The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust
Dozens of pipes line the shore, churning out a torrent of thick, black, chemical waste from the refineries that surround the lake. The smell of sulphur and the roar of the pipes invades my canada goose coats senses. It feels like hell on Earth.
Welcome to Baotou, the largest industrial city in canada goose factory sale Inner Mongolia. I’m here with a group of architects and designers called the Unknown Fields Division, and this is the final stop on a three week long journey up the global supply chain, tracing back the route consumer goods take from China to our shops and homes, via container ships and factories.
canada goose outlet in toronto You may not have heard of Baotou, but the mines and factories here help to keep our modern lives ticking. It is Canada Goose sale one of the world biggest suppliers of earth minerals. These elements can be found in everything from magnets in wind turbines and electric car motors, to the electronic guts of smartphones and flatscreen TVs. In 2009 China produced 95% of the world’s supply of these elements, and it’s estimated that the Bayan Obo mines just north of Baotou contain 70% of the world’s reserves. But, as we would discover, at what cost? canada goose outlet in toronto
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Rare earth minerals have played a key role in the transformation and explosive growth of China’s world beating economy over the last few decades. It’s clear from visiting Baotou that it’s had a huge, transformative impact on the city too. As the centre of this 21st Century gold rush, Baotou feels very much like a frontier town.
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canada goose outlet ontario In 1950, before rare earth mining started in earnest, the city had a population of 97,000. Today, the population is more than two and a half million. There is only one reason for this huge influx of people minerals. As a result Baotou often feels stuck somewhere between a brave new world of opportunity presented by the global capitalism that depends on it, and the fading memories of Communism that still line its Soviet era boulevards. Billboards for expensive American brands stand next to revolution era propaganda murals, as the disinterested faces of Western supermodels gaze down on statues of Chairman Mao. At night, multicoloured lights, glass dyed by rare earth elements, line the larger roads, turning the city into a scene from the movie Tron, while the smaller side streets are filled with drunk, vomiting refinery workers that spill from bars and barbecue joints. canada goose outlet ontario
Even before getting to the toxic lake, the environmental impact canada goose uk outlet the rare earth industry has had on the city is painfully clear. At times it impossible to tell uk canada goose where the vast structure of the Baogang refineries complex ends and the city begins. Massive pipes Canada Goose Outlet erupt from the ground and run along roadways and sidewalks, arching into the air to cross roads like bridges. The streets here are wide, built to accommodate the constant stream of huge diesel belching coal trucks that dwarf all other traffic.
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canada goose outlet shop After it rains they plough, unstoppable, through roads flooded with water turned black by coal dust. They line up by the sides of the road, queuing to turn into one of Baotou canada goose coats on sale many coal burning power stations that sit unsettlingly close to freshly built apartment towers. Everywhere you look, between the half completed tower blocks and hastily thrown up multi storey parking lots, is a forest of flame tipped refinery towers and endless electricity pylons. The air is filled with a constant, ambient, smell of sulphur. It the kind of industrial landscape that America and Europe has largely forgotten at one time parts of Detroit or Sheffield must have looked and smelled like this. canada goose outlet shop
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canada goose outlet miami One of our first visits in the city is to a processing plant that specialises mainly Canada Goose Online in producing cerium, one of the most abundant rare earth minerals. Cerium has a huge number of commercial applications, from colouring glass to making catalytic converters. The guide who shows us around the plant explains that they mainly produce cerium oxide, used to polish touchscreens on smartphones and tablets. canada goose outlet miami
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canada goose outlet in montreal As we are wandering through the factory hangar like rooms, it impossible not to notice that something is missing. Amongst the mazes of pipes, tanks, and centrifuges, there are no people. In fact there no activity at all. Apart from our voices, which echo through the huge sheds, the plant is silent. It very obviously not operating. When asked, our guide tells us the plant is closed for maintenance but there no sign of that either: no maintenance crews, no cleaning or repairs being done. When pushed further our guide gets suspicious, wonders why we are asking so many questions, and clams up. It a behaviour we encounter a lot in Baotou a refusal to answer questions or stray off a strictly worded script. canada goose outlet in montreal
canada goose outlet location As we leave, one of our party who has visited the area before suggests a possible explanation: could local industry be artificially controlling market scarcity of products like cerium oxide, in order to keep rare earth prices high? We can know for sure that this was the case the day we visited. Yet it would not be unprecedented: in 2012, for example, the news agency Xinhua reported that China largest rare earth producer was suspending operations to prevent price drops. canada goose outlet location
canada goose outlet store montreal One of Baotou other main canada goose uk black friday exports is neodymium, another rare earth with a variety of applications. Again it is used to dye glass, especially for making lasers, but perhaps its canada goose clearance sale most important use is in making powerful yet lightweight magnets. Neodymium magnets are used in consumer electronics cheap Canada Goose items such as in ear headphones, cellphone microphones, and computer hard drives. At the other end of the scale they are a vital component in large equipment that requires powerful magnetic fields, such as wind farm turbines and the motors that power the new generation of canada goose store electric cars. We shown around a neodymium magnet factory by a guide who seems more open than our friend at the cerium plant. We even given some magnets to play with. Canada Goose online But again, when our questions stray too far from applications and to production and associated environmental costs, the answers are less forthcoming, and pretty soon the visit is over. canada goose outlet store montreal
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canada goose outlet mississauga The intriguing thing about both neodymium and cerium is cheap canada goose uk that while they called rare earth minerals, they’re actually fairly common. Neodymium is no rarer than copper or nickel and quite evenly distributed throughout the world crust. While China produces 90% of the global market neodymium, only 30% of the world deposits are located there. Arguably, what makes it, and cerium, scarce enough to be profitable are the hugely hazardous and toxic process needed to extract them from ore and to refine them into usable products. For example, cerium is extracted by crushing mineral mixtures and dissolving them in canadagooseoutletjackets.com sulphuric and nitric acid, and this has to be done on a huge industrial scale, resulting in a vast amount of poisonous Canada Goose Jackets Outlet waste as a byproduct. It could be argued that China dominance canadian goose jacket of the rare earth market is less about geology and far more about the country willingness to take an environmental hit that other nations shy away from. canada goose outlet mississauga
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And there no better place to understand China true canada goose sacrifice than the shores of Baotou toxic lake. Apparently created by damming a river and flooding what was once farm land, the lake is a pond a dumping ground for waste byproducts. It takes just 20 minutes to reach the lake by car from the centre of the city, passing through abandoned countryside dominated by the industrial architecture on the horizon. Earlier reports claim the lake is guarded by the military, but we see no sign. We pass a shack that was presumably a guard hut at one point but it abandoned now; whoever was here left in a hurry, leaving their bedding, cooking stove, and instant noodle packets behind when they did.
View image of (Credit: Liam Young/Unknown Fields)
We reached the shore, and looked across the lake. I seen some photos before I left for Inner Mongolia, but nothing prepared me for the sight. It a truly alien environment, dystopian and horrifying. The thought that Canada Goose Parka it is Canada Goose Coats On Sale man made depressed and terrified me, as did the realisation that this was the byproduct not just of the consumer electronics in my pocket, but also green technologies like wind turbines Canada Goose Jackets and electric cars that we get so smugly excited about in the West. Unsure of quite how to react, I take photos and shoot video on my cerium polished iPhone.
canada goose jacket outlet sale You can see the lake on Google Maps, and that hints at the scale. Zoom in far enough and you can make out the dozens of pipes that line the shore. Unknown Fields Liam Young collected some samples of the waste and took it back to canada goose clearance the UK to be tested. clay we collected from the toxic lake tested at around three times background radiation, he later tells me. canada goose jacket outlet sale
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canada goose outlet black friday sale Unknown Fields has an unusual plan for the stuff. are using this radioactive clay to make a series of ceramic vessels modelled on traditional Ming vases, Young explains, proportioned based on the amount of toxic waste produced by the rare earth minerals used in a particular tech gadget. The idea is to illustrate the impact our consumer goods have on the environment, even when that environment might be unseen and thousands of miles away. canada goose outlet black friday sale
canada goose outlet price After seeing the impact of rare earth mining myself, it impossible to view the gadgets I use everyday in the same way. As I watched Apple announce their smart watch recently, a thought crossed my mind: once we made watches with minerals mined from the Earth and treated them like precious heirlooms; now we use even rarer minerals and we’ll want to update them yearly. Technology companies continually urge us to upgrade; to buy the newest tablet or phone. But I cannot forget that it all begins uk canada goose outlet in a place like Bautou, and a terrible toxic lake that stretches to the horizon. canada goose outlet price
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canada goose outlet phone number Read the first two instalments in this series, where Tim Maughan and the Unknown Fields group visits the Chinese city of Yiwu, the real home of Christmas and explore the invisible shipping network that keeps the world buy canada goose jacket cheap running canada goose outlet phone number.