The Earth Metal Problem

Freakonomics has a great post up that should give the environmentalist weenies fits:

Electric cars are all the rage today, but some of the smartest people I know believe that moving towards electric vehicles is a terrible idea. Looking casually as an outsider at the unappealing economics of electric vehicles (the need for a new and immensely expensive infrastructure, cars that cost much more than either traditional gas engines or hybrids, limited ranges and long recharging times), I find it hard to understand why the Obama administration is pushing electric cars.

One argument I’ve heard is “national security,” the idea being that electric vehicles would make the United States less dependent on imported oil. Be careful what you wish for, however, because if electric cars become a mainstay, we may be trading one dependence for another that is even more troubling. Ninety-five percent of the world’s output of rare-earth metals today comes from one country: China. By some estimates, demand will outstrip supply within five years. At least with oil we know there are fifty years of oil reserves readily available. Moreover, oil is produced all over the world, limiting the monopoly power of any one country.

To be fair, elements like dysprosium and praseodymium — how geeky is it that I can spell those correctly from memory? — are not economically viable to dig up unless you have a steady supply of slave cheap labor, which China has. As demand for these metals surges, the price will go up and domestic mining will become more feasible. Of course, our government is currently subsidizing electric cars and therefore distorting the market. And China’s embargo on Japan has already caused a mad scramble for metals.

What this story really demonstrates the stunning lack of thought that goes into so-called green industries. Rare earth metals are a pretty significant thing to be thinking about when it comes to electric cars. We can’t just wish them out of the ground through the power of positive liberal thinking. At some point, we’re going to have to start mining them — with all the pollution that entails. What will the greens do then?

Comments are closed.

  1. West Virginia Rebel

    There’s also the small problem of what to do with all those electric car batteries and their acid…

    Also, totally unrelated, but has anybody else noticed that blogger has been down since around 3:30 PM Eastern time Thursday (May 12)?

    Blogs (including mine) are still available to read, but I can’t post or view comments (as I tried to do over at Althouse.) When I try to post, I get “Blogger is currently unavailable” due to “Maintanance.”

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  2. hist_ed

    Also we generate a huge amount of our energy from coal. Coal production is generally source that is easiest to ramp up to cover increases. While we will keep dumping money in the windmill/solar panel/unicorn fart means of generating power they will not be significant any time soon. Moreelctric cars=more coal burned. Very very green.

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  3. mikedomi39

    I think this entire “Green” idealogy has been one of the biggest failures of Obama so far. The only way I see to make some of this stuff truly feasible and economically worthwhile is to find ways to recycle the technology (Electric car batteries, Old solar panels, etc.) after its life cycle. I heard alot about green jobs green jobs green jobs early on, and a field where innovation is desperatelyneeded and an oppurtunity lies waiting is just sitting there.

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  4. Rann

    It almost might be amusing to support the electric car thing just to see how long it would be until the green hipsters broke down and admitted that the only way electric cars could be made feasible is if we went to nuclear power plants.

    Probably never, though. If there’s one thing green hipsters excel at, it’s putting what they think sounds good for the environment over what’s demonstrably good for the environment.

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  5. AlexInCT

    I find it hard to understand why the Obama administration is pushing electric cars.

    I don’t. That’s because it is obvious to me that they are doing it so they can then flush hundreds of billions of tax payer dollars down the toilet by giving it to their buddies – like GE and such – who will then turn around and donate big to their campaign coffers. The whole “Green Energy” initiative is nothing but the progressive’s way of subsidizing junk science by their friends in return for huge donations from them. It’s just a different aspect of something like a carbon trading scam.

    There is a reason we should let markets drive thecnology.

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  6. Rann

    I don’t. That’s because it is obvious to me that they are doing it so they can then flush hundreds of billions of tax payer dollars down the toilet by giving it to their buddies – like GE and such – who will then turn around and donate big to their campaign coffers. The whole “Green Energy” initiative is nothing but the progressive’s way of subsidizing junk science by their friends in return for huge donations from them. It’s just a different aspect of something like a carbon trading scam.

    Actually, put like that, it’s more like money laundering.

    While Al Gore’s carbon credits are more of a tax dodge, really…

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  7. Miguelito

    Yeah, if we could magically convert all cars today into electric (or likely even only 5-10% I’d guess) the current national power grid would collapse. It could never support charging all those cars.

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  8. HARLEY

    our national “Power Grid” is largely fractionated and not capable of supporting much more demand.
    Oh but i thing it might be wise to convert commuter cars and buses over to natural gas, we got that by the megaton.

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  9. hist_ed

    I actually considered a NG powered Civic a while back. They didn’t sell them here is the Seattle area, but I could buy one in California and have it shipped up. They set up a NG station in your garage that runs off the house gas-takes a while to fuel, but you can do it overnight. The Civic had a 300 mile range, but my commute is more like 3 miles. We could use the wife’s Pilot for anything long distance. The appeal of never having to go to a gas station almost made me do it then I bought my current car in a mid life crisis impulse (turbo six speed Mazda speed 6).

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