Driving an electric car has been heralded as a moral virtue and, of late, the solution to record-high gas prices.
There's certainly a benefit from curbing air pollution, but the question is, at what cost?
In a column highlighted by Powerline blogger John Hinderaker, engineer and energy expert Ronald Stein examines the source of the power and the materials in batteries. He concludes EVs are bad for the environment, and serious ethical questions are raised by the conditions under which the materials are mined.
Stein argues in a column titled "Is it ethical to purchase a lithium battery powered EV?" that entire mountains are eliminated by just one lithium supply mine.
"Each mine usually consists of thirty-five to forty humongous 797 Caterpillar haul trucks along with hundreds of other large equipment," he writes. "Each 797 uses around half a million gallons of diesel a year. So, with an inventory of just thirty-five the haul trucks alone are using 17.5 million gallons of fuel a year for just one lithium site."
A typical EV battery, Stein notes, weighs 1,000 pounds, contains 25 pounds of lithium, 60 pounds of nickel, 44 pounds of manganese, 30 pounds of cobalt, 200 pounds of copper and 400 pounds of aluminum, steel and plastic. Inside are over 6,000 individual lithium-ion cells.
"It should concern you that all those toxic components come from mining," he writes. "For instance, to manufacture each EV auto battery, you must process 25,000 pounds of brine for the lithium, 30,000 pounds of ore for the cobalt, 5,000 pounds of ore for the nickel, and 25,000 pounds of ore for copper. All told, you dig up 500,000 pounds of the earth’s crust for just one battery."
Stein is the author of the 2021 book "Clean Energy Exploitations: Helping Citizens Understand the Environmental and Humanity Abuses That Support Clean Energy."
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Stein argues that fossil fuels are vastly cleaner, partly because they are so efficient.
And once the mining and consequent environmental degradation are complete, electric vehicles in reality run overwhelmingly on fossil fuels and nuclear power.
An EV, after all, doesn't make electricity, it only stores electricity that is produced elsewhere. And the sources primarily are coal, uranium, natural gas-powered plants and occasionally the wind and the sun.
"So, to say an EV is a zero-emission vehicle is not at all valid as 80 percent of the electricity generated to charge the batteries is from coal, natural gas, and nuclear," writes Stein.
In effect, 20% of the EVs on the road are powered by coal, 40% by natural gas and 20% by nuclear power.
Hinderaker adds that the extraordinary volume of mining needed to produce electric vehicles not only is "environmentally disastrous," it also carries "large human costs."
The cobalt that is needed for every electric vehicle comes mostly from the Congo, where the United Nations Children’s Fund estimates 40,000 children are working in cobalt mines.
And Hinderaker emphasizes that the solar panels that produce some of the energy stored in EV batteries are mostly produced by slave labor in China.
"And, for what it’s worth, Chinese solar panels are produced with coal-fired power plants."
"Green" energy is a catastrophically bad idea. I think many people understand that wind and solar power and electric vehicles are economically ruinous, but when we also take into account environmental degradation and child and slave labor, one can seriously question whether it is immoral to buy an electric car.
See a CBS News report on cobalt mining in Congo:
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