In reality, the ultimate issue we are led to believe is how easily, led by an alleged scientific consensus, enlightened Western governments will "decarbonize" with renewable energy in a scramble to save the planet from an imminent climate catastrophe. Calling for full mitigation of carbon emissions within three decades, the 'net zero by 2050' mantra is now the clarion call from governments and intergovernmental agencies around the developed world, ranging from several EU member states and the United Kingdom, to the International Energy Agency and the International Monetary Fund. As government policies subsidize the purchase of EVs to replace the internal combustion engine of gasoline and diesel-driven vehicles, demand for EVs is expected to soar, and as owning a 'clean' and 'green' car becomes a spiritual testament to many a consumer who signals virtue.
Yet, if one looks under the hood of battery-driven EVs with "clean energy," the dirt found would surprise most. In what is called full-cycle economics, tracking the source of these minerals, it becomes evident that EVs build a trail of dirt from the upstream extraction and processing of minerals.
A recent United Nations report warns that in a small number of countries where environmental and labour regulations are weak or non-existent, the raw materials used in electric car batteries are highly concentrated. The manufacture of batteries for EVs is thus driving a boom in the manufacture of small-scale or 'artisanal' cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which supplies two-thirds of the world's mineral production. It has been found that these artisanal mines, which account for up to a quarter of the country 's production, are dangerous and employ child labor.
Considering what the image of children scrabbling in Africa for hand-dug minerals can do to the clean and green image of high tech, most tech and car companies using cobalt and other toxic heavy metals avoid direct mining procurement. Although Tesla has said that it seeks to eradicate reputational risks associated with mineral sourcing from countries such as the DRC where corruption is prevalent, Glencore assures buyers that its mechanized mines do not handle hand-dug cobalt.
There are 7.2 million EVs with batteries, or around 1% of the total fleet of vehicles today. We can take the example of the UK, as given by Michael Kelly, the Emeritus Prince Philip Professor of Technology at the University of Cambridge, to get an idea of the scale of mining for raw materials involved in replacing the world's gasoline and diesel-fueled cars with EVs. According to Professor Kelly, if we replace all of the UK vehicle fleet with EVs, we would need the following materials, assuming they use the most resource-frugal next-generation batteries: about twice the annual global cobalt production; Professor Kelly estimates that if we want the entire world to be transported by electric vehicles, the vast rise in the supply of the list of raw materials The environmental and social effects of massively expanded mining on these products, some of which are highly radioactive when extracted, transported and processed, can only be imagined in countries suffering from corruption and poor records of human rights. EVs' clean and green picture stands in sharp contrast to the reality of battery manufacturing.
Null Pollution and All That
The case remains that EVs help reduce carbon dioxide emissions associated with internal combustion engines running on gasoline and diesel fuels, despite these obvious environmental and social problems associated with mining in many third world countries, supporters of EVs can counter by saying. The climate crusaders of the wealthy nations may be able to disregard the local pollution and abuses of human rights involved in mining for minerals and rare earths in Africa , China, Latin America and elsewhere for the sake of saving the planet.
While the inherent inequity in the imposition of such a trade-off may be challenged, according to a peer-reviewed life-cycle analysis comparing traditional and electric vehicles, the supposed benefits of EVs in emitting lower carbon emissions are overstated. To begin with, approximately half of the lifetime emissions of carbon dioxide from an electric vehicle come from the energy used to manufacture the vehicle, especially in the mining and processing of the raw materials necessary for the battery. This compares unfavorably with the output of a gasoline-powered vehicle that accounts for 17% of the lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions of the vehicle.
Once on the track, the carbon dioxide emissions of EVs depend on the fuel used to recharge the battery for power generation. If it comes mainly from coal-fired power stations, it can drive three ounces more than a comparable gasoline-powered vehicle for around 15 ounces of carbon dioxide for each mile. If an EV is driven 50,000 miles over its lifespan, and without regard to the source of energy used for battery charging, the immense initial emissions from its production mean that the EV would ultimately bring more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than a gasoline-powered car of the same size driven the same amount of miles. Even if the EV is driven for 90,000 miles and the battery is charged by cleaner power stations fueled by natural gas, it would produce just 24 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions than a car powered by gasoline.
As most average people are aware of preferring inexpensive gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles within modest budgets, analysts and policy advisors around the world have felt compelled to tip the playing field in favor of EVs. EV subsidies are regressive: EVs are only affordable for households with high incomes, considering their high upfront costs. It is egregious that the average tax-payer finances EV subsidies so that the wealthy can purchase their EVs at subsidized rates. The dirty secrets of "clean energy" should be clear to everyone in the case of EVs, but, unfortunately, there are none so blind as those who will not see.