Cobalt’s human cost: Social consequences of green energy 

Posted: December 22, 2021 by oldbrew in Batteries, Big Green, Energy, research
Tags:

Digging for cobalt [image credit: mining.com]


Poverty and grim working conditions — that EV drivers would never tolerate in their own workplaces — don’t sit well under the banner of ‘green’ technology. If it’s like this now, what about the supposedly glorious electric vehicle future if it means ever higher demand for cobalt?
– – –
While driving an electric car has fewer environmental impacts than gasoline-powered cars, the production of the parts necessary for these green technologies can have dire effects on human well-being, says Phys.org.

After studying the impacts of mining cobalt—a common ingredient in lithium-ion batteries—on communities in Africa’s Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), an interdisciplinary team of researchers led by Northwestern University is calling for more data into how emerging technologies affect human health and livelihoods.

Such data can inform policymakers, industry leaders and consumers to make more socially and ethically responsible decisions when developing, funding and using green technologies.

The case study and perspective paper will be published on Dec. 17 in the journal One Earth.

“We have the framework and tools available to compare the environmental costs of automobiles that run on fossil fuels to battery-powered vehicles,” said Northwestern’s Jennifer Dunn, who led the study.

“I can tell you the greenhouse gas emissions per mile for either one. But when it comes to the social effects, we don’t have the same capability for direct comparison. For many engineers, it’s easier to measure or calculate environmental effects than to understand the social conditions in a faraway country that they have never set foot in.”
. . .
Unintended consequences of decarbonization

What Dunn and Young discovered was deeply troubling. They found cobalt mining was associated with increases in violence, substance abuse, food and water insecurity, and physical and mental health challenges.

Community members reported losing communal land, farmland and homes, which miners literally dug up in order to extract cobalt. Without farmland, Congolese people were sometimes forced to cross international borders into Zambia just to purchase food.

“You might think of mining as just digging something up,” Young said. “But they are not digging on vacant land. Homelands are dug up. People are literally digging holes in their living room floors. The repercussions of mining can touch almost every aspect of life.”

Waste generated from mining cobalt and other metals can pollute water, air and soil, leading to decreased crop yields, contaminated food and water, and respiratory and reproductive health issues.

Miners reported that working conditions were unsafe, unfair and stressful. Several workers noted that they feared mineshaft collapses.

Full article here.

Comments
  1. […] Cobalt’s human cost: Social consequences of green energy  […]

  2. Gamecock says:

    ‘Such data can inform policymakers, industry leaders and consumers to make more socially and ethically responsible decisions when developing, funding and using green technologies.’

    Wait . . . I think I see the problem. ‘Policymakers.’ They shouldn’t be making decisions.

  3. oldbrew says:

    make more socially and ethically responsible decisions

    No Congo cobalt = no – or a lot fewer – electric cars? Or clean up the whole act there, pay proper money to the workers and charge even more for the EVs?

    Can’t see China (for example) being keen on any of that. Can anyone correctly say ‘look at my ethically sourced EV’?

  4. Gamecock says:

    Is subsistence farming better than cobalt mining?

    Are these people modern-day colonialists trying to save people from a better life?

  5. oldbrew says:

    Without farmland, Congolese people were sometimes forced to cross international borders into Zambia just to purchase food.

    Their economic weakness is easy to exploit.

  6. Graeme No.3 says:

    What would be the response of a Tesla owner being told he was a slave driver?

  7. JB says:

    What would Nikola have to say about these chariots bearing his name?

    ” an interdisciplinary team of researchers led by Northwestern University”–

    “Many and varied have been the arguments by which the State and its intellectuals have induced
    their subjects to support their rule. Basically, the strands of argument may be summed up as follows: (a) the State rulers are great and wise men (they “rule by divine right,” they are the “aristocracy” of men, they are the “scientific experts”), much greater and wiser than the good but rather simple subjects, and (b) rule by the extent government is inevitable, absolutely necessary, and far better, than the indescribable evils that would ensue upon its downfall.”p23 Anatomy of the State, Rothbard

    “Homelands are dug up. People are literally digging holes in their living room floors.”

    If I were as destitute and in need of survival income, I’d probably tear up my basement. The difference is, I was fortunate enough to eke out an education to consider the consequences of this, and leverage that education into a better solution. When a person lives at near starvation level, and the State has revoked the possibility of exiting poverty by its domination of all facets of life, I would have little care for anything past survival day to day.

    THAT is the true evil behind this kind of mining.

  8. stpaulchuck says:

    “While driving an electric car has fewer environmental impacts than gasoline-powered cars”

    really? how about all the electric generation and distribution?

  9. Gamecock says:

    Chuck, it’s just a begging-the-question fallacy. They throw that out as if it is fact. That is generally sufficient for people educated in government schools.

  10. Chaswarnertoo says:

    Driving a coal fired car is worse than a gas powered one. FTFY.

  11. ivan says:

    And we shouldn’t forget the higher level of particulate matter created by the extra battery weight causing the tyres to wear out faster as well as destroying the road surface.

  12. Gamecock says:

    There is also the issue of fractions.

    When you refine a barrel of crude, you get different fractions. You can vary the process to influence the proportions, but you will still get a general distribution of products.

    SO . . . you want asphalt to build roads for your electric cars? What are you going to do with all the petrol and diesel that is produced? It will be produced, whether you want it or not.

  13. Chaswarnertoo says:

    Green: gullible, easily led, ill informed, naive. Etc.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s