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Could the Cook Islands Hold the Key to Our Critical Mineral Future?

Humans have endlessly found new and more efficient ways to use energy. From trapping the wind in sails to burning wood, coal, and oil in furnaces to building solar arrays, humanity does more, more efficiently, every year.

That will be true in the 21st Century as well, as we enjoy energy from new sources with fewer and fewer emissions. But to keep the progress going, we will also need to tap new sources of raw materials. 

>>>READ: All of the Above on Energy Requires the Critical Minerals Below

The growing economy requires a steady supply of the critical minerals that are needed to manufacture products including cell phones, batteries, airplanes, solar panels, satellites, and military technology. Today, the overwhelming majority (80%) of these minerals are mined in China. 

That is dangerous for several reasons. 

First, it threatens international competitiveness. Because China controls these vital minerals, it can deploy them to reward friendly countries or punish any countries that stand up against it. Does your government oppose China’s quest to conquer Taiwan? Then Beijing may cut off your ability to make batteries or wind turbines. 

Second, it creates long supply chains, which endanger many sectors of our economy. We should not allow any country to have this kind of power, and especially not a potential U.S. competitor like China. As we move toward an energy future built on clean energy sources, America’s supply chain must be less reliant on China and more reliant on ourselves and key allies.

The economy or the climate? Why not both?

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Finally, mining in China harms the environment. Many of the country’s mines are powered by the dirtiest coal and operate under very poor environmental standards. China also uses slave labor in many of its provinces. That is unfair to the enslaved people in those provinces. We shouldn’t reward Chinese aggression by continuing to be overly reliant on their resources.

To reduce the planet’s reliance on China we need to find new sources of rare earths. Fortunately, there is already a plentiful source, just waiting to be scooped up, rather than mined. That means we can have the minerals we need, with less collateral damage to the environment. We just need to look to the deep sea bed deserts of the Pacific Ocean.

>>>READ: Deep Sea Extraction Can Provide the Rare Earth Minerals We Need

I was honored recently to meet Prime Minister Mark Brown of the Cook Islands. We talked about the incredible critical mineral resources that exist in nodules on the floor of the Pacific Ocean’s deep-sea deserts off the Cook Islands, where no marine life can even exist. Yet the key to our critical minerals’ future lay on the floor just waiting to be sustainably harvested.

His country is eager to tap this source of minerals, while also protecting the environment. 

“To the Cook Islands the ocean is central to life and is valued for many reasons, including transport, fishing, recreation, tourism and its spiritual and cultural significance. It is also rich in resources, specifically seabed mineral deposits such as polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulphides and cobalt rich crusts,” the country says. “The Cook Islands actively encourages the development of these mineral resources and are the first nation to promulgate legislation specifically covering subsea mining by establishing the Mineral Seabed Authority and enacting the Seabed Mineral Act of 2009.”

Unlike mining, which requires digging, we only need to collect or “harvest” the nodules from the desert floor of the deep seabed. So no digging and no disrupting marine life. Just sustainably harvesting these nodules that hold the key to our critical minerals’ future.

The opportunity for us is huge. Much like how natural gas fracturing innovation turned the United States from an energy-dependent importer into an energy-abundant exporter, harvesting critical minerals off the Cook Islands could turn us from being dependent on China for our critical minerals to being critical minerals independent and secure.

The United States and our allies have been ignoring our over-dependence on critical minerals from China for too long. It’s time we change course, and the Cook Islands just might hold the key to a more secure and sustainable critical minerals future.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.

Copyright © 2020 Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions

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