Everyone likes rocks.
You might think you're indifferent to rocks, but you're not. If you’re reading this, you probably have a computer. Do you like your computer? Then you like rocks. You like windows? Rocks. Taking vitamins or health supplements? They probably have rocks in them. Even agriculture needs rocks–most of the ingredients for industrial fertilizer have to come from somewhere. Rocks are great. That’s why this is one of my favorite tweets:
I'm probably going to make some geologists mad because I'm actually talking about minerals, not rocks, but like: rocks are made of minerals and this is kind of a petty thing to get hung up on considering we're actually here to talk about colonialism and computation and and climate change, by way of rocks.
Because a lot of important aspects of whatever we think “the future” might be depend on the rocks:
This overlap of mineral demand also speaks to a lot of things that powerful institutions care about.
Maintaining a steady mineral supply chain is imperative for basically maintaining a data surveillance economy, an all-powerful military industrial complex, and resourcing the power grid.
Over the past decade or so, there’s been public policy type research trying to identify which minerals to focus on securing, an executive order from the president to establish a national strategy for securing minerals, a fucking bonkers proposal from Erik Prince to basically East India Company-ify Afghanistan for its minerals, and there’s a current World Bank initiative that’s focused on what it calls “Climate Smart Mining”–which, as far as I understand it, is the World Bank is underwriting some of the costs of developing new mining projects for energy critical minerals so that mining companies will go into what they think of as “high risk” areas to develop projects (which doesn’t seem to have much to do with like, actually helping or supporting people who live in the so-called high risk places).
A lot of NGO campaigning and media coverage tends to fetishize really specific minerals in the critical minerals narratives, treating individual mining regions like little snow-globes of suffering (thanks to Daniel Aldana Cohen for that phrasing) disconnected from a larger geopolitical legacies of extraction and impacts of climate change. It means that the "solutions" proposed are mostly about mitigating consumer guilt or securing the propagation of a racist, fascist military regime more than they are about meaningfully helping miners or factory employees or the environment as a whole.
So this is a newsletter that tries to get into some of that stuff that’s absent from the snowglobe-y narratives.
What kinds of things will the newsletter send me?
Explainer-y material about topical minerals and policy stuff (partly as needed, also can be done on request
Essays on more archival and historical stuff
If my cool mineral research friends/crushes will let me, interviews with them on their work
A weekly minerals news links roundup
Why are you doing this?
For the last few years I’ve been circling around a lot of topics related to technology and the environment. I’ve been pretty bad at sharing that material, anxiously trying to figure out how to make it a book. A book seemed more substantial than getting paid $750 per piece (if I’m lucky) for turning the research into freelance articles or submitting to months of GRE prep to get to do two years of MA coursework in a PhD program to get permission to turn research I’m already doing into a dissertation.
Then a pandemic happened and uh, the publishing industry is in free-fall and honestly, I’m not sure I’m emotionally prepared to pursue all the hoop-jumping of a book deal knowing that mediocre dudes with mediocre book proposals were out here for years getting six-figure deals and I’ll be lucky to get like, half of that for this work! I might as well just put it out there myself and see if people will contribute to support it. Maybe it becomes a book later, maybe not! Honestly, I’m not sure I care about that anymore. I just want people to learn about and think about mineral supply chains and technology and colonialism, and this is one way to do it.