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NZ's chance to save the world from disaster

It might seem fanciful, but New Zealand could help save the world from a technology disaster.
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor on

It might seem fanciful, but New Zealand could help save the world from a technology disaster.

Many of our electrical devices rely on rare earth metals that are mainly found only in China.

Just as the world has concerns over Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' (OPEC) oil monopoly, and just as Europe fears dependence on Russian gas, so the world has similar fears of relying on China for these rare earth metals.

China supplies up to 97 per cent of them, though there are a couple of such mines in development in New South Wales and California.

However, China is flexing its muscles. Last year, it slashed exports of these metals by 35 per cent, as it tries to keep these metals within the country and attract the higher-tech electronic device manufacturing industry instead of just digging dirt.

As China threatens to cut off world supplies, it has been admonished by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The effects of such blockades will be damaging. A shortage of such raw materials can only increase prices and reduce the supply of the devices we use, thus impacting on their adaptation and the benefits that business and consumers get from technology.

Fortunately, New Zealand might come to the rescue, along with other Pacific countries.

Vast deposits of these rare earth metals have been found under the Pacific, to the north east of New Zealand and stretching as far as Hawaii. The deposits are so vast that these rare earth metals won't be rare any more.

There might be problems in obtaining the metals profitably, but if they can be mined or simply pumped to the surface, China's stranglehold over the tech sector will be broken.

Of course, we have other home-grown hurdles before we can enjoy the benefits of cheaper and more readily available raw materials.

Mining these metals is a dirty business, and will bring the protests that such mining on land always bring.

But we might want to remind the environmentalists that much of this demand is being fuelled by "green technology", such as electric batteries and wind turbines.

And as we were told a few days back, such pollution is actually saving the planet from catastrophic climate change!

All the same, New Zealand does have a spineless, populist government, which last year backed down on plans for extra mining in New Zealand in the face of protests from the environmentalists.

But if the country can be brave and take on the environmentalists, New Zealand might save the world from a technological disaster!

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