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Black sludge is pumped into a toxic lake — byproducts of the ingredients that make up most of our technology. Picture: Liam Young/Unknown Fields. Source: Supplied
LYING hidden in an little-known corner of China is a town that will horrify you.
Baotou is the world’s biggest supplier of rare earth minerals — the fundamental ingredients used to make today’s technologies — and it’s hell on Earth. This pastureland turned wasteland on the edge of the Gobi desert is a toxic nightmare, evidence of the horrific effect the pursuit of consumerism has had on Earth. A recent exploration of the area was undertaken by designers Liam Young and Kate Davies from Unknown Fields, a nomadic design studio from London that travels around the world to explore the sacrifices made on our landscape to produce contemporary cities and technologies.
The toxic lake sits on the outskirts of town with dangerous radioactive levels. Picture: Liam Young/Unknown Fields. Source: Supplied
The Baotou coal mine is just one of the many industries relied on by the town and the world. Picture: Liam Young/Unknown Fields. Source: Supplied
“Huge areas of the world are sacrificed in the service of our shining gleaming futures,” says Young. “The landscapes we visit are so often ignored or forgotten yet they play a fundamental role in shaping our world. We think it is important travel to these places, to tell stories about them and think about the opportunities and consequences they suggest for how we design today.” In 1950 Baotou had a population of just 97,000. However the mining for rare earth minerals led to a population explosion and today there are 2.5 million people living and breathing the lucrative industry. China produces over 95 per cent of the world’s rare earth minerals and two thirds of this comes from Baotou. “For example a smart phone has 8 different rare earths in it. Everything from the material used in its memory to the red coloured pixels of its screen and the polish used on its glass. They are also fundamental ingredients in what we talk of as green energy industries, for example, wind turbines are one of the largest consumers of neodymium magnets,” says Young. The rare earth industry has transformed Baoutou and the devastating environmental impacts are clear.
Farmland has been turned into a toxic lake just outside of the town. Picture: Liam Young/Unknown Fields. Source: Supplied _________________ Il n’y a point de génie sans un grain de folie