Chasing Mirages

Tag: dongjiang

Dongjiang Expedition Part 5: Rare earth hell, continued

by on Dec.01, 2013, under Posts

Ganzhou (贛州) in southern Jiangxi (江西) is known as “The Kingdom of Rare Earth“.  It is also a place where the government has tried to cut production and curb illegal mining in recent years.  A useful rule in China is that you can tell what the most pressing issues are in any locality by looking at Communist party slogans.  The one in the picture above reads (approximately) “Illegal rare earth miners are destroyers of our children’s future”.  Another one, of which I was unable to take a picture, read “Illegal rare earth mining will result in immediate torching of all excavation equipment.”

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Dongjiang Expedition Part 5: Rare earth hell

by on Nov.17, 2013, under Posts

China’s rare earth metal production is a complex issue with implications at every scale of governance, from tiny villages to international treaty organizations.  This recent NYTimes article provides a summary of the issue over the last few years.

Our journey into rare earth territory in northern Guangdong and southern Jiangxi provinces reminded me of the wild wild west I had read about as a kid – clandestine mining operations, gun battles between outlaw gangs struggling for territory and even violent clashes between artisanal miners and authorities trying to shut down illegal mines.

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Dongjiang Expedition Part 4: The perils of small hydropower

by on May.23, 2013, under Posts

Small hydropower, roughly defined as having 300 kilowatts to 30 megawatts of electricity generation capacity,  is often lauded as a low environmental impact solution for rural electrification.

In some cases, small hydropower may be useful and sustainable.  However, like large hydropower, its deployment must be planned carefully.  Small hydropower plants with reservoirs cause the same type of damage dealt by larger plants, including flooding of productive land, fragmentation of river ecosystems, and alteration of natural flows.

In-stream hydropower plants, which don’t require reservoirs, generate electricity by diverting water from the natural stream into sloped pipes that lead to turbines.  An important requirement for sustainable operation of in-stream hydropower plants is the maintenance of minimum ecological flow in the natural stream.

The over-deployment and poor planning of small hydropower has irreparably destroyed river ecosystems all over China, and Guangdong Province is no exception.

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Dongjiang Expedition Part 3: Mining – a devil’s bargain

by on Apr.23, 2013, under Posts

Blocked mine shaft, labelled "Safe Production"

One of the most compelling books I’ve read in recent years is Collapse by Jared Diamond.  An important point he makes in the opening chapter is that there is often no way to operate a mine profitably provided that one accounts for all environmental externalities.  A simple example  is when an abandoned mine emits toxic run-off in perpetuity.  If mining companies had to bear the costs of treating this eternal source of pollution, there would be no price at which ore could be profitably sold because such costs would effectively be infinite.  Fortunately for mining companies, these externalities were largely ignored throughout human history and many have made huge profits at the expense of irreparably destroyed ecosystems.

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Dongjiang Expedition Part 2: Growing up in a dump

by on Mar.22, 2013, under Posts

Part 2 of the Dongjiang Expedition series picks up at the same open-air garbage dump from Part 1.

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