You may have heard of "conflict diamonds", those mined in conflict areas under wartime conditions (theft, murder, genocide, etc.)
Your phone and computer use very small components called capacitors, that are made from an element called tantalum.
Tantalum is mined in the Congo, from a mineral called tantalite, which is found with columbite ("-ite" usually means some sort of mineral).
Tantalite+columbite = coltan, which is just like conflict diamonds in this era.
Rocks are collections of minerals
Minerals are crystals of one or many elements or compounds
Mining is how we get these cool things.
Here's how many minerals a baby born in 2015 (maybe your little sister or brother) will use in their lifetime:
n.b. bauxite is used to create aluminum by sending huge amounts of electricity through it, so there are energy issues here as well...
Ores are metals in their natural state, often coupled with oxygen or another element to make them unusable (Fe2O3 is rust or iron ore, we only want the Fe part)
Smelting: heating alone or with other chemicals to free the metals we want
Combining perfectly isolated metals together creates "alloys" like CrMo or Chrome Molybdenum Steel used in fancy knives, airplane frames and steel bikes.
Pollution from metal production is called "tailings", a word also used for the purification of radioactive materials like Uranium. These tailings are usually very toxic, and not well cared for. When water leaches through them, toxins run downstream, or kill folks outright like just a bit ago in Brazil:
Watch the video here:
Where do we mine this stuff?
How? Two main ways: Strip mining and sub-surface mining:
Another method is open-pit mining, like in Butte, Montana:
Then there's the wonderful "mountain top removal" method:
You may have also heard of "placer mining" which was used in the gold-rush days of 1849 in Sacramento California, and later in the Klondike in Alaska. Here's what that looks like:
Laws, what laws? General Mining Act of 1872 (what? 1872, don't you mean 1972? nope! 1872, in response to the California Gold rush...
Here's where we are headed:
Neodymium is another critical element, used in the magnets in all wind turbines, electric cars and other vehicles, and just about any efficient motor.
China has taken over almost all of the Neodymium mines in the world. How is this a strategic move?
Also, why is China teaching kids in Africa Chinese?
Recycling is key to these limited sources (unless we learn to capture asteroids):
...there's that pesky recycling showing up again...