Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal resolution mentions the words “indigenous peoples” six times, with an emphasis on the “historic oppression” these communities have experienced throughout history.
Ironically, Ocasio-Cortez and co-sponsoring Sen. Ed Markey are apparently oblivious to the plight of indigenous communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Argentina, Bolivia, and China that suffer daily from the mining of cobalt, lithium, nickel, and other metals essential to electric car batteries.
In reality, the Green New Deal would decimate the communities Democrats claim to respect, while creating a dangerous amount of pollution and needless death throughout the globe.
Electric Vehicles Create Environmental Problems
Currently, approximately 5 percent of total car sales in the United States are electric, and Democrats plan on “overhauling transportation systems in the United States” to primarily electric cars and high-speed rails. However, the batteries in electric vehicles (EV) rely on extracting cobalt, lithium, and other metals to ensure this energy source functions safely. According to Financial Times, “metals account for about 25 per cent of the battery cost” and one market analyst states “There will be no EV industry without DRC cobalt.”
More than 60 percent of the world’s cobalt is found in the DRC, where children as young as six years old risk their lives mining this substance linked to radioactivity and numerous other health risks. As for the indigenous peoples Ocasio-Cortez wants to protect, The Guardian highlighted the nightmare of mining cobalt this way:
Toxicity assaults at every turn; earth and water are contaminated with industrial runoff, and the air is brown with noxious haze…I documented the horrors at 31 artisanal mining sites in the south-eastern provinces, including several previously undocumented sites in remote mountains near the Zambian border. Based on the data I gathered, I estimate there are more than 255,000 creuseurs mining cobalt in DRC, at least 35,000 of whom are children, some as young as six.…There is little we can do as consumers at present, apart from refusing to buy their products until they take sufficient action.
In addition to child labor, practically zero safety standards and abysmal conditions, The Washington Post reports that “death and injury from tunnel collapses are not uncommon” and that “scientists have recorded alarming radioactivity levels in some mining regions.”
The Dangers of Cobalt, Nickel, and Lithium
In addition, Amnesty International explained the “dark side of green technology” in a 2017 report that “showed how cobalt mined by children and adults in hazardous conditions in the DRC entered the supply chains of many of the world’s biggest brands.” In addition to the environmental and human cost associated with cobalt, electric car batteries rely on mining lithium. According to a Washington Post story by Todd C. Frankel and Peter Whoriskey, mining lithium is linked to horrendous environmental damage in Chile and Argentina:
Indigenous people are left poor as tech world takes lithium from under their feet…In visits to all six of the indigenous communities, which lie on a mountain-ringed desert about 25 miles from Argentina’s northwest border with Chile, The Post found a striking contrast — faraway companies profiting from mineral riches while the communities that own the land struggle to pay for sewage systems, drinking water and heat for schools…’They are taking everything away from us,’ said Carlos Guzman, 44, an indigenous resident who leads a group worried about contamination and water use by the lithium mines. ‘These lands are ancestral. We live by this. By the fields. By our cattle. This way of life is in danger.’
It’s doubtful when Democrats drafted a resolution containing numerous references to “indigenous peoples” that they realized lithium, cobalt, and other metals were linked to the devastation of indigenous communities.
In addition to cobalt and lithium, nickel is tied to pollution and environmental damage. A Guardian piece highlights the issues associated with extracting nickel for electric car batteries:
Plumes of sulphur dioxide choking the skies, churned earth blanketed in cancerous dust, rivers running blood-red – environmental campaigners have painted a grim picture of the nickel mines and smelters feeding the electric vehicle industry.
The Philippines this year closed or suspended 17 nickel mines because of environmental concerns.
Suddenly, Markey’s “mission to save all of creation” doesn’t sound so inspiring, nor does it address the human catastrophe associated with mining the metals needed for the Green New Deal to work.
The Democratic Party’s attempt at invigorating Americans’ imagination is linked to water pollution, child labor in the Congo, and the exploitation of indigenous communities so often evoked by Ocasio-Cortez. Until technology advances so that cobalt, lithium, and nickel won’t be needed in electric car batteries, this green dream will be a nightmare for indigenous communities around the globe.