By: Emilia MacDonald
Edited by: Elizabeth Clarke
It seems that everywhere I turn, I am faced with the idea of “green” electric cars. I see them everywhere–from the Tesla sitting in my elderly neighbor’s driveway, to students at my sister’s highschool driving around the city. Yet I am constantly asking myself: does the public perception of electric vehicles actually match the truth behind the human and environmental cost incurred by these vehicles? Or is the fact that these consequences far outweigh any commercial vehicle’s cost known only by those benefiting from their sale?
There is a highly pushed narrative both in the media and in the minds of consumers that electric vehicles and their batteries are far better for the environment than the traditional gas powered vehicles. I started with the breakdown of the main component of electric vehicles: lithium batteries. Now it’s important to recognize that the use of lithium batteries is mainly centered around the West, particularly in North America.
The issue with lithium batteries lies in their product life, beginning in their production and ending in their disposal. The mining process has untold environmental and human impacts, leading to contaminated water and high levels of toxic pollution that harm local wildlife and contaminant the ecosystem surrounding the mines. Later on, when lithium batteries build up in landfills and other disposal sites, they begin to leak toxins and heavy metals into the ground, which not only contaminate soil and groundwater, but also increase and extend the lifetime of wildfires in the area.
Unfortunately, it is not just the disposal of lithium that carries a heavy price. Lithium is mostly mined in the so-called ‘lithium triangle’ consisting of Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. This mining process requires approximately 65% of the region’s available water. In Argentina, mining corporations fail to consult the local Indigenous communities when it comes to the projects that take place on their land, as well as failing to highlight the impact these projects will have on the local environment.
These batteries not only require lithium, but also materials such as cobalt. Cobalt is mainly found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but this mining process holds incredibly high environmental prices including the release of sulfuric acid, which will contaminate local water sources and all that lives within the bodies of water. Aside from the environmental cost, there is a high human impact when it comes to the mining of cobalt. In a 2016 investigation in the DRC, it was discovered that there was an incredibly common practice of employing child labour within the hand dug mines of the region.
The electric vehicle industry has failed to be regulated or have any consequences to their actions since their conception. More regulations must be enforced to protect laborers and the environment if the electric vehicle industry ever plans on meeting the ‘green’ standards that these large corporations are projecting. In the meantime, consumers have to be realistic and cease buying into the ‘greenwashing’ of these organizations that seek to misguide the public on the impact of lithium ion batteries, and become aware of the true human price of the electric vehicle industry.
Amnesty challenges industry leaders to clean up their batteries. (2019, March 21). Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/press-release/2019/03/amnesty-challenges-industry-leaders-to-clean-up-their-batteries/
IER. (2023, May 11). Environmental Impacts of Lithium-Ion Batteries. IER. https://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/renewable/environmental-impacts-of-lithium-ion-batteries/
Reinhard, J. (2023). Argentine Mining Exports Hit 10-Year High As Lithium Take Off. Datamar News. Retrieved October 20, 2023, from https://www.datamarnews.com/noticias/argentine-mining-exports-hit-10-year-high-as-lithium-take-off/.
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