Buying an EV is just part of the task: one of the smallest ones.
When your house is in a complete mess, giving in to dismay does not help. You have to start cleaning somewhere. If you do that alone and live with more people, you may never finish if the other inhabitants do not help. That applies to your house as much as it applies to the world, as Bill Gates and UNCTAD remind us. Buying an electric car will not help without due precautions and affordability.
UNCTAD means United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. It released the report “Commodities at a glance: Special issue on strategic battery raw materials.” This study shows that the push for a world without oil cannot forget that mining what batteries need has to be a clean job as much as possible.
We already have electric mining trucks, but it goes beyond the means to do it. Clean mining also has to do with the impact it provokes. According to UNCTAD, Congo has 50 percent of all cobalt world reserves. Of all the mines there, 20 percent are artisanal, employing children. These mines also see other human rights abuses.
But batteries are getting rid of cobalt, right? What about lithium? Mining it in Chile, which has 58 percent of the world reserves, demands a lot of water at the Salar de Atacama region. If you are not familiar with it, that’s a desertic area. UNCTAD says mining has used 65 percent of the water available there. Families that lived there for centuries are having to move.
Batteries will have to adopt more abundant minerals, such as sulfur, and friendlier techniques to extract these elements. They may also depend on recycling, and there are companies doing a great job at that, like Duesenfeld. That all comes from science. Bill Gates’ text is an appeal for us to let it lead.
He compares the COVID-19 pandemic with global warming and warns the latter may kill even more people than the former. He also reminds us that many doubted a global pandemic could ever emerge and did not take the proper measures to avoid that. You already know what happened, unfortunately.
We are now surrounded by people who think not wearing a mask is a political statement. Who do not believe COVID-19 is killing people or prefer to rely on medicines that do not have evidence-based effects – which is equivalent to saying soft drinks cure whatever. There are even people that think the world is flat...
Gates also warns that there is no point in taking measures to prevent carbon emissions if people can not pay for them everywhere. Using electric cars as an example, it is nice that there are $100,000 EVs for sale, but buying them and expecting this will reduce global warming is like washing your plate and leaving greasy pans and cutlery all over the table.
Electric cars have to be affordable for everyone. When they are, they have to be produced in a way that does not damage the environment. With technology that makes them sensible machines. That’s how Bill Gates’ message applies to mobility.
At the same time, the countries that have the necessary resources for electric mobility need to add value to what they produce. Instead of exporting commodities, why don’t they have the industries that process them? That would create more wealth for families. It would probably prevent children from having to work to help feed their families in developing countries. That’s the message UNCTAD gives with its report.
The answer to that question is that some companies avoid investing in countries that do not offer stability. Some others prefer to keep strategic knowledge within the borders of their homelands. Instead of tackling these issues, the governments of these developing countries act like kids lying on the couch, waiting for their parents to clean everything.
Bill Gates told us that a global pandemic could hit us in 2015, as the TED video above shows. UNCTAD’s warning about the resources needed to build batteries is recent, but there were others before saying the same thing. We can avoid global warming if we listen to them. Sadly, we are more likely to keep on washing our own plates while filth and disease spread where we live.