Just outside the heavily polluted industrial city of Baotou, Inner Mongolia, surrounded by smokestacks, lies a lake with no name.
At this time of year the lake bed freezes into waves of solid mud. In summer, locals say, it oozes a viscous, red liquid. It is a “tailing lake”, where toxic rare earth elements from a mine 100 miles away are stored for further processing.
Seepage from the lake has poisoned the surrounding farmland. “The crops stopped growing after being watered in these fields,” said Wang Cun Gang, a farmer. The local council paid villagers compensation for loss of income. “They tested our water and concluded that neither people nor animals should drink it, nor is it usable for irrigation.”
This is the price Chinese peasants are paying for the low carbon future. Rare earths, a class of metallic elements that are highly reactive, are essential for the next generation of “green” technologies. The battery in a Toyota Prius car contains more than 22lb of lanthanum. Low-energy lightbulbs need terbium. The permanent magnets used in a 3 megawatt wind turbine use 2 tons of neodymium and other rare earths.
In small workshops near Baotou, workers wearing no protective clothing watch over huge vats of acid and other chemicals, steam rising from rusty pipes, as they stir and bag toxic liquids and powders, turning the rare earth elements into compounds and oxides for further processing into batteries and magnets. Wearing no masks, they breathe air heavy with fumes and dust and handle chemicals without gloves.
A thousand miles to the southeast, in Jiangxi province, the extraction process is more damaging. Green hills are studded with makeshift plants which pump acid into the earth. Last September villagers in Pitou county blocked lorries carrying chemicals and picketed the council, angry that their fields had been ruined.
“We farm rice but cannot harvest anything any more,” said a woman, who was afraid to give her name because her husband is still in prison for protesting. “Fruit trees don’t bear fruit any more. Fish die in the river. We used to wash in the river and lots of fish would come to us, but there are none left. Even the weeds died.”
Officially the polluting plants have been closed down, but villagers say they still operate at night, under armed guard, with the collusion of local Communist party leaders who help mafia bosses keep the lucrative trade going.
Yep here we have it, a darker shade of green
Those shiny turbines we are buying from the Chinese, now the largest manufacturer of them and also country which controls 95% of rare earth production.
Result in huge environmental damage, one needs to dig huge amounts of ore to extract small amounts of rare earth (hence the name rare), an energy intensive process which uses mostly dirty coal generate energy.
We are effectively exporting our pollution to China, I wonder what do the environmentalists here have to say about this darker side of "green" technologies ...
another article here
and another from same city