But as the Democrats all complain about the separation of children from whichever adults brought them across the border, one wonders if they are even more opposed to the near-enslavement of children to mine the cobalt needed for the battery systems?
Amnesty International’s research has shown that cobalt mined by children and adults in extremely hazardous conditions could be entering the supply chains of some of the world’s largest carmakers.
A key component of the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries on which electric cars run is cobalt. More than half of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Despite its mineral riches, the DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world, and has suffered from decades of war and corrupt leaders. With so few formal jobs in the country, hundreds of thousands of Congolese men, women and children, have been driven to dig their own mines to earn their livelihoods.
Government officials told us that 20% of the cobalt exported from the DRC comes from these so-called “artisanal” miners. The true figure is likely higher. The artisanal mines produce cheaper cobalt than industrial mines (partly because people are paid so little and are unregulated) and as demand has grown, we have heard of new mine sites being developed across the region.
What this means is that a huge amount of the global cobalt supplies comes from these mines. While we do not know where most of it ends up, it is reasonable to assume that it is entering the supply chains of the handful of companies which dominate the car battery market.
Working with a Congolese NGO, Afrewatch, Amnesty International found children as young as seven in the mining areas. None of the adult or child miners we saw wore facemasks that could prevent them from inhaling cobalt dust, which could lead to potentially fatal lung disease. Mines collapse frequently, burying people underground. No one knows the exact figure, but UNICEF estimates that 40,000 children work in mining across the south of the DRC where cobalt is found.
Of course, that’s only part of the problem. Amnesty International also noted that:
most manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries takes place in China, South Korea and Japan, where electricity generation remains dependent on coal and other fossil fuels.
Further, there is no consistent system for dealing with the guesstimated 250,000 tons of discarded batteries from electric vehicles after those batteries have ended their service life.
So, I have to ask: what are the proposals of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and Joseph Biden and Pete Buttigieg and the rest of the cavalcade to deal with the problems in the production of electric cars? Nearly slave labor conditions attend the production of cobalt in the Congo, which currently produces of 50% of the world’s mined supply. China and Canada are second and third, but they each produced only about 6% of supply:
“Anybody who has cobalt outside the DRC is in a better situation because carmakers are very worried about their supply chains,” said Roger Bell, director of mining research at Hannam & Parters in London. Bell believes the amount of cobalt being used in electric cars could easily double in the next eight to 15 years. “Even in the most conservative assumptions, you’re looking at maybe a 20-per-cent gap between supply and demand for cobalt by 2025.”
Senator Sanders has promised that his plan would “result in “100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by no later than 2030.” If Mr Sanders’ plan is actually put into place, every new passenger vehicle sold in the United States would be a rechargeable electric car by 2030. That would seem to call for far more than a doubling in the demand for cobalt in that time frame. And even without that,¹ the demand is projected to exceed supply.
It’s just so easy for politicians, Republican and Democrat alike, to make promises, but when the cavalcade are asking us to dump President Trump for one of them, wouldn’t it have been wiser if they had actually thought their proposals through? How will voters who might not think that much of the President supposed to support candidates who are, in effect, calling for more child slave labor in foreign countries to produce plug-in electric vehicles for Americans? What proposals do Senator Warren, who promised “100% zero emissions for all new light-duty passenger vehicles, medium-duty trucks, and all buses by 2030,” and Mayor Buttigieg have to get all of that cobalt mined while concomitantly placing work safety and age requirements in place in Africa?² What ideas do Senator Sanders and Vice President Biden have for dealing with the out-of-service batteries?
The truth is they have no plans, they have no real ideas, because their promises are just platitudes; they don’t know what they are talking about! The Democrats are simply hoping that enough voters will be too stupid to notice.
¹ – The referenced article appeared before the various Democratic candidates put forth their plans.
² – Cobalt is produced in the United States, but 72% of our consumption is imported.
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