This video presentation was developed by DW (Deutsche Welle) News, the German international broadcaster. The theme is described by adding a bit to the title: The Price of Green Energy Will Destroy Us. The message is not about the exorbitant expense so much as the destruction of the world’s environment in order to save it. The imagery in the video is compelling, and for those who prefer reading, I provide below an excerpted transcript in italics with my bolds. H/T Mark Krebs
Climate change, long denied, is now sending shockwaves throughout the world. Citizens are demanding their governments take concrete action.
Greta: Why should we study for a future that is being taken away from us? [Applause]
In 2015 the UN climate conference in Paris struck an historic deal. Signatories committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
COP 21 President Laurent Fabius: “ I hereby confirm the adoption of the Paris climate agreement.”
The energy transition is in full swing, the future belongs to renewable technologies.
Al Gore: This is one of the most impressive and astounding technological revolutions in all of history.
One commodity has become the primary symbol of this new environmental consciousness.
“People are convinced, they were convinced that all they have to do is drive an electric car, and that’ll solve all the world’s problems with co2.”
“People are just talking about wind and solar as if that’s going to solve the problem, it won’t.”
What if these supposedly clean energies are nothing of the sort, if they ultimately inflict even more damage on the environment than fossil fuels?
“Everything surrounding us in society is made up of minerals. Basically electric cars are made of metals and minerals, and they need to be mined somewhere.”
“ There’s no such thing as clean energy. As long as we’ve got this kind of human behavior, there will also be pollution.”
The energy revolution promises to sharpen the world’s sense of responsibility, but secretly it’s already wreaking its own havoc.
The ecological transition is chiefly economic in nature. An event like the Geneva international motor show makes that abundantly clear. Electric cars are omnipresent. They’re seen as future proof, the new vehicles are touted as green or emissions free.
As the petrol and diesel era nears its end, traditional car makers are reinventing themselves and playing the eco card. The adopters of electric vehicles are people who believe in sustainability. They want to do good for the environment and they want to do their part to contribute to fewer emissions and less pollution, a change in mood that chimes with new environmental requirements. These are COP 21 targets adopted by nearly 200 nations plus the EU.
“We have to meet the co2 emission targets that are set by the European Commission that all of us manufacturers have to make. And they’re becoming more and more stringent. If we don’t meet those targets, there are penalties that will follow and we will have to pay those penalties. And this is what we of course want to avoid.”
This rapid transition comes at a price. By 2023 it’s hoped that 225 billion euros will have been invested in e-cars worldwide. That’s the price of a ticket to tomorrow’s world.
CEO VW France: ‘ It’s a future market that so far makes up just a few percent of the overall market but this market will explode. We’re gearing ourselves up for a completely different ballpark. “The electric car will grow from niche product to mass-produced one, and we’ll be offering it at prices everyone can afford.”
If you believe the car makers, the e-car only comes with a list of advantages. It won’t just push up sales, it’ll also protect the environment, a technological miracle. Before too long there’ll be hundreds of millions of these vehicles on the world’s roads. They no longer run on petrol or diesel. But other raw materials are essential in the manufacture of their batteries. Rare metals for example. These metals are already present in many components of our combustion vehicles. For example cerium ensures that windshields can filter UV rays. And we owe the colors and touch sensitivity of dashboard screens to europium and indium.
But in an electric car, rare earth metals play a much more significant role.
They’re crucial for the vehicle’s operation. Without neodymium for example, an e-car wouldn’t even be able to start. Neodymium is used to make magnets; they convert electric energy into mechanical energy, thereby powering the car.
The battery is the heart of an electric car. It constitutes up to 50 percent of the vehicle’s weight and contains cobalt and graphite among other elements. But that’s not all. A battery contains many rare metals, especially lithium, that’s the lightest one. It allows an exchange of electrons which in turn charges or discharges energy.
The auto industry is reliant on these little known raw materials and they’re also present in most other green technologies. It’s not just the e-car that needs rare metals they’re used everywhere for the magnets and wind turbine motors, for example. Rare metals are also crucial for the manufacture of solar cells, for photovoltaic systems. Without them we couldn’t generate any green renewable energies.
Today renewables make up almost 10 percent of worldwide electricity production. As a result of the energy transition wind and solar energy could meet almost half of our electricity needs by 2050. In this greener world, rare metals will be almost indispensable for lighting, heating and transport.
So where do these vital resources come from? Cobalt is chiefly mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Australia Chile and Bolivia all have huge lithium reserves, and Indonesia is a key producer of nickel, zirconium and tin. Today nations on all continents produce many hundred million tons of these raw materials. One country in particular owns vast reserves of strategic resources. China is the dominant producer of these sought after metals. In particular it produces two-thirds of the world’s supply of a mineral that’s especially important to green tech companies: Graphite.
We’re in the far north of the country, in the province of Heilongjiang. Almost unnoticed excavators have carried away an entire mountain right down to the ground water level to secure our green future. Graphite is often produced in ramshackle factories. These men work day and night without adequate clothing or respiratory protection. They’re the miners of the 21st century.
Miner: “We know our job exposes us to a health risk but we wear a mask for protection. Breathing this air over a long period of time can give you silicosis, where the lung becomes as hard as stone.”
The fine black dust floating in the air contains hydrofluoric acid. Inhaling large amounts of this caustic contact poison can potentially cause death.
“Do you know what this graphite’s used for?”
Miner: “For lots of things. For example, these days it’s used in all types of e-cars mainly for electric car batteries.”
The graphite residues are dispersed over many kilometers throughout the surrounding area. Before their very eyes farmers are witnessing a huge toxic carpet of dust building up on the region’s fields. Here the plants no longer sprout any leaves and the soil is losing its fertility.
Farmer: “There’s waste ore lying around everywhere like garbage. Of course we’re upset about it, in fact we’re very upset. They don’t take any responsibility. We can’t do anything. We’re small, if we protest they will take us away in handcuffs. You need to see it with your own eyes to understand.”
Considering how hugely profitable graphite is to Beijing, these people’s lives are of little consequence. And China is home to thousands of storage sites and production facilities for these sought after metals, indium, antimony, gallium, But also tungsten and germanium reserves are plentiful across the nation. China plays a key role on the international market for all these metals. We can assume that in the e-mobility sector alone, demand will rise rapidly over the coming 10 or 20 years for the most sought after rare earths. Demand is growing by up to 25 percent per year
For our society’s energy transition the Chinese are paying with especially severe environmental damage and high loss of human life.
In many mining regions residents have even left their homes. Entire villages were simply given up.
Chen Zhanheng: Here many companies only care about cost reduction. These companies don’t treat their waste emissions, slag and wastewater. They dispose of them in secret. The government does carry out checks, but there are ways to cheat the regulations. If an investigation is ordered, the companies play along and follow the rules. But the moment the inspectors are gone, they stop treating their waste and just dispose of it. Behavior like that is irresponsible.”
Scott Kennedy: “Central government really would like the mining of minerals to be much more environmentally friendly, but local governments are the ones that either own the mines or are invested in the companies that work the mines. They’re responsible for generating employment, tax payments and growing those local economies. And it’s the local government’s trade off to growing their economy for problems associated with the mining.”
Three thousand kilometers from Heilongjiang, in inner Mongolia, the Chinese have built imposing industrial centers. The industrial sites of the city of Baotou are devoted exclusively to the mining of rare earth elements, a special group of rare metals. The worst environmental damage is caused by the plant’s illegal disposal of waste water. This huge artificial lake on the outskirts of the city is fed by black streams of water containing heavy metals and toxins.
Chen Zhanheng: “Wastewater from the production of rare earth metals is even reaching the groundwater, and in some places this water is being used, but of course that’s problematic. It can be very harmful to people because it contains fluorine, for example, that makes our bones brittle raising the risk of fractures. Slag can contain radioactive thorium, which is also reaching the groundwater and spreading slowly from there. Alternatively it’s stirred up as dust by the wind and settles everywhere in the town or village. That’s how radioactive pollution occurs.
Around Baotou thousands of former villagers have begun a new life in soulless sleeper towns. They’re green technologies’ first refugees. One of them is Gao Sia. The farmer had to give up her farm, the health risks were simply too great.
Gao Sia: “Our livelihoods have been ruined. Young people earn a bit of money with casual work. Their families have nothing and they can’t support them. The water we use to wash and clean dishes every day is totally white. It’s so bad the tap’s blocked, nothing comes out. People are getting cancer, a large number very many. The metals they produce aren’t harmful, they’re sold for a great deal of money. But the mining creates wastewater and pollution.”
These new instances of environmental pollution on the other side of the world are the price for our wind turbines, our solar panels and our clean cars, improving air quality in Europe.
The paradox is that greenhouse gas emissions continue to exacerbate climate change all around our planet.
Engineer: To make something clean you always have to pollute something else. There’s no such thing as a co2 free and 100 % ecological product, regardless of what we might sometimes read on the label. It’s impossible, there’s always going to be a knock-on effect. If we want to see what pollution looks like, the environmental damage caused by our ever so clean products which we like to believe are made by workers in white coats, then we only need to look at industrial zones in China or elsewhere.”
Our green technologies don’t just contain rare metals, they require metals of all kinds including the most widespread.
A wind turbine consists of an average 20 tons of aluminum and up to 500 tons of steel. An e-car contains up to 80 kilos of copper, four times more than in some combustion vehicles. This reddish-brown metal is especially important for green tech companies.
Jean-Marc Sauser: “The energy transition is consuming huge amounts of copper, not just in the construction of wind turbines, but also in the connector cables that link the turbines to each other and the grid. The electricity has to reach its target destination after all. If you want electric cars, then you need charging points everywhere. For that you have to lay copper cables, and that’s what’s happening at the moment.
Olivier Vidal: “If you take copper for example, it gives us a clear illustration of what’s going on. Since the beginning of time humanity has produced between 800 million and a billion tons of copper. If we continue on this current growth trajectory will produce the same amount in the next 30 years. We’ll have to produce as much copper in three decades as we’ve consumed since the beginning of time. The demand is huge.”
This increased demand for regular metals such as copper means many other nations are affected by the energy transition. To gauge the full extent of the impact we need to travel thousands of kilometers to South America. We’re in northern Chile. Chuquicamata is the world’s largest open pit copper mine, which is publicly owned. Its vast crater has a diameter of four kilometers and is more than one kilometer deep. Increased worldwide demand means more laborers and more machines.
Production Director: “Last year we refined 330 000 tonnes of copper here in Chuquicamata. It’s pure copper ready for the market. Once we start mining underground as well, we expect to refine 470 000 tons of copper in Chuquicamata. It’ll be an historic year for the mine, 470 000 tons.”
Thirteen percent of the world’s copper reserves are found here in Chuquicamata, but the deeper the machines dig the less metal they’ll find in the ground. At the current pace of extraction, there are already signs that demand may outstrip supply.
Olivier Vidal: “Geologists are warning of a copper shortage that could take hold in just a few years. Pessimistic analysts are predicting a spike in production from 2030 to 2040. In other words today, followed by a decline in primary copper production.”
Just like China’s graphite industry, the copper mines of Chuquicamata are polluting the earth and water with heavy metals. Almost 10 percent of all jobs in Chile depend on copper extraction. The environmental damage caused by mining is completely ignored
Mayor of Tocopilla: “We have a water problem, a serious consequence of the mining and industry in this region.”
This is because mining and processing the mineral requires huge volumes of water. It’s thought that Chuquicamata uses 2000 liters per second. This, although in many parts of this arid desert it hasn’t rained for five hundred years.
Damir Galez, Historian: “The mining industry siphons off most of its water from wetlands and groundwater the water consumption is enormous.”
Mayor: “The water is practically running dry because more is being taken than nature can produce. The natural water reserves of our region are being excessively exploited by mining.”
To get a handle on the actual environmental impact, it’s necessary to examine not just mining itself, but the system as a whole.
The contaminated area covers several thousand square kilometers.
Antofagasta is four hours by car to the southwest of the Chuquicamata mine. The town’s population is used to the daily rumble of trains and trucks bringing the copper to this industrial port. From here the metal is exported all over the world. The air is thick with heavy metal particles released by the vehicles without anyone really noticing.
Although the mine is far away, it has brought disproportionate levels of ill health to the 200 000 people who live in Antofagasta. In 2016 this doctor published a study that to this day has been ignored by the copper industry.
Health Authority: “We studied contamination levels on the roofs of schools and kindergartens where we found a high concentration of heavy metals. In other parts of Chile people mainly die of cardiovascular disease. In the North the main cause of death is cancer, in particular lung cancer. A link to the contamination is indisputable. In some districts of Antofagasta 10% of residents have cancer.”
And producing electricity for the Chuquicamata mine inflicts further damage on people and the environment. To assess the full extent of the problem we’re traveling almost 300 kilometers to the north. Sandwiched between desert and sea the little town of Tocopilla appears cut off from the outside world. Isulina Jerez has lived here all her life. Ten years ago one of her sons died of lung cancer; he was just 17 years old.
Isulina Jerez: “As much as I’ve tried to find an explanation, I see no reason why my son who never smoked and always led a healthy life died at the age of just 17. He was very active and sporty, he was the healthiest of all my children. Then the cancer came and carried him off.”
It’s often difficult to breathe in Tocopilla, the cause of the problem is producing power for the insatiable mine of Chuquicamata. Chile has 28 coal-fired power stations. The government put one of them is here in this tiny town on the pacific coast.
40 percent of Chile’s electricity is gleaned from this fossil fuel. The toxins released in the process have already led to high rates of cancer. Entire systems are being sacrificed: the land, nature, and people’s health. In turn these sacrifices benefit other regions who profit from them. There people can afford the luxury of cleaner, healthier, greener and more renewable energy. But other people pay the price for that.
Damir Galez: “There’s copper here but no coal. That’s brought from many thousands of kilometers away coming from Colombia and New Zealand. The procurement process does of course have an impact. For example, at the coal mines in Colombia, the populations there are exposed to a high concentration of heavy metals in the air. And the ships that transport the coal pollute the sea. The coal travels thousands of kilometers before it arrives in Tocopilla. That requires a well-developed network of mines, ports, trains, ships and thermal power plants. At the end you’ve got the copper mine.
Copper mining takes place in the dark and what you don’t see of course doesn’t count for anything.
But the company that runs the coal-fired power station in Tocopilia claims green credentials. The multinational has even declared itself world market leader for co2 free technologies. The company in question is Engie based in France.
Damir Galez: “During my time in France I was able to observe the big contradiction in all of this. There Engie presents itself as a clean company promoting renewables and always prioritizing sustainability. But this sustainability in Europe, particularly in France has a very dark side: Electricity production.
To be able to generate electricity in Chile, the French energy company operates six coal-fired power plants there, a seventh has been under construction since 2015.
SrVP Engie: “We’re helping the Chilean government. Instead of closing the power stations, which would halt factories and trains and plunge the nation into darkness, we aim to support Julia’s (Julia Wittmayer) EU energy transition. It’s about finding the right moment for the construction of new plants in the renewable sector. We’re working a great deal with solar and wind power and we’d like to support the government in this conversion. That’s our mission and our responsibility.
Damir Galez: But you’re still building a new coal plant in northern Chile.
SrVP Engie: “As i just said Engie’s task is to support the government and we’re currently doing just that. It’s impossible to decommission all coal plants as long as they supply 40 percent of the national demand for electricity. That’s the case in Chile: Without this 40% industry would grind to a halt. We’re supporting the conversion to renewables and a reduced electricity consumption.
Nicolas Meilhan: The eco car has become a kind of religion. If we now can see that maybe it isn’t the be-all and end-all, and the same could be said for solar cells and wind turbines to a certain extent, then all the governments talk about the electric car that’ll save the world will come crashing down like a house of cards. In 20 years we’ll wake up because harmful emissions will have continued to rise and the e-car won’t have changed anything. The next energy crisis is already in the making: ElectricGate.
But at the Geneva motor show, car makers have other things on their minds. New brands are jostling for attention in a promising market. Volvo for example has founded a subsidiary dedicated to making electric cars with a carefully thought out marketing campaign pledging that by purchasing its models we’re saving the planet.
Global automotive industries annual revenue is 2 000 billion euros.
That’s equal to the GDP of a nation like France. With that in mind, very few car makers are prepared to look reality in the eye.
VP Lexus: “ It’s probably an interim solution, but is it also the best long-term solution? I’m not sure about that because if we’re just talking about purely electric vehicles, we can’t just be looking at the car itself. We also need to consider the issues of battery and electricity production. And in many nations the latter isn’t particularly ecological. That’s a global problem.”
So does the future of green energies lie in further innovations? That’s what car makers are promising at least.
SrVP Engie: “The energy transition isn’t over, there are still many innovations to come. We’ve invested in startups that want to develop new technologies, organic solar cells for example. They’re very different from regular cells because they don’t need any silicon. Organic solar cells are like a sheet of paper, very flexible; they can be installed anywhere. If we fixed these thin film cells to all large office blocks we could generate an incredible amount of electricity.
Olivier Videl: “Some key technological developments have the potential for enhanced effectiveness. Performance will improve through research in this area. Despite everything we should throw our weight behind these technologies, because they’re ripe for development.”
Chile has pledged to shut down all its coal plants, but not before 2040. So Engie won’t be able to address the contradiction between its green washing and the bleak Chilean reality anytime soon.
This abridged transcript excludes the ending message which devolved into a Malthusian appeal, echoing the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth. The video nailed the essential point: Obsession with e-cars in particular, and non-carbon energy in general will destroy the planet in the guise of saving it. The hypocrisy is dripping from those who terrorize the world with fears of global warming and point to zero carbon as the solution. They get all righteous and indignant at car companies who organized to profitably produce e-cars to meet the demand the warmists created. They expose their quaint naivete that people can be supplied with goods without any profit incentive. The dangerous obsession has three components.
The Transition to Zero Carbon is Unnecessary
Earth’s weather and climate changes are within the range of historical variation. In particular, there has been no accumulation of warming in the last four decades. The rising CO2 in the air has been a boon to the biosphere and to crop production.
Replacing Fossil Fuels with Zero Carbon Energy is Impossible
Presently, despite all of the money invested in them, Wind and Solar power supply 2% of the world’s energy needs. The renewable energy solution does not scale to the desired outcome of reducing fossil fuel usage to any meaningful extent.
The Attempt to Electrify Everything Will Bring Environmental Desolation
Trying to power modern societies with intermittent wind and solar power will extract planetary resources to depletion. The landscapes of Northern China and Northern Chile will become typical rather than extreme situations to be managed. The imaginary climate problem will not be solved, but the environmental catastrophe will be all too real, and of our own making. Cease and desist this madness.