I’m coming up on a year of not listening to Rush Limbaugh. When it became obvious that he was vying for the job of conductor on the Trump Train, a position he seems to have lost to Sean Hannity, I stopped a 20-plus year listening habit. Having said that, it still irks me when people who are idiots claim Rush is an idiot because they are too stupid to know what they actually believe.
So, this was circulating on that hotbed of scientific thought, Twitter, overnight. I mean, how much science do you need to know and how much can you possibly get wrong in 140 characters? Right. As it turns out, a lot.
What you have is Twitter personified. Someone with obviously no knowledge of the subject playing smart in 140 characters or less. If you want to appreciate the extent to which our nation has achieved creating knowledge-free education, you need only look in the replies.
The fact is, Rush is completely right on wind and solar, the primary “renewable” energy sources. Homes and offices equipped with these systems are designed so that excess energy, if any, produced during the day is “sold” back to the power grid and when night and weather intervene these homes and offices use energy off the power grid. That would be coal, gas, oil, nuclear, or hydro generated energy. You don’t fill your basement with lead-acid batteries and pretend you are a green version of a Das Boot. If solar or wind required the installation of batteries to cover the period when those systems were not generating energy the cost would be astronomical.
Rush was right on a much larger level. The batteries which the goober who sent this tweet thinks exist are not only not “sustainable” but they are really a First World convenience bought with Third World lives.
The key to clean energy relies on certain minerals called “rare earths”
Lithium-ion batteries were supposed to be different from the dirty, toxic technologies of the past. Lighter and packing more energy than conventional lead-acid batteries, these cobalt-rich batteries are seen as “green.” They are essential to plans for one day moving beyond smog-belching gasoline engines. Already these batteries have defined the world’s tech devices.
Smartphones would not fit in pockets without them. Laptops would not fit on laps. Electric vehicles would be impractical. In many ways, the current Silicon Valley gold rush — from mobile devices to driverless cars — is built on the power of lithium-ion batteries.
But this comes at an exceptional cost.
How is that cost reckoned?
The sun was rising over one of the richest mineral deposits on Earth, in one of the poorest countries, as Sidiki Mayamba got ready for work.
Mayamba is a cobalt miner. And the red-dirt savanna stretching outside his door contains such an astonishing wealth of cobalt and other minerals that a geologist once described it as a “scandale geologique.”
This remote landscape in southern Africa lies at the heart of the world’s mad scramble for cheap cobalt, a mineral essential to the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones, laptops and electric vehicles made by companies such as Apple, Samsung and major automakers.
But Mayamba, 35, knew nothing about his role in this sprawling global supply chain. He grabbed his metal shovel and broken-headed hammer from a corner of the room he shares with his wife and child. He pulled on a dust-stained jacket. A proud man, he likes to wear a button-down shirt even to mine. And he planned to mine by hand all day and through the night. He would nap in the underground tunnels. No industrial tools. Not even a hard hat. The risk of a cave-in is constant.
The world’s soaring demand for cobalt is at times met by workers, including children, who labor in harsh and dangerous conditions. An estimated 100,000 cobalt miners in Congo use hand tools to dig hundreds of feet underground with little oversight and few safety measures, according to workers, government officials and evidence found by The Washington Post during visits to remote mines. Deaths and injuries are common. And the mining activity exposes local communities to levels of toxic metals that appear to be linked to ailments that include breathing problems and birth defects, health officials say.
The sad thing is that the lack of concern over child labor in cobalt mines that will inevitably kill the miners is that it shows how profoundly selfish the whole “green” rage is. For luxury products, like gourmet coffee and certain fabrics, there is a push for “fair trade,” the idea that Western consumers should pay out the wazoo to assuage liberal guilt and possibly help Juan Valdez out of poverty. This is virtue signalling — and wealth flaunting — at its most blatant. Using solar or wind power fits very neatly in this category. When it comes to items that are increasingly seen as necessities, like cell phones, there is no clamor for fair trade or improvement of mining standards. The push is for cheaper prices because while the average pierced androgynous hipster can get by without Starbucks they can’t live without Pokemon Go. And if Appalachian coal miners are reduced to poverty and Congolese children die in cobalt mines, well it is a small price to pay for thinking the right thoughts and letting others know you think those thoughts.