The United Nations has put out a warning that the surge in demand for electric vehicles (EVs) has caused human rights abuse and environmental damage in mining for rare earth metals used in batteries.
Rare Earth Metals
Making batteries efficient and power-dense requires rare earth metals and minerals like cobalt and lithium. While they can be found in a variety of places, much of the world’s production is done in a few developing nations with a long record of human rights offenses and lack of respect for the environment.
Congo and Chile
According to UNICEF, two-thirds of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and 20% of its output comes from artisanal mines, where up to 40,000 children work in dangerous and unhealthy conditions for almost no pay.
In Chile, lithium mining uses up to 65% of the fresh water in the Salar de Atamaca region and damages the local environment.
These human and environmental costs are usually ignored, by environmentalists, politicians, and the EV industry. By posting a warning about these abuses, the United Nations is trying to instigate a much-needed debate about the dark side of environmental pet projects.
One Drop of Oil
The rush to electric vehicles does not make sense from an economic, environmental, or human rights perspective. It is based on the extreme and irrational notion that even one drop of oil is evil. The alternative that makes the most sense is the plug-in hybrid. It combines all the advantages of the electric vehicle and the ordinary gasoline-based car. Plug-ins typically have a battery one-fifth the size of a pure EV. They, therefore, have an 80% less damaging impact on the environment and abusive mining practices.
The hybrid gives a range of about 30 miles, which is sufficient for the daily needs of 95% of urban traffic. On the rare occasion that one needs to travel further, the hybrid kicks in to its gasoline mode, allowing the same kind of range as ordinary cars. With its much smaller battery, no special charger is needed. You can plug it into an ordinary socket. Since it operates as an EV in urban settings, it eliminates smog and reduces noise.
Hybrids also have a far smaller carbon footprint than electric vehicles, because mining rare earth metals for batteries demands a lot of fossil fuels. The only disadvantage of hybrids is that they are currently more expensive than gasoline cars. The main reason for this, however, is a lack of research and development. It is pure EVs that have been prioritized and subsidized by politicians.
If car manufacturers were as serious about plug-in hybrid development as they are about EVs, plug-ins could completely dominate the market. However, the current fetish for EVs, accompanied by massive subsidization, is standing in the way of progress.
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