become reacquainted with our homes, one couple’s life has remained virtually unchanged. Ten miles north of Tofino, British Columbia, off the west coast of Vancouver Island, Catherine King and Wayne Adams live on a sustainable, floating compound. It’s called “Freedom Cove,” a labor of love, hand-built using recycled and salvaged materials. It’s been their home for the past 29 years. Freedom Cove is a 25-minute boat ride away from the closest town, and don’t even think about hopping in a car. “The only option to get here is by water,” Adams says. “There are no road accesses. The water is our highway.”

Welcome to Freedom Cove, a sustainable island fortress floating off the coast of Vancouver Island.While there are lines that tether the compound back to the shore, it is not anchored to the ocean floor. When you arrive, you’re immediately greeted by bright magenta buildings with dark turquoise trim. An archway of whale bones welcomes you in. The compound has everything you could possibly think of and more: a dance floor, an art gallery, a candle factory, four greenhouses, six solar panels, and access to a small waterfall that provides constant running water.

It has its own waste management system

The couple has even figured out their own waste management system. “It’s the most common question we’re asked,” Adams says. They installed a floating tank to, in Adams’ words, “deal with the affluence.” If they wanted to, King and Adams could completely self-sustain on Freedom Cove without ever needing to go into the city.

It was inspired by nature

As artists, King and Adams always drew inspiration from nature. Visitors are greeted by two large whale ribs that form the entrance. Artists Catherine King and Wayne Adams have called Freedom Cove home since 1992.Visitors are greeted by two large whale ribs that form the entrance. Artists Catherine King and Wayne Adams have called Freedom Cove home since 1992.Adams is a carver, using found elements in nature – like feathers and bones – to create his works. King is an artist, dancer and a natural healer, having studied homeopathy. But why live off the grid?”I wanted to be a successful, wealthy artist, live in Tofino and have a studio in the wilderness, like all good rich artists should,” Adams says. “I was hoping to make a lot more money as an artist. We could never buy real estate, so we had to make our own.”A call from nature pushed them to make their dreams a reality.

It was the result of an accident

After staying in a friend’s cabin in Cypress Bay, a large storm blew wood onto the property. King and Adams gathered the wood and used it to build the bones of what would become their future home.”I guess we were being given a sign that this is the time to begin,” Adams recalls. As they continued to further grow their home, the couple followed with their precedent of only using recycled and salvaged materials. Thanks to a piece of Plexiglass in their living room, Adams is able to fish from the comfort of his couch.
Thanks to a piece of Plexiglass in their living room, Adams is able to fish from the comfort of his couch. Many parts were gathered from loggers and fishermen in town. Adams would trade them art for whatever they had in their backyard, whether that was old fish farms or floats. A piece of Plexiglass scrounged up from the Victoria Hockey Rink forms a clear glass floor in their living room, which Adams can lift up to fish from the comfort of his couch.

It began as a sort of ‘downsizing’

Prior to Freedom Cove, the couple lived in an apartment in Tofino. They call their move into nature a “deceleration process.” “We had all kinds of things like food processors and items that would require a lot of electricity,” King remembers. “We gave them away to people and unloaded a lot of things in preparation.” They had no choice. The first iteration of their floating home had no running water and no power.Today, their day-to-day is quite a bit different to what it was in Tofino. “Living out here, you can’t just get instant anything,” King says. “We can’t just order a pizza … we can’t just go to the corner store … You have to do the work to get what you want, if you want it.”

It’s more than just home, they say

Doing that work is an ongoing process of learning, changing and growing. King starts her day by sweeping and shaking out the carpets. “In the wilderness, there’s always a lot of dirt and dust,” she says. The floating compound houses a dance floor, an art gallery, a candle factory, four greenhouses, six solar panels, and a small waterfall that provides constant running water.
The floating compound houses a dance floor, an art gallery, a candle factory, four greenhouses, six solar panels, and a small waterfall that provides constant running water. She then waters her thousands of plants and vegetable gardens – all germinated from seeds – and rows out in her canoe to gather seaweed for compost. Adams begins by gathering firewood and starting a fire to make sure the house is heated.They both work on building new components for their home. “It is a project,” King says. “It is a project in growing food to provide for the family. It is an art project … It is a project to have a space to move, to dance, to play music, to do things spontaneously that you couldn’t just do in the same way if you were in the city.”

Their neighbors are … unusual

And while they may not have any human neighbors for miles, the couple still has plenty of company. “We have some resident crows here who are part of the family,” Adams says. “We know all the birds here.””We have named Harry the heron, Sylvie the seal,” King adds. “Gertrude and Heathcliff the seagulls.””I had lived in the big city, I knew what that was like,” King says. “I really needed the peace of the wilderness.” Twenty-nine years later, that’s still the greatest draw of their home. “Going into a city is just shocking in the sound department,” King says. “I get kind of jangled up inside … the noise starts to get to me, I find it’s easy for me to lose my center.””We have carved a piece of the world out for ourselves here,” King says. “We can live uniquely, differently than anyone else on the planet.”But, how about seasickness?”I don’t get seasick,” Adams says. “When I go to town, I get land-sick.”

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