The EV Revolution Brings Environmental Uncertainty at Every Turn

Yves here. We have regularly pointed out that the greenhouse gas advantages of electric cars are considerably offset, if not more than offset, by other environmental cost. This article provides more support for this argument.

Again, the enthusiasm for EVs comes from the desire to preserve modern lifestyles. Trying to put off the day of environmental reckoning will only produce worse outcomes.

By Tim Lydon, who writes from Alaska on public-lands and conservation issues. He has worked on public lands for much of the past three decades, both as a guide and for land-management agencies, and is a founding member of the Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation. His writing has most recently appeared in The Revelator, Yes Magazine, Hakai Magazine, The Hill, High Country News, and elsewhere. Originally published at The Revelator

Manufacturers, governments and consumers are lining up behind electric vehicles — with sales rising 60% in 2022, and at least 17 states considering a California-style ban on gas cars in the years ahead. Scientists say the trend is a key part of driving down the transportation sector’s carbon emissions, which could fall by as much as 80% by 2050 under aggressive policies. But while EVs are cleaner than gas cars in the long run, they still carry environmental and human-rights baggage, especially associated with mining.

“If you want a lot of EVs, you need to get minerals out of the ground,” says Ian Lange, director of the Energy and Economics Program at the Colorado School of Mines.

That’s because manufacturing EVs requires about six times more minerals than traditional cars. That requirement — coupled with growth in consumer electronics and renewable energy infrastructure — will double global mineral demand over the next two decades, according to the International Energy Agency.

And that’s only under current trends. The IEA says meeting the Paris Climate Accord goals for decarbonization will require even more — far more — minerals: as much as four to six times present amounts.

That will mean a lot of mining, with much of it for EV batteries. And at least some of it will happen in the United States, as the Biden administration and many Republicans want more EV materials sourced at home, both to act on climate change and to wrest some control of supply chains from China.

Lange, who served as an economic advisor in the Trump administration, says it will be a big change for the country, which “got out of the minerals game” in recent decades. And it will bring challenges — including obtaining permits for minerals development, developing the needed workforce, and building processing capacity. The Biden administration hopes that funding from the landmark Inflation Reduction Act and other sources will help overcome these obstacles.

But the rush for renewables will also bring another big hurdle: environmental impacts. Already, as the search for EV materials ramps up, Tribes, landowners and communities find themselves wrestling with the not-so-green side of green energy.

Environmental Considerations

For a sense of things, consider cobalt. About 30 pounds of it go into each EV battery to boost performance and energy storage, which are key to luring consumers from dirtier gas cars. But today 70% of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where an estimated 40,000 children as young as 6 work in dangerous mines. The mines also bring deforestation, habitat fragmentation and high carbon emissions from mining and refinery processes that rely heavily on fossil fuels to produce electricity and drive heavy machinery. Some sources say cobalt mining’s CO2 emissions could double by 2030.

EV boosters are eager to put mileage between their products and human rights abuses, which fuel Republican and oil industry criticisms of battery power. Although efforts are underway to improve overseas practices, another way to tackle the issue would be to mine cobalt in the United States, which would also increase domestic sources of EV materials. But today the country has only one cobalt mine, and building others would likely raise environmental concerns.

Lange says that’s certainly the case in Alaska, where copper and cobalt rest beneath rolling tundra in the Ambler district south of the Brooks Range. Accessing it would require a 200-mile road through traditional Alaska Native lands, caribou habitat and Gates of the Arctic National Park, with gravel quarries dug every 10 miles. It’s something state leaders support but state and national environmental groups and several Indigenous communities oppose. Permitting for the road began during the Obama administration and was approved under Trump, but it’s now under reconsideration by Biden.

According to Lange, such regulatory sagas breed uncertainty within the minerals industry that slows investment in the minerals needed for EV batteries. He offers up the Twin Metals Mine near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Wilderness as another example. Here the target is nickel, another important EV metal mined in only one U.S. location. In a political tug-of-war, the mine’s long-held leases were denied renewal by Obama, reinstated under Trump, and then canceled under Biden.

In both cases, concerns over compliance with the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act led to lawsuits and claims of rushed environmental analysis. Lange says these bedrock environmental laws have improved air quality and human health conditions in the United States, but at the same time they may also contribute to the lag in sustainable production of EV materials.

“When we restrict access to natural resources, these international companies can choose to go elsewhere,” he says — often to countries with lax environmental and human rights laws.

The tension between environmental protection and renewables development is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Adam Bronstein of Western Watersheds Project sees it in northern Nevada, where his group has joined a lawsuit against a proposed open-pit lithium mine in Thacker Pass, an area of remote desert that’s home to sage grouse, antelope, Lahontan cutthroat trout and other sensitive species, including some only found locally. It also holds hundreds of Native American heritage sites that remain important to Tribes today.

Thacker Pass looking toward Kings River Valley. Photo: Ian Bigley (CC BY-NC 2.0).

“It’s a very remote and undeveloped landscape, where the stars are still bright and the air is quiet,” he says.

Bronstein says the West is quickly losing such landscapes to development, including large-scale solar projects and renewable energy mining. At Thacker Pass, for instance, the lithium mine would entail a 2-mile-long open pit with waste ore, acid dumps and massive water usage. Like opponents of Alaska’s Ambler Road, some also worry it would open access to additional claims, spreading impacts to further wildlands.

Mine proponents say Thacker Pass lithium could support more than a million EVs annually and would add jobs and tax revenue.

Bronstein questions the notion that ecologically valuable areas must be sacrificed for climate goals. Others agree, including a rising chorus who say solar and wind development in Nevada and California are eliminating vast areas of wildlife habitat, contributing to biodiversity loss worldwide.

As a judge considers the Thacker Pass lawsuit, nearly 2,000 miles away, residents of Coosa County, Alabama, express similar concerns over plans to mine graphite, an EV mineral not currently produced in the United States.

“It’s going to be a mess,” says Chris DiGiorgio, a lifelong resident of the area and a board member of Coosa Riverkeeper, which protects, promotes and restores the Coosa River.

DiGiorgio says graphite mining will level forest, disrupt hydrology, and leave chemical pollution that could last generations. Yet he also acknowledges the need for minerals to support renewable energy.

“We all want to stop climate change,” he says.

Still, DiGiorgio feels that state officials unjustifiably fast-tracked the mine’s permits, and he questions whether graphite demand will still be high by the time mining starts in 2028. But whereas Western Watersheds Project is fighting the Thacker Pass mine, Coosa Waterkeeper appears settled into guarded acceptance and a commitment to playing a watchdog role over the mine.

Navigating the Transition

Josh Johnson with the Idaho Conservation League has taken yet another approach. As Australia-based Jervois Mining prepared to open the United States’ only cobalt mine in Idaho’s Salmon River Mountains, he helped secure $150,000 in annual funding from the company for local conservation work — money that can also be leveraged to help secure matching funds from state and federal grants. Two years in, the funding has helped restore overgrazed streambanks and supported acquisition of vital fish habitat. Each year, the organization determines where the funding goes, with input from Tribes, agencies and others.

Johnson says that the cobalt mine connects to the league’s conservation goals, which include promoting renewable energy and adopting EVs. And while he recommends that environmental groups take a nuanced look at such mines, he stresses that his partnership doesn’t compromise Idaho Conservation League’s watchdog role as mining gets underway.

But it’s also important to consider what happens after Idaho’s cobalt meets daylight. With no processing plants in the United States, it will be shipped to Brazil, then to China for manufacturing, and eventually back to the United States tucked inside a new EV battery.

Generous incentives for EVs in the Inflation Reduction Act aim to tighten that supply chain — and ease reliance on strategic adversaries like China to reach U.S. climate goals. They join funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, the Defense Production Act and other sources in a strategy that aligns with IEA recommendations for diversifying global mineral sources. And while this all-in approach on industrialization raises biodiversity and other concerns, it could move the United States closer to reaching Paris climate accord goals and the Biden administration’s target to cut economy-wide carbon emission by  50% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Lange agrees the funding will boost research, development and processing capacity, but he questions whether it moves the needle on EV mineral production in the United States.

Inevitably, technology should resolve some of the issues surrounding EVs. Scientists worldwide are tinkering with EV batteries to improve efficiency and replace problematic metals like cobalt, nickel and perhaps even lithium. Other research highlights better ways to mine, including by salvaging EV materials currently discarded as waste at existing mines. This is happening at a Rio Tinto mine in California’s Mojave Desert, which has long produced minerals for soaps and cosmetics but is now also pulling lithium out of its old tailings.

Lange says advances in recycling may also help. The IEA anticipates a surge in recyclable minerals as first-generation EVs reach the end of their lifespan, perhaps meeting 10% of demand by 2040. It could help ease shortages, stabilize prices, diversify sources, and chip away at harmful mining, including deep-sea mining in sensitive ocean ecosystems. Yet as with everything else related to EVs, Lange says the United States lags behind China and other countries in recycling research, development and capacity.

To Bronstein and others, placing solar at already developed areas like canals and parking lots and developing smarter cities that disincentivize driving will also remain important strategies for adopting clean energy in ways that minimize impacts on undisturbed wildlands.

Cities and the federal government can also shape strategic adoption of EVs by working to replace fleet and transit vehicles first.  This recently happened in Antelope Valley, California, where the local transit authority became the first in the country to replace its fleet of diesel buses. Since its 87 new electric buses, vans and coaches are cheaper to operate and maintain than dirtier diesel buses, the city is now using the savings to expand public transit and build a solar field to power the fleet. Similarly, in December the U.S. Postal Service committed to buying at least 45,000 electric delivery trucks and to explore how to electrify its entire fleet.

The approaches replace the vehicles that log the most miles first, rather than relying on individual drivers to adopt EVs.

Whatever path it takes, says Bronstein, “the renewable energy future is coming.”

Scientists, activists and other experts have spent decades advocating for this change, even as the dangers of burning fossil fuels have increased. The future has finally started to arrive. But as Bronstein reminds us, making the transition to cleaner fuels still requires careful planning and restraint to protect our already beleaguered biodiversity and other natural resources.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    Its interesting that the writer is the founder of the Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation – Prince William Sound is where the Exxon Valdez had its little incident – but sees lithium and cobalt mining as a bigger threat. Go figure.

    First off some definitions. EV’s are not cars. EV’s are electric vehicles. This includes scooters, bikes, motorbikes, wheelchairs, buses, trains and even some aircraft. The car industry wants everyone to think about cars, but in reality most people on the planet use other forms of powered vehicles to get around (mostly trains and buses). Using 2 or 3 ton steel boxes to move individuals around is one of the stupidest ideas humanity ever came up with and it doesn’t really matter how they are powered, physics is physics. Although having said that, almost all genuinely independent LFA’s show that EV cars are significantly less polluting, even if the electricity comes from fossil fuels. EV’s are fundamentally more energy efficient than ICE vehicles in almost every way, even when you stuff them into ridiculously oversized trucks.

    As for mining waste – well, yes, all mining is highly destructive. Mining oil is particularly destructive, especially now that we’ve run out of the easy to extract and refine oil.

    The reality is that even if you look at the absolute worst case scenario for mining lithium and rare earth for EV’s, the overall environmental impact is a tiny fraction of that required for extracting oil for ICE vehicles. The figures? Hannah Richie has a good overview.

    In summary: The IEA estimates that we will need to mine 28 million tonnes of minerals per annum by 2040 if we are to have a full transition. Sounds bad? Well, Every year we extract 15 billion tonnes of material for oil coal and gas extraction. its not even a rounding error. Mining for EV’s is 100 to 1000 times less than the extraction needed for the fossil fuel industry.

    There are a million reasons why we should reduce our dependency on using cars and trucks as the means of moving around daily. Lithium and cobalt mining is very, very far down the list.

    This is why any focus on individual minerals or mines is pointless. You have to look at the overall lifecycle impact of proposals. By any measure EV’s are better than ICE vehicles. By any measure buses and trains are more efficient than cars. By any measure small light cars are better than big cars and trucks. By any measure bikes (EV or not) are better than cars or buses. By any measure walking is better than anything else.

    1. ZenBean

      The IEA estimates that we will need to mine 28 million tonnes of minerals per annum by 2040 if we are to have a full transition. Sounds bad? Well, Every year we extract 15 billion tonnes of material for oil coal and gas extraction. its not even a rounding error.

      Those numbers are misleading. You can’t compare net amount of extraxted fossil fuels to net amount of mined minerals. Mining produces enormous amounts of (contaminated) waste material. Viable copper ores contain less than one percent copper. Rarer metals are even less concentrated. Increased demand will make lower grade ores viable, which brings numbers down even further. I have no idea how much of waste would have to be produced, all in all. But by focusing on the net mass of processed resources alone, one could easily distort the impact by a factor of 100+.

      Are there even enough metals available? Is it even feasible to decarbonize the mining and processing sector itself?

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Those numbers are misleading. You can’t compare net amount of extraxted fossil fuels to net amount of mined minerals.

        Not true. Please read the link I posted. We mine 15 billion tonnes of oil, gas and coal every year – the associated waste is additional. Of course mining copper and cobalt is very difficult and polluting. So is fracked oil and the many rare earths needed in an ICE system. The quantity of rare earths in an ICE car – 0.3kg, is pretty much the same as in an EV, just different minerals. Cobalt is the only really polluting material that is ‘additional’ for an EV, but most sources are confident that the quantity required in the next generation of batteries will be far less.

        Are there even enough metals available?

        Yes there are. The bottlenecks are in production, not in the availability of the metals. The IEA has a detailed report on this.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            Lithium is not toxic and is a very common mineral found worldwide. The links in my comments above gives lots of data on availability.

        1. Alex Cox

          Have you ever seen an open-pit copper mine? There are several in Arizona. I recommend the one south of Superior. It is a gigantic, hideous open sore, literally the ugliest and most frightening thing I have ever seen.

          The massive waste of water involved in mining all this copper, lithium etc. will do us in anyway, while the aesthetc horror of open pit mines suggests that this may not be a bad thing (too bad for the rest of the natural world, but as you observe, our planetary priority, after war, is apparently two-ton boxes to run about in).

          1. PlutoniumKun

            I’ve seen many copper mines. In fact, I used to play in one as a child (before ‘ealth and safety’), in the somewhat inaccurately named Silvermines Mountains in Ireland. My uncles hill farm was studded with 19th Century exploratory shafts and having survived not drowning in one they gave me an enduring fascination with geology. I’ve not just seen them in the US I spent many hours exploring them by foot and mountain bike (yes, I have strange hobbies). They leave horrible scars, although nothing near as bad as the aftermath of coal mining, fracking, or uranium/lead/gold mines. The latter three take far longer for nature to reclaim than copper spoil.

            But people need to get real. The biggest user of copper worldwide is construction, mostly plumbing. Its likely that your domestic heating/water system has more copper in it than even a very large EV truck. This won’t change, even with an EV revolution, although the death of the Chinese housing boom (by far the largest user of copper worldwide) may well leave a convenient surplus for the EV industry. Copper is also interchangeable with aluminium for many uses, including DC cables. It is also, conveniently, very easy to recycle, which means that the need for virgin materials will over time reduce even as we increase its use.

            There are no easy options. Even massive energy reduction can be destructive. Do you know what materials go into a bicycle frame? Lots of nickel for a start. Make our homes more energy efficient? – try visiting a factory making mineral wool for insulation – its a very polluting business and I certainly would not like to live next to one of those factories. Nor would I like to live beside any type of recycling facility, or even, for that matter, a bottle washing plant. We have no good options. Just least worse ones.

    2. Lexx

      This is a walking/running/biking neighborhood, in a walking/running/biking small city in Colorado… for recreation, while hauling around nothing more than American butts. I can look out any of these windows at almost any time of day and see foot traffic up and down the sidewalks. It’s all houses, no stores. The nearest grocery is half a mile away. To make an EV future work we have to pare down our independent consumerist culture to the point of collapse, or commit to the Amazon future from Hell by having most things delivered to our door.

      I can’t picture many of my neighbors falling out in the morning to go fetch what they need on foot and scooter. That mistake we made decades ago adopting a ICE lifestyle was motivated by a deeply human trait… laziness. As my old psychology professor pointed out one day, human beings don’t expend any more energy to complete a task than is absolutely necessary. I think Covert Bailey said the same about recreational exercise if it isn’t fun. We are slaves to the reward centers of our brains; they’ll need rewiring to make Grocery Day palatable. I’m not confident hunger alone will be sufficient. ;-)

      1. Jeff

        “That mistake we made decades ago adopting a ICE lifestyle was motivated by a deeply human trait… laziness.”

        I thought it was to get away from high crime areas in cities. That’s why I left. That and the garbage public schools.

      2. Stellarwind72

        Suburbia is the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. -James Howard Kunstler.

    3. upstater

      The Ambler Mining district and the haul road connecting it to the road to Prudhoe Bay is a really big deal, PK. There will be hundreds of tractor trailer trips every single day for 50 or even 100 years through pristine wilderness. The negative impacts of this road will far exceed that of Prudhoe Bay and the pipeline. And this is just for a single mining area. Plus the ore concentration and smelting will take place in Asia. Exxon Valdez was a disaster, as is all fossil fuel consumption.

      I agree entirely that having personal automobiles (EV or fossil) is hugely environmentally destructive. But nothing on the horizon is going to change that for the golden billion residing in western countries. Automobiles are integral to the economy and financial system; it facilitates suburban sprawl and the associated lending and consumer economy.

      The American way of life is non-negotiable, as Dick Cheney said. Nothing has changed since.

    4. Maxwell Johnston

      The Hannah Ritchie article has a lively comments section. Many of the commenters question her numbers.

      Certainly electric motors are fundamentally more efficient than ICEs, plus they have fewer moving parts. My problem with the big push to EVs is with the upstream costs (mining, etc) and downstream costs (disposal of toxic batteries, etc), and the assumption that an EV-supporting infrastructure (electric chargers and cables and capacity, plus mechanics/garages capable of fixing EVs) will seamlessly replace the existing ICE infrastructure of gas stations and repair garages. All of which costs methinks are being grossly underestimated. Here in Italy, the idea that Enel (the biggest electric company, and it’s deservedly a four-letter word) will be ready for the EU’s mandated phase-out of ICEs by 2035 is laughable. And Italy is a rich country.

      “Using 2 or 3 ton steel boxes to move individuals around is one of the stupidest ideas humanity ever came up with….” is a bit strong. Cars have advantages, one of the biggest being that they confer a degree of flexibility and freedom that other transport modes lack. If you depend on public transport to get around, that reduces your choices for work, shopping, entertainment, health care, education, housing……everything, really, unless you live in a big city with excellent public transport. Some economists believe that a reason that the USA has consistently enjoyed higher job growth (and lower unemployment) vs the EU is that the USA’s car orientation allows people flexibility to chase the available jobs (and companies likewise have more freedom to set up shop in various locales, not just in places convenient to public transport). I prefer the EU with its good public transport, but the USA approach has its advantages.

      All choices have tradeoffs. If we outlaw motor vehicles and mandate a return to horse transportation, that will do wonders for air and noise pollution but will also bring back the old sanitary problem (never solved) of horse poop. Before we spend $$$ revamping our society around EVs, I would like to see an honest and thorough analysis of the benefits and costs of doing so. So far, I’m not convinced.

      1. clarky90

        An electric vehicle during or after a big rain storm?

        NZ 2023 North Island floods

        “AA Insurance stated that the floods were its largest vehicle claims event in history, with an estimated 10,000 cars expected to be written off….”

        We have had a series calamitous rain/flooding events this summer in NZ. Probably exacerbated by a volcanic eruption in Tonga, one year ago.

        “The violent eruption of Tonga’s Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano injected an unprecedented amount of water directly into the stratosphere — and the vapor will stay there for years, likely affecting the Earth’s climate patterns, NASA scientists say.

        The massive amount of water vapor is roughly 10% of the normal amount of vapor found in the stratosphere, equaling more than 58,000 Olympic-size swimming pools…..”

      2. Soredemos

        “the USA has consistently enjoyed higher job growth (and lower unemployment)”

        But this is a lie.

          1. Soredemos

            In America the job ‘growth’ sucks and the numbers lie about the real levels of unemployment. Maybe the European numbers lie too (they probably do), but the US has absolutely nothing to be proud of.

            And no, the initial assessment of cars wasn’t too strong. They’re a social and environmental disaster. Once you’re making vague appeals to ‘freedom’ you’ve given up on real argumentation. In reality the US are slaves to the horseless carriage. You don’t fully appreciate how screwed up how we’ve built our environs is until you’ve seen places that aren’t devoted solely to the cult of the car.

            The car is a useful tool that has its place. But it isn’t something to build a civilization around. It also kills a staggering number of people annually, and we’re just so psychopathic a culture we’ve decided ‘this is fine’.

      3. PlutoniumKun

        Hannah Richie is a data scientist and her article has a lot of links, mostly to the IEA which has for long had a strong bias to fossil fuels and nuclear. None of the comments deal with those, they are just the usual uninformed whines.

        As for cars and productivity, there is decades of academic work on infrastructure investment and economic development. Road construction does increase regional productivity but thats overwhelmingly due to goods movements, not cars. Human productivity is strongly linked to dense urban nodes (i.e. more people interacting in a small area), which is why densely populated cities from New York to London to Shanghai to Singapore are the most resilient and productive and successful. It is impossible to have a car based transport system and density, you must focus on railways and public transport.

        1. Maxwell Johnston

          No argument with you re cities and human productivity; I read a lot of Jane Jacobs long ago, and her writings made an impression on me. I’m simply not convinced that the big push towards EVs replacing ICEs is a magic bullet, or even a decent compromise that buys us time to find a proper solution. It seems more like replacing one problem with another set of problems, a la Walter White from Breaking Bad. If we’re serious about climate change (and we’re not), more drastic changes will be necessary.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            Yes, Jacobs was a fine and insightful writer, even if her ideas have become distorted by others. I agree that a like for like replacement of ICE for EV’s is pointless and destructive. We need fewer cars. Some changes can be achieved very rapidly and cheaply – by, for example, taking away urban traffic lanes and giving them to buses and bikes and small EV’s. Others will take a couple of decades of investment.

    5. Carolinian

      Thanks for some perspective. I’ve traveled a bit in the West including the area of Thacker Pass and IMO if the country were to decide a lithium mine is necessary then that would be the place to put it. It’s super remote, not terribly scenic, barely seems to be populated at all. If NIMBY is going to stop such a mine at Thacker then one has to ask whether such a mine would be accepted anywhere. Our American West is often beautiful but also huge. Declaring every bit of it “sacred” or essential will mean that the new cold war with China needs to end pronto so we can outsource all of our pollution to them and forget about manufacturing.

      That said, debates about the practicality of EVs are indeed the real issue. Because the US is so huge mobility is more of an issue for us than it would be for Europe where everything is a lot more compact and convenient. I once biked across France (Ireland too) in both directions. There’s no way I could do that in my own country. Asking this new generation to give up what we Boomers abundantly enjoyed is going to be a big ask but may be the only way. The Jet Set days are over.

      1. juno mas

        Many people find Nevada a barren landscape, especially if they only drive along I-80. While the article describes the Thacker Pass area as desert, it is not desert. It is ‘High Plains’ with an average elevation of 4500’+. The endless sagebrush you see from I-80 is a non-native plant community, introduced by the westward movement of ‘pioneers’ into native American land in the 1800’s. These remote lands are actually quite attractive to biologists/botanists for their relatively controlled environments and to the Indian tribes that still live there. Not to mention the plants and animals themselves.

        To see the impact of open pit mining search Getchell Mine (just east of Thacker) in Google Earth. The toxic water waste ponds kill birds and mammals alike. A Lithium mine would do the same.

        I have no doubt that there will be a major push to open a Lithium mine at Thacker Pass. Nevada has been considered a wasteland since nuclear testing just north of Las Vegas, NV in the 1950’s.

        1. Carolinian

          No I literally have been within 20 miles or less of the area in question while taking the shortcut to Oregon. While driving those two lane roads I saw maybe two cars.

          So I stand by my comment. If a place this out of the way is verboten then where?

    6. Furiouscalves

      The twin metals project in MN is a bad example for an anti mining narrative. The BWCA is mostly water and the mining would occur mostly in its watershed. The mining is sulfide based and creates acid mine drainage which is really bad news. There is little to prove this can be prevented. Worth the risk? Not likely.

      The other MN project that is going ahead is basically in a giant swamp. Talon metal’s mine will be deep underground and the nickel ore will be brought to the surface and loaded onto trains and sent to bealuh ND. Where it will be processed at an industrial coal gasification site already environmentally damaged. Even Still the possibility of negative impacts exist in MN. I’m sure this was to be able to get permits to go ahead. Dept of energy is giving them a bunch of money for it too.

      No doubt about it, sulphide Mining has potentially significant externalities lasting for an eternity, but any benefits to the area mined are maybe 10- 20 years tops. There is no mining company in the world that could be insured for an eternity of catastrophe, so we will pay. Its all relative. And if it’s not in your backyard…take the metals and run.

      1. JME

        As someone who has been visiting the area of twin metals via the bwca and a 100 year old family log cabin (no electricity) for the past 40+ years I can say that the end of the mine is a boon. The lights and trucking involved with just the exploratory work for twin metals changed the character of the area for miles around. The trucks and generators and drill rigs were audible across the region, for miles and miles including the bwca, it is that quiet. Transitioning to an underground mine trucking hundreds of tons of ore per day to a site 10+ miles away 24/7/365 would have been a disaster beyond the nearly assured destruction from acid mine drainage. We need minerals yes, but moreso we need a change of lifestyle, what we value as a species and a full accounting and payment for the real costs of what we do to this planet. I was a signatory to a sworn statement about the impact of the exploration as part of the lawsuit against the twin metals mine and am proud of my role in shutting it down. Nimby or not, this was not the place for a sulfide mine.

    7. Some Guy

      Thanks for adding some sanity on this issue PK. For any transportation question, EV is probably the 2nd worst option (behind transit, bikes, scooters, walking, etc.), but it is far better than the worst option, which is the status quo. Handwringing about the amount of materials needed for an EV that doesn’t clearly contrast this with the much greater material requirement of ICE vehicles always comes off to me like people who argue in favour of widening highways because of the environmental damage caused by idling cars in congestion.

    8. Felix_47

      Good comment Plutonium but I read somewhere that walking gets about 60 miles per gallon if one consideres the fuel and energy needed to produce the food needed to replace the calories burned walking. The new Prius is somewhere around 50 mpg. Of course the best idea would be to design our suburbs again and make them walking friendly. I live in Germany and while we have cars everzthing we need is within walking distance. That is a city design issue and our town was really built in the last 20 years so it is not pre car. I think one difference is that to build one must buy the permit from the city so private ladowners are not the ones making a ton of profit off spread out development like in California or Arizona.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        The study you are referring to was a BS one produced by a fossil fuel funded think tank about 15 years ago, and then repeated by witless journalists. It still pops up on google searches, which shows how good value those ‘studies’ can be if pushed hard enough.

        The human body, walking or cycling, generates a fraction of the CO2 of moving even the most efficient car. The wikipedia page has a fairly good set of tables (although it doesn’t address CO2 emissions). Even if you fuel your walk with the most carbon intensive food – probably dairy and beef – its still fractional.

  2. Koldmilk

    EV’s are fundamentally more energy efficient than ICE vehicles in almost every way, even when you stuff them into ridiculously oversized trucks.

    The motors, yes, but not the fuel. An EV energy store is its battery which is less energy dense per kg than the liquid fuels of ICVs. Which is why current EV cars are large, heavy, expensive and have a fraction of the range of IC cars.

    ICV liquid fuels do not necessary have to be mineral, but can be ethanol from sugar cane or bio-fuels like plant oils. The danger is trying to maintain the current number of ICs ends up with bio-fuels competing with land used for food.

    What is clear is that cars in the future have to be smaller, lighter and fewer. The obsession with cars is unhelpful. Personal EV transport will be bikes and scooters. And public transport: EV busses and light rail.

    Hybrid transport seems to be written off too soon: using the advantages of IC to offset the disadvantages of EV, and visa versa. These should also be smaller and lighter, of course.

    Lastly, I don’t think EVs can solve the problems of transport in rural areas.

    1. timbers

      “Hybrid transport seems to be written off too soon: using the advantages of IC to offset the disadvantages of EV, and visa versa.”

      You put into words what I guess I’m coming around to in my own mind. Will probably need 1 more vehicle in my lifetime, and if I had to do that today it would be another Prius. The reasons are overwhelming – about half the price of current EV’s I see on the internet and good PMG (I always buy new, cash no debt as insurance is a rip off and debt requires you have more of it). Only caveat is with car scarcity, have no idea how reliable the prices one finds on the internet are at this point and it wouldn’t be surprised it the chip scarcity thing drags on for decades only for the excuse to keep prices elevated.

  3. GoDark

    I’ve recognized the environmental damage associated with so-called “renewable energy” for some time. Major drilling (for oil) or major mining (for minerals): choose your environmental poison!

    Hence, the luster and bluster related to converting to renewable energy to save the planet are nonsense.

    Another take: The political pressure for renewable energy is an attempt to create yet one more “bubble” in the global capitalistic system … the biggest “bubble” to date that will create legions of new millionaires and billionaires who demand more than a 10% return on their investments. Indeed, this may turn out to be the biggest bubble in the history of capitalism with global economic and environmental consequences.

    At the end of the day, the world will be back where it started with at best a limited positive impact on the environment but with the headaches and inconvenience of trying and failing to electrify transportation systems on a global basis. This will also increase governments’ authoritarian intervention and control over people’s lives — where they live and how they live — through the simple edifice of controlling electrical grids.

    The new millionaires, billionaires, and government autocrats will be delighted!

  4. John

    TANSTASFL: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. That is what the hoopla about electric vehicles wants to obscure. The way we live now must change drastically or the temperatures will continue to rise, the weather to grow more unpredictable, the seas to overwhelm the coasts. The means to mitigate these effects exists. I doubt the collective will does.

  5. Lex

    At the end of the day, there are no silver bullets. There will be no way to just solve these problems with easy solutions. And oddly, we simply refuse to take the low hanging fruit and instead concentrate on ideas like switching the whole automobile industry over to electric vehicles that will behave just like we’re used to.

    I question why we don’t put large investment into rail building, less for passenger traffic than freight. And then when we can get the vast majority of freight near its final destination using rail, we should have short haul electric trucks. Short haul electric trucks are far more doable than building long haul electric freight trucks. Subtract 80% of the diesel OTR trucking and we’ve made a pretty big dent in emissions and implemented a better solution to diesel emissions than the ammonia based filters we’ve installed in all the trucks. We’ve reduced wear on highways, reducing the amount of repair and resurfacing they require (which is all asphalt/concrete work and climate detrimental).

    I’m not anti-mining. And have spent enough time up close and personal with modern mining to know that it can be done safely. On that, I would always prefer underground mines to open pit mines mostly because we can heal the wound much more cleanly with an underground mine than an open pit. But it’s just this side of impossible to permit and build a new mine in the US. That’s not going to change because at the end of the day, everyone wants a better world so long as the changes necessary to actualize it aren’t in their neighborhood.

  6. William

    A lot of the uncertainty about the EV switch will take care of themselves, but maybe not in a good way.

    And there are questions that I consider vital which don’t get asked very often. If we are mineral limited should we pick the spots that make the most impact? IOW why bother if you can’t get a CO2 reduction of, say, 50%? Can we make a true EV for even double the price of a conventional IC engine powered one if the resources are sourced in countries without ~ahem~ company friendly labor/environmental regs? I doubt it. And on and on….

    Fact is that the EV move has already had MAJOR impacts on the auto industry: it is turning into an area for the privileged elite. With the prices of today a large portion of the populace is already priced out. And it will get worse as we go along.

    None of this should be happening until the populace has had their say. It is dangerous to push ahead on such world changing policies without getting their consent. What is happening now is that those on the bottom are going to take the biggest hit to lifestyle and living standards. These things must start from the bottom up or risk political explosions.

    At least in this old thermodynamicist’s opinion.

    1. Societal Illusions

      I don’t see much anymore of the “populace has had their say.” These important debates and decisions are frequently made elsewhere than in the open. And seems like decisions have already been made so the populace will just get to adjust to them.

      I’m sad at the recognition of this. Feels hypercritical and fatalistic, but here we are…

  7. John R Moffett

    I am pretty sure the mining of lithium and copper, etc. is less environmentally harmful than all of the fracking, oil drilling, coal mining, etc., so to complain about one but not the other seems biased in favor of the current dirty system. All technology requires resource acquisition, so you have to chose your poison (see GoDark above). I would prefer EV over ICE resource extraction any day.

    1. William

      Depends on what you value doesn’t it?

      I detest mining and deforestation. I grew up in the middle of it and do so again as an adult. So to me? It seems a bit flippant to just dismiss it as much less important, people like me would argue that point.

      And what would lead you to believe that fracking and/or coal mining are going to go away just because you shift to EVs. I would guess that this is not going to be the case at all. I think we will eventually have to choose between a major lifestyle change or continuing on with gas and coal for electric generation. Unless you honestly believe you can power this industrial society on windmills, we seem to have a disconnect between what we can actually get, and what we are demanding from alt-energy.

      1. vao

        So far, global statistics I have seen show that fast growing renewable energy sources such as wind, photovoltaic, hydroelectric, and biomass supplement growing fossil fuel sources (coal, oil, gas), and do not replace them.

        Hence, I also wonder whether EV will really displace and substitute ICE vehicles, or just be an addition to the ICE fleet.

    2. earthling

      Ludicrous to think your electricity arrives at the charging stand as a free gift from the air, free of taint from fossil fuels. It is most likely manufactured at a coal or gas burning plant.

  8. Michael Fiorillo

    As long as people are producing and buying monstrous electric Ford F-150s and their like, talk of environmental benefits seems preposterous.

  9. Steven

    EVs as a red herring, strawman?
    Preliminary 2020 Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimates | Rhodium Group
    transport – 16% (12% ‘road’)
    electricity generation – 26%

    As Yves notes: “Trying to put off the day of environmental reckoning will only produce worse outcomes.” That said, since we’ve started down that path, why not require every new EV produced to have vehicle-to-grid/home (V2G/H) capability to qualify for a subsidy? Done right V2G/H doesn’t hurt and may help EV battery longevity. It will certainly allow more renewable energy production. The real focus should be on longer term storage for electrical utilities, e.g. gravity systems.

    1. IEL

      For EVs or grid? For the latter, weight and energy density are less of an issue so things like iron-air are being tried. For EVs what do you see as the top contenders to compete with lithium?

      1. Jorge

        GMG (Australian graphene manufacturer) is my go-to.
        GMG has a just plain better any-size battery: non burning, more power, more charges than lithium.

        Also ESS Tech in Portland, Oregon. ESS is giant trailer-sized iron-air-aluminum batteries for utility load leveling. ESS got a few billion from a SPAC, and have dropped like a rock, so they have the money to do what they need to do.

        Who knows if this junk goes anywhere? The old joke about mining stocks is: “a hole in the ground surrounded by liars”.

        I have both GMG and ESS in my retirement fund. Cheers!

  10. Stellarwind72

    Another part of the problem is that most of the US is very car-dependent. Most neighborhoods built after WWII were built for cars and not for people. Any transition way from fossil fuels will have to involve less driving and more walking, biking and public transportation.

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