President Biden and followers are proposing to spend billions of dollars on clean energy production, and research and development of renewable energy. One of Biden’s goals is to have 50% of all vehicles sold by 2030 be electric. Let’s look at the reality of achieving this.
Energy and Tech Expert, Mark Mills, in his 2020 report: Mines, Minerals, and “Green” Energy: A Reality Check, puts clean energy proposals in perspective. “Building wind turbines and solar panels to generate electricity, as well as batteries to fuel electric vehicles, requires…10 times the quantity of materials, compared with building machines using hydrocarbons to deliver the same amount of energy…”
Mills explains, “An electric car battery weighing 1,000 pounds requires extracting and processing some 500,000 pounds of materials.” “Such a battery typically contains about 25 pounds of lithium, 30 pounds of cobalt, 60 pounds of nickel, 110 pounds of graphite, 90 pounds of copper, about 400 pounds of steel, aluminum, and various plastic components.”
The minerals, lithium and cobalt, are extracted and processed in other countries, resulting in child labor, human casualties, water shortages, and environmental devastation.
Lithium, for example, must be mined through evaporation ponds called salar brines. Over half of the world’s lithium is under salt flats in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. For every metric ton of lithium pumped and extracted, 500,000 gallons of water is needed in the process. Mining and refining lithium has polluted or depleted community water supplies near mining sights. In Chile, 65% of the region’s water goes toward lithium mining, which has affected vegetation and livestock for indigenous people. The Institute of Energy Research, confirmed a toxic chemical leak in 2016 from a Tibetan lithium mine which resulted in thousands of dead fish, cows, and yaks floating downstream the Lichu River.
Over half of the world’s supply of Cobalt comes from hand dug mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, where more than 40,000 impoverished children, as young as 9 years old, are forced into labor. According to UNICEF, hundreds, if not thousands of children risk being injured in cave-ins, mine accidents, or exposed to toxic dust, just to earn a meager existence. Mined cobalt is rinsed in river water, exposing workers and the entire downstream community to sulfur minerals and sulfuric acid. According to the Washington Post (2016), these metals have been linked to thyroid conditions, breathing problems, and birth defects.
Currently, U.S. public land sites with vast mineral reserves are being identified, as the demand for copper and lithium reach record levels. Thacker Pass, Nevada, located in the northwest corner of the state, is home to one of the world’s largest lithium assets. Rosemount Copper mine site in Southeast Arizona near Tucson and the Santa Rita Mountains, is another. Both operations are contested by residents and environmentalists who value these habitat areas.
The transition to renewables will require a dramatic increase in the extraction of metals and rare-earth minerals here or abroad that have real financial, ecological and human costs.
Lynda Boudreau lives in Faribault. She represented the area in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1995-2004.