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Green Energy May Not Be So Green After All

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Your “green energy” may not be so green after all: rare earth elements used in solar panels and wind turbines are highly polluting.

Renewable energy is taking the world by storm, as “greenies” everywhere welcome with open arms the latest iterations of solar panels, wind turbines, and other “clean” energy alternatives to traditional fossil fuels like coal. But one of the things that many people who believe in “green energy” fail to realize is that many of their favorite technologies require the use of so-called rare earth minerals and other elements that involve dirty mining and slave-like labor conditions.


A bulk of the world’s rare earth elements (REEs) comes from two places: China and Africa. Chinese REEs account for 95 percent of the world’s supply, and reports indicatethat the situation isn’t pretty. Not only is the extraction of these minerals the exact opposite of “green” and “clean,” but the folks tasked with performing the labor – and those who end up encountering much of the polluting byproducts – represent some of the world’s most vulnerable.


There are two general classifications for REEs: The “light” variety and the “heavy” variety. Both categories include elements that are used in things like energy-saving light bulbs, wind turbines, solar panels, hybrid vehicles and their various automotive catalysts, rechargeable batteries, defense technologies, and smartphones. And both varieties are said to take a heavy, and often highly toxic, toll on soils and the environment.

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