'The Sacrifice Zone': Myanmar bears cost of green energy

This 2022 satellite image provided by Planet Labs shows rare earth mining pools northwest of Myitkyina, Kachin, Myanmar near the border with China. In the wake of rare earth element mining, an AP investigation has found environmental destruction, the theft of land from villagers and the funneling of money to brutal militias with links to Myanmar's secretive military government. (Planet Labs via AP)

The birds no longer sing, and the herbs no longer grow. The fish no longer swim in rivers that have turned a murky brown. The animals do not roam, and the cows are sometimes found dead.

The people in this northern Myanmar forest have lost a way of life that goes back generations. But if they complain, they, too, face the threat of death.

This forest is the source of several key metallic elements known as rare earths, often called the vitamins of the modern world. Rare earths now reach into the lives of almost everyone on the planet, turning up in everything from hard drives and cellphones to elevators and trains. They are especially vital to the fast-growing field of green energy, feeding wind turbines and electric car engines. And they end up in the supply chains of some of the most prominent companies in the world, including General Motors, Volkswagen, Mercedes, Tesla and Apple.