Many of us want to help in combating climate change, but do we know what happens when we exchange one resource for another? As an example, electric vehicles (EV) are thought to be an important part of meeting global goals on climate change. With all the EV choices, incentives and rebates, purchasing an EV seems like a perfect way to do our part when it comes to climate action. However, the welfare of humanity and required resources as well as who is driving the EV push should be carefully examined and thoroughly understood before we make that purchase.
About five years ago, my 16 year old nephew questioned my choice in leasing my first EV. I had enthusiastically responded with all the “green facts” but he persisted in continuing our exchange of views. Today, I am reflecting back to our debate as an increased awareness of the negative effects of lithium mining on Indigenous communities becomes fully visible in the rearview mirror.
For instance, seventy percent of the worldwide lithium reserves are found on indigenous lands in South America -specifically in the Atacama Region. Chile is the second-largest producer of lithium, which is a critical component of the batteries that power EVs and other items like our indispensable smartphones, tablets and laptops. As a result of the preferred method to extract the metal in this region, water has become as scarce as their ancient ways of life. Both leading down the “doomsday’ road for human survival.
Here in the U.S., sacred lands like those in Thacker Pass are lost due to yet another multinational corporation’s financial gain and disregard of spiritual significance as well as their environmental impact. The 1,000-acre lithium mine will destroy sacred land despite of legal efforts by local tribes, ranchers and environmental groups. When our demand for these products and goods drive corporate operations, the negative impacts may not be truthfully perceived through the dusty windshield.
And then there are the side mirrors to look at! When other factors are not considered like EVs will still pollute our environment, whether it is in the manufacturing process, charging in our garages or at public stations, batteries adding to landfills and the systemic car dependency -we remain focused on a partisan exchange. However, together we have the ability to safe guard the earth and the natural systems on which all life depends, if we focus on solutions that rethink mobility and waste entirely.
Interestingly, my nephew had witnessed the crossroad at the EV transition well before the yield sign. His foresight has now become my roadmap toward climate justice because while we are changing harvesting methods, the depraved impact remains the same. Therefore, may we all carefully merge and travel across the bridge by way of arriving at resources and transportation means that are just -for all people and the planet.
If we do, this might “just” be achievable if we walk and bike more, use accessible, affordable and reliable electrified public transportation and understand the impact on the land and the people where the resources come from.