But Klinger, the expert on illicit minerals tracing, said the only way for a company to be certain to avoid rare earths from Myanmar is to have their supply chain “entirely outside of Myanmar, China and potentially outside Southeast Asia.” She said there are cleaner ways to mine, but they cost more — a huge hurdle in the cutthroat world of commodities.


Mike Coffman, a former congressman who pushed for the original U.S. conflict minerals rules a decade ago, said he would like to see an expansion of the domestic supply of rare earths minerals, which is now before Congress. And U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, introduced a measure this year aimed at reducing U.S. reliance on China for rare earths and other critical minerals.


However, alternatives are still a long way in the future. In 2022, the U.S. and Australian governments both backed domestic rare earths projects with multimillion dollar financing, but facilities are years and tons of metals behind China’s current capacity.


Other countries with rare earths deposits are reluctant to mine them. Greenland’s parliament last year voted to halt a rare earth mining project, and efforts to develop a promising deposit in Sweden stalled because of local objections.


In the meantime, villagers still protest in one area in northern Myanmar where the black cardamom and walnuts grow — for now. Standing in the green mountains under a tree, a villager made it clear why they continue to raise their voices even when there’s been no recourse for others just a few mountains away.


“They are mining rare earth everywhere and we are no longer safe to drink water,” she said. “There is nothing to support the children. Nothing to eat.”