Whether you realize it or not, your smartphone-toting, hybrid car-driving, neon light-gazing would be impossible without the cooperation from China, our fickle friends on the other side of the planet. These and other modern technologies are powered in part by 17 rare earth-metals which, as the name implies, are hard to come by. Rare earth-metals aren't actually that rare; they're about as plentiful in the Earth's crust as any other element in the periodic table. However, everywhere in the world except in China, they are difficult to mine. So, much to America's chagrin, China controls 97 percent of these minerals. On Monday, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced a new goverment association that will regulate and promote the processing and export of rare earth-metals.
The move is an apparent rebuttal to the formal complaint with regards to China's restricting exports of rare-earth metals that President Obama filed with the World Trade Organization in partnership with the European Union and Japan less than a month ago. It's unclear how the new government agency will regulate rare earth-metal exports. Nevertheless, the event provides a good opportunity to take a step back and put into context exactly how desperately we might might miss these natural resources should China decide to clamp down on access further. If you're still confused about why this is becoming such a hot international and environmental issue, we've pulled together the uses of the top nine rare earth-metals, and we bet you'd miss them if they were gone.