by Mike Colagrossi
July 29 2019
Our clean energy
needs to be sourced responsibly
right from the
Clean technologies rely on a wide range of metals sourced from
Mineral extraction damages local communities and environments,
destroying cultures and biodiversity in the process.
Human rights and conservationist efforts are put at risk due to
The many consequences of
climate change are innumerable.
Most of the
civilized world understands that we need to put forth new,
alternative solutions of generating energy to curb our greenhouse
Paris Agreement, for instance, set an ambitious global goal to
limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degree Celsius)
by transitioning away from fossil fuels into renewables.
new extensive research report (Responsible
Minerals Sourcing for Renewable Energy) by the environmental non-profit
Earthworks has found that this shift into a fossil fuel-free economy
comes with its own set of egregious societal and conservationist
The blind rush to get "100 percent" renewable energy usage will get
us nowhere. It's the same industrialist mindset that got us into
We need to approach this next energy wave with caution
Renewable energy transition
Clean technologies require a wide variety of rare earth metals and
other minerals, mostly including,
electric cars makeup the biggest driver of
Study co-author, Elsa Dominish, remarks that,
"A rapid increase in
demand for metals for renewable energy... could lead to mining of
marginal or unconventional resources, which are often in more remote
or biodiverse places."
Many of these areas rich in minerals are remote wilderness, which
have yet to be touched by any commercial endeavor.
"The transition toward a renewable energy and transport system
requires a complex mix of metals - such as copper, cobalt, nickel,
rare earths, lithium, and silver - many of which have only
previously been mined in small amounts," states Earthworks' report,
in reference to the supply chains of the 14 most important minerals
used in renewable energy production.
Payal Sampat, director of
Earthworks' Mining Program, sees this as a
crucial time to focus on the core aspects of what an environmental
movement should be focusing on.
"We have an opportunity, if we act now, to ensure that our emerging
clean energy economy is truly clean - as well as just and
equitable - and not dependent on dirty mining.
As we scale up clean
energy technologies in pursuit of our necessarily ambitious climate
goals, we must protect community health, water, human rights, and
Under the supposition that all of human society would use 100
percent renewable energy by 2050, researchers charted out what other
aspects of the environment would be affected as we attempted to
reach this goal.
The study explores the impacts that mining has on human society and
culture, as well as the potential for even greater losses of
With a world running completely on renewables, the metal
requirements would be astronomical. The only way you're going to
feed this need is by opening up more mines worldwide.
our unsustainable mining practices, we'll be doing more harm than
Large scale commercial strip mining of forests, slave labor, and
ecological destruction would all be necessary to feed our current
Industrialism is the problem
Mineral extraction levies an incredible cost on the communities and
ecological landscape of a place.
Material mined for renewable energy
fuels the violation of human rights, pollutes local water sources,
and often destroys wildlife.
Cobalt, which is the most important component of rechargeable
batteries, is mined in the
Democratic Republic of Congo, often by
dangerous working conditions.
The authors of the report
found that cobalt is the "metal of most concern for supply risks,"
as 60 percent of its production occurs in Congo, a country with an
abysmal record of human and environmental catastrophes.
Amnesty International found that more than two dozen major
electronics and automotive companies were failing to ensure that
their supply chains of cobalt didn't include child labor.
blamed both Congolese officials and Western tech companies for
ignoring the problems endemic to their supply chain.
and dangerous cobalt mining is a global problem.
According to the
report, China's Congo Dongfang International Mining (CDM) owns
exclusive rights to one quarter of the cobalt ore, of which the
mines it flows from all employ child labor.
"The renewable energy transition will only be sustainable if it
ensures human rights for the communities where the mining to supply
renewable energy and battery technologies takes place," said
Sustainability and conservation
At present, write the authors,
"Reducing the environmental and
social impacts of supply is not a major focus of the renewable
In order for there to be a potential solution to
all of this, there must be a convergence of different industries
within the environmentalist movement.
The recognition of renewable
energy companies with conservationists, in particular, needs to be
at the forefront.
If manufacturers commit to responsible sourcing this will encourage
more mines to engage in responsible practices and certification.
There is also an urgent need to invest in recycling and reuse
schemes to ensure the valuable metals used in these technologies are
recovered, so only what is necessary is mined," states the report.
Recycling sources will be one way to mitigate demand, but this won't
stop new mining developments from popping up in fragile wildlife
This is why responsible sourcing needs to be the next best
step if these mines are going to be created, anyhow.