The World Today for May 21, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

WORLD

Precious and Few

People around the world are stressing out over rare earth metals.

As Britannica.com explained, rare earth metals are 17 similar heavy metals that are vital to modern technology, from cars to computers to mobile devices to MRI imaging.

Their utility has made rare earth metals a strategic issue for governments around the world. Specifically, to the “consternation” of Western leaders, China has over the decades come to dominate the rare earths sector, the Financial Post reported.

“US dependence on China for rare earth minerals is a disaster waiting to happen,” was a recent op-ed headline in the Hill. The piece noted that the US imports 80 percent of its supply of rare earth metals from China. The total market for the substances was on track to grow from $8.1 billion in 2018 to $14.4 billion through 2025.

Former President Donald Trump helped cultivate more American capacity to produce the metals. Scientists have also made discoveries about how they are formed, building a foundation for potential artificially produced rare earths in the future, reported the Irish Times.

Advocates for expanding America’s capacity to mine these metals should be careful about what they wish for, however.

Extracting rare earth metals is a messy process that China has brought to scale to nearly corner the market, Marketplace reported. The US was once the leader in mining the metals but fell behind after adopting environmental rules that, while beneficial, helped the business migrate to China where the rules were laxer.

That’s one reason that rare earth producers are negotiating a single global environmental standard for their industry, wrote Reuters. They are under pressure from companies whose customers demand sustainable products. China, for example, has closed more than 1,300 heavy metal production facilities in the last five years due to soil pollution.

President Joe Biden has a plan to create new supply chains that would give the US more flexibility while reducing the country’s dependence on China, NBC News reported. The approach takes a page from Japan, as Quartz noted.

Analysts have also called on new rules to mandate the recycling of electronics and other devices that contain the metals, according to the Guardian. Rather than jockeying internationally for these resources, governments could be recycling the metals that are now thrown away. If industries keep mining, using and then dumping, the world could encounter shortages within 20 years, they say.

That’s still a ways off but it could spell the beginning of the end to the lives many of us are now used to.

WANT TO KNOW

LEBANON

Go Back

Groups of angry Lebanese clashed with Syrian expatriates and refugees heading to the Syrian embassy in Beirut to cast their ballots for next week’s symbolic presidential elections in Syria, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

The attackers, many of them from the Christian right-wing Lebanese Forces group, expressed outrage over what they perceive as an organized vote for President Bashar Assad.

There are no official reports about injuries.

Thursday’s clash highlights the issue of Syrian migrants and refugees in the country, many of whom have moved to neighboring Lebanon following the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

Lebanon is home to over one million Syrians: Calls for Syrians to return have become a widely politicized issue in the nation of nearly seven million.

Meanwhile, Assad – who has been in power since 2000 – is running for a fourth seven-year term, in a poll that all but guarantees his reelection. The exiled opposition and Western nations have denounced the vote as a sham.

Despite the ongoing conflict, Bashar has been able to hold onto power with Russian and Iranian support.

The Syrian civil war has killed around half a million people and displaced millions more.

ANTARCTICA

Natural Split

A giant chunk of ice broke off from Antarctica and floated into the Weddell Sea this week to become the largest iceberg in the world, Al Jazeera reported Thursday.

The European Space Agency said that the iceberg, called A-76, separated from the western side of Antarctica’s Ronne Ice Shelf, which is near the base of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Size-wise, the ice chunk was nearly 1,700 square miles, making it slightly larger than the Spanish island of Mallorca.

Scientists explained that Ronne is one of the largest floating ice sheets that connect to the continent’s landmass and extends out into the surrounding seas. They noted that this particular calving was not related to climate change, adding that periodic breaking up of ice shelves is part of a natural cycle.

However, some ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula have undergone rapid disintegration in recent years, which scientists believe may be related to global warming, according to CBS News.

In the last few years, researchers have become alarmed at several areas in Antarctica which are showing signs of instability due to a warming climate and shifting ocean and atmospheric currents.

CHINA

Till Court Do Us Part

Divorces in China fell by 70 percent after the announcement of a mandatory “cooling-off” law, following government concern over hasty splits, reported CNN.

According to the country’s Ministry of Civil Affairs, the number of registered divorces this year decreased to 296,000 from 1.06 million in the last quarter of 2020.

The reduction comes after a contentious law was introduced on January 1 requiring couples that register for a divorce to wait 30 days. Couples can withdraw the application during that period or reapply at the end of the month for their divorce certificate.

Divorces have been on the rise in recent years with wives initiating more than 70 percent of them, writes the All-China Women’s Federation, according to CNN.

The government introduced the new policy in response to rising “impulsive” divorces and falling birth rates in the country to promote social order and family values, and especially shore up the birthrate.

Other nations like France and the United Kingdom also have cooling-off periods, in their case, two and six weeks respectively.

However, the Chinese law has been criticized for restricting personal freedoms and potentially trapping individuals in an unhappy or violent marriage.

Meanwhile, there was considerable backlash this week against plans to suspend divorce applications on May 20 or “Chinese Valentine’s Day,” which were ultimately reversed by complaints online.

Although individuals can sue for divorce in cases of domestic abuse, receiving a decision in this type of proceeding takes much longer than registering to dissolve the marriage.

About 66 percent of divorce cases were dismissed on the first hearing, found a report from China’s Supreme People’s Court in 2018.

“Divorce cases usually last for at least six months, while more complicated cases could last one or two years,” Chen Jiaji, a divorce lawyer in Shanghai told a local news outlet.

DISCOVERIES

An Early Start

A team of geologists recently discovered that Earth’s continental crust is older than previously established, with important implications for understanding the conditions in which primitive life began, the European Geosciences Union reported.

The first emergence and persistence of the continental crust on Earth was during the Archaean period, almost four billion years ago.

Scientists usually analyze marine carbonates found in ancient rocks, to study prehistoric weathering. Previous studies have used strontium isotopes in carbonates, but these are usually scarce or altered in rocks older than three billion years.

In a recent study, researchers relied on the barite mineral to better measure the first emergence of old rocks. Barite holds a very rich record of ocean chemistry and is useful for reconstructing ancient environments.

“So in essence, it is really a great recorder to look at processes on the early Earth,” said lead author Desiree Roerdink.

Roerdink’s team studied six different barite deposits on three different continents, ranging from about 3.2 billion to 3.5 billion years old.

Their findings showed that the planet’s weathering began around 3.7 billion years ago – about 500 million years earlier than previously thought.

The authors explained that the early start suggests important “implications for the way that we think about how life evolved.”

“We don’t really know if it is possible that life could have developed at the same time on land, but then that land has to be there,” added Roerdink.

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 33,056,860 (+0.09%)
  2. India: 26,031,991 (+1.01%)
  3. Brazil: 15,894,094 (+0.52%)
  4. France: 5,979,099 (+0.01%)
  5. Turkey: 5,160,423 (+0.18%)
  6. Russia: 4,917,906 (+0.19%)
  7. UK: 4,471,065 (+0.06%)
  8. Italy: 4,178,261 (+0.14%)
  9. Germany: 3,640,687 (+0.35%)
  10. Spain: 3,631,661 (+0.16%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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