Our clean energy needs to be sourced responsibly right from the get-go.
- Clean technologies rely on a wide range of metals sourced from unsustainable mining.
- 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 mining.
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 emissions.
The 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. However, a new extensive research report 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 problems.
The blind rush to get "100 percent" renewable energy usage will get us nowhere. It's the same industrialist mindset that got us into this pickle. We need to approach this next energy wave with caution and care.
Renewable energy transition
Clean technologies require a wide variety of rare earth metals and other minerals, mostly including cobalt, nickel, lithium, aluminum, and silver. Batteries for electric cars makeup the biggest driver of mineral acquisition.
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 the environment."
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 biodiversity.
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. Combined with our unsustainable mining practices, we'll be doing more harm than good.
Large scale commercial strip mining of forests, slave labor, and ecological destruction would all be necessary to feed our current "green dream."
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 children in 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.
In 2016, 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. Amnesty blamed both Congolese officials and Western tech companies for ignoring the problems endemic to their supply chain. Irresponsible 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 Dominish.
Sustainability and conservation
At present, write the authors, "Reducing the environmental and social impacts of supply is not a major focus of the renewable energy industry. 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 areas. This is why responsible sourcing needs to be the next best step if these mines are going to be created, anyhow.
As its CEO, Bill Nye lays out the missions The Planetary Society would like to see NASA focus on over the next 20 years. NASA by nature goes where the future is, and Nye can't help but think of another industry that should follow suit.
Why is NASA so important? Let us count the ways – for its intellectual and physical daring, its spinoff technology that has advanced civilization generally (we wouldn’t have the internet without NASA) – but perhaps chief among them is that no matter who you are in the world or how you feel about the United States, NASA earns global respect for its technological achievement and drive towards progress and efficiency. An industry that could learn from that ethos, rather than digging its heels in to delay the future, is fossil fuels. If everyone pulled together in the same direction, it would mean clean, renewable energy for everyone on Earth, much sooner. Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
If we could jump 50 years into the future, what will our world look like? Flying cars? Hologram phones? Bill Nye sees two technological paths ahead – and we're in the fork between them at this very moment.
Bill Nye is always hesitant to make predictions about the future, but especially now, when America is at such a fork in the road. What happens in the next four years will affect the technology we fund and develop – will we pioneer clean energy systems, or stay bedded down with coal? Will we prioritize oil profits over electric cars? Will the promised tax cuts narrow the wealth gap, or widen it? All these decisions will affect the way life 50 years from now looks. A lot hangs in the balance of the next U.S election in 2020; will Americans re-elect Trump, someone like Trump, or will there be a liberal reactionary choice? There are more questions about the future right now than answers, but Bill Nye is confident that if young people get involved in politics, science and show up to vote, that life in 2060 and 2070 can be one of greater equality and technology like we’ve never seen. Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
How will we deal with the impending overpopulation crisis – and how much of a crisis is it anyway?
The population is growing, says Bill Nye, but it’s important to note that the rate of growth is slowing down. Why? Because the more our societies educate girls, the fewer children they have once they’re women. The population will very likely rise to 9 or 10 billion people and the world does have enough resources to look after us all, provided we do three things to redistribute resources globally, not just in developed nations. We need to produce reliable renewable energy to get electricity to every individual on the planet. We need to use that clean energy to increase the quality of water sanitation systems in developing nations so we lose less time and lives combating diseases, time which children could better spend in school. We must continue to educate girls and women, as quickly as we can, which means providing access to the internet and other information resources, globally. It’s in our best interest; if women have more control over their lives and reproductive choices, the world’s resources become more ample for each individual. Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
More than 630 companies are calling out President-elect Donald Trump in an open letter. It asks him to keep the promises the United States made during the Paris Agreement and move us closer to a low-carbon economy.
More than 630 companies are calling-out President-elect Donald Trump in an open letter. It asks him to keep the promises the United States made during the Paris Agreement and move us closer to a low-carbon economy. But will the private sector have any more luck moving Trump to believe in climate change?
The 2015 Paris Agreement was a landmark achievement. The world’s nations—196 of them—came together in agreement to put promises in place to slow the coming climate change. At its core the Paris Agreement aims to transition the world's economy away from dependency on fossil fuels, signaling to businesses that the future will be driven by clean energy. More than 630 companies want to continue that trend, agreeing climate change poses a real threat to how we do business.
Trump has lined his cabinet with, mostly, climate change deniers. He has even indicated he may try to withdraw the United States from this agreement. In response, other nations could impose a “carbon tariff” on goods from the United States. Not great for business.
“Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk,” the letter states. “But the right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness. We pledge to do our part, in our own operations and beyond, to realize the Paris Agreement’s commitment of a global economy that limits global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius.”
Kelloggs was one of the signatories of the letter, and also one of many companies who pulled ads from Breitbart, a right-wing news organization that regularly calls climate change a “hoax” and a “conspiracy.”
As to why Kelloggs pulled their ads from the site, Kris Charles, a spokeswoman for Kelloggs explained: “We regularly work with our media-buying partners to ensure our ads do not appear on sites that aren’t aligned with our values as a company. We recently reviewed the list of sites where our ads can be placed and decided to discontinue advertising on Breitbart.com. We are working to remove our ads from that site.”
It seems climate change is a part of that company's values. Other companies who signed the letter include Elon Musk's SolarCity, Adidas, eBay, DuPont, Patagonia and HP. However, it's difficult to say if these gestures against climate-change denial or in support of the Paris Agreement will sway the President-elect.