Blood Batteries? Climate Advocates Grappling with the Gruesome Human Cost of Renewable Energy

Child Cobalt Miners in Kailo, Congo - Author Julien Harneis, source Wikimedia.
Child Cobalt Miners in Kailo, Congo – Author Julien Harneis, source Wikimedia.

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

As calls for more renewables and a green Covid recovery mount, renewable energy advocates are facing uncomfortable questions about the vast quantities of raw materials required for their green revolution, and allegations of child slave labour which haunt the base of their specialty material supply chains.

Green Energy’s Dirty Side Effects

The global transition to renewables could lead to human rights abuses and risks exacerbating inequalities between the West and the developing world.

BY CARL-JOHAN KARLSSONKATARINA ZIMMER | JUNE 18, 2020, 11:01 AM

Climate change remains one of the most serious threats to the integrity of life on earth. Thankfully, many of the tools needed to stop heating the planet already exist. The use of renewable energy resources is expanding in the West, but the production of electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar cells needs to be scaled up. To source all energy from renewables by 2050—necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius—citizens will need 1 billion additional electric cars and a more than 30-fold increase in solar photovoltaic capacity.

But as economies in the West address the climate crisis—albeit at a painstakingly slow pace—another crisis is worsening elsewhere. Making all those vehicles, panels, and turbines requires resources such as copper, lithium, and cobalt—which, like fossil fuels, are extracted from the ground. But unlike fossil fuels, many raw materials for green energy come disproportionately from developing countries.

In the last few years, cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has trickled into the public consciousness, beginning with a 2016 Amnesty International report that revealed child labor at the country’s nonindustrial mine sites, which provide the cobalt that ends up in smart phones and other devices around the world.

Renewable technologies create ethical issues at both ends of their life cycle. Sovacool was part of a team of researchers who recently visited the two ends of technology supply chains: artisanal cobalt mining sites in Congo, where miners extract the metal using rudimentary tools or their hands, and electronic waste scrapyards in Ghana, a global cemetery for electronics such as solar panels. The team’s findings reveal widespread child labor, the subjugation of ethnic minorities, toxic pollution, biodiversity loss, and gender inequality along the length of the supply chain.

Read more: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/06/18/green-energy-dirty-side-effects-renewable-transition-climate-change-cobalt-mining-human-rights-inequality/

One thing FP does not make clear is the sheer scale of increased mining activity which would be required to transform the world’s energy systems.

A 2019 world bank report suggested cobalt production for batteries, much of which is produced from often dubious sources in the Congo, would have to be scaled up 1,200% to limit global warming to 2C.

If the world scrambles to embrace renewables, if the demand for Cobalt goes up 1200%, does anyone think the warlords who run many of the Congo’s Cobalt mines will somehow do a better job of looking out for the kids they exploit? Or is it more likely conditions for the kids would get even worse?

63 thoughts on “Blood Batteries? Climate Advocates Grappling with the Gruesome Human Cost of Renewable Energy

  1. Another example of the half ass thinking and unintended consequences of the Green crowd. But like everything else they refuse to acknowledge or discuss it’s just noise to them and brings cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy to new levels.

    • Blood green as an unintended consequence is more than just a humanitarian problem.

      What makes it so much worse is the imaginary nature of the climate influence so many gullible useful idiots think they’re stopping while the mitigations proposed are so ineffective, any impact on the climate would be undetectable even if the IPCC was close to being correct.

      • They’re off by a factor or ten

        To source all energy from renewables by 2050—necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius—citizens will need 1 billion additional electric cars and a more than 30-fold increase in solar photovoltaic capacity.

        To source all energy from renewables by 2050—necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius—citizens will need 10 billion additional electric cars and a more than 3000-fold increase in solar photovoltaic capacity. Likely even more than that

        • I read somewhere not too long ago that the amount of silver required by PV cells to simply keep up with increased demand for electricity over the next 30 year (to say nothing of replacing the existing fossil fuel infrastructure that feeds current demand) exceeds the estimated total reserves of all silver in the Earth’s crust.

          Please note: That was estimated reserves, not proven reserves, which are FAR lower.

          If that article was correct, then it’s simply an impossibility anyway. Wonder how long before that slaps the politicos and greenies in the face?

    • This is a classic case of the implicit hypocrisy and pig ignorance of the so called ‘green’ movement. I wonder what their puffed up little egos will do when the sheer irony of what they have achieved registers in their minds, minds ‘educated’ in the ‘humanities’. If the fate of those that will suffer the most from the brutal reality of this eco narcissism was not so serious you would fall about laughing at them but this stuff is not funny.

      The eco movement has its knee on the neck of these people with their hands in their pockets, reaching for their phone so they can take a selfie. What was that distant, breathless sounding echo….? I can’t breathe? My kids cant breathe…? My people can’t breathe…? Nah, its just the wind…. Smile!

    • ‘ But like everything else they refuse to acknowledge or discuss it’s just noise to them and brings cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy to new levels.’

      They’re all up in arms that we refuse to acknowledge their projected threat while they ignore the real one. Irony and hypocrisy vying for top position.

  2. But, don’t you understand that slavery was invented by the United States?
    We need to keep these dark skinned kids in poverty to have our smart phones?
    S/o.
    Some of the same people tipping statues hav eno problem with this as long they
    have their latest i-Phone..

      • Slavery has been around since the dawn of man. Even in the USA from 1776 to 1865 (89 years) but in the U.S. it has been abolished for the last 155 years, almost twice as long as it existed within the country as a country.

  3. Climate change remains one of the most serious threats to the integrity of life on earth

    damn straight…they’re going to kill us all with this crap

  4. I hope the Pope reads this before his next comments on the climate emergency. It is bad enough that he seems to rely on IPCC documents as his source of information, he should know about the blood miners of the Congo and he should watch The planet of the Humans. Not only the Pope but many others like Justin Trudeau and Boris Johnson and Macron and all the idiots at the UN.

    BTW I am a practicing Catholic. (for those who won’t like my criticism of His Holiness. )

    • Your Pope is one of the key drivers of this nonsense. As usual he remains blind to the injustices that occur and will remain so.
      Here’s a good idea, stop putting money in the collection plate, and stand up by protesting outside the church, for these and other continuing indescretions of the church members.

    • A 12-fold increase in the world production of cobalt, lithium, and copper is madness that only a “woke” person thinks is a good idea for the environment to save the Earth from the climate scam.

      Elon has recently had an epiphany about the all the lunacy of the Left and “took the Red pill.”
      The Red Pill is the “woke” antidote.

  5. The answer is simple: divest from anything and everything “green”. Hit the sock chuckers where it hurts – the pocketbook.

      • The locals exploit the miners. You’d need to re-colonise these places to put a stop to the warlordism… and who wants to do that?

    • Certainly. With manganese. Also primarily sourced in countries that don’t care a whit about how many die to extract it. Except for Australia, but do you really believe that they will “step up” and replace even the current production from South Africa and Red China?

  6. “Climate change remains one of the most serious threats to the integrity of life on earth.”
    I stopped reading when I got to that sentence.
    Since that is an entirely bogus statement, why would I want to read anything else they have to say.

    • “serious threats to the integrity of life on eart”

      Does this mean that climate change is going to make life on earth dishonest liars?

  7. The solution to the social problems created by artisanal mining involves two steps:

    1. Democracy. Getting rid of corrupt governments in the DRC and elsewhere;

    2. Capitalism. Licensing the mineral deposits (mainly cobalt and columbo-tantalite) to responsible companies who will mine them safely and efficiently and give decent jobs to the adults so they can send their kids to school.

    Of course, it’s easy to say but not quite so easy to do. If a portion of the river of aid money that flows into Africa were devoted to these simple objectives, it would be a good start.

    Industrial-scale copper and gold mining does exist in the DRC, but the regulatory environment is fickle, and capital doesn’t like uncertainty.

    • These third world countries have poor property rights and are politically unstable.

      Would you want to invest billions on a project with a 20-year ROI in a polity that might decide to nationalise your mines 5 years later to “take back The People’s stolen” property?

      Of course, much of the instability of these places is the result of great-power meddling. Having said that – we are where we are. Only the locals can sort out their own political problems. No one in the West has an appetite to recolonise these countries and establish and maintain the first-world institutions and mindset that would make investing there safe.

      … of course, the Chinese might bribe the local warlords and then move in the PLA to keep the locals in line. But corporate governance rules make it difficult for Western companies to do the same.

  8. Eric, I’ve tried getting across a less hyperbolic case for the plight of artisanal miners in the 3rd World in the face of the totally corrupted, highly successful campaign of NGOs that fabricate much of what we ‘know’ about it. I’ve worked in 8 countries in Africa and in Brazil where artisanal miners – garimpeiros in Brazil – get a decent living for their families.

    In Nigeria, (Geol. Survey of) I assisted a number of artisanal miners in safe mining and cheap efficient mineral concentration in the 1960s (!) as part of the newly independent nation’s policy. I was a cofounding creator of the Nigerian School of Mines and lectured in geology,
    mining exploration and development. Many among my students were from artisanal mining families. I even invented a highly effective mineral concentrator that could be built with available materials, a manually operated aviation type fuel-barrel pump for water and utilizing manual power.

    Most of the cobalt mined in DR Congo is done by large, modern, sophisticated companies like Glencore, one of the world’s largest mining companies, and, given the scale of projected demand, likely more than 95% of new output will be from large companies. NGOs never mention this.

    NGOs and the news media fed by them never mention that most family ops provide a good living for families. The main horror was the Hutu massacre of Tutsis during the Rawanda affair followed up by brutal Hutu aggressors taking over much of the artisanal mines in eastern DR Congo – the famous ‘blood’ coltan ops. Yeah that was bad and, personally I hold Kofi Annan and the United Nations responsible for the deaths of up to a million Tutsis. They had ample advanced warning to prevent it or at least interrupt it early.

    In Africa it is a strong cultural matter that children help parents in farming, business, mining and chores. It used to be true in North America and everywhere else in the early days and I daresay a fair number of commenters o this blog dud likewise as children. It is a part of economic development.

    Doing effective research on this matter is made difficult by MSM, corrupt search engines, and the lefty Big Lie machine that floods the internet with their favored chaff. This story is a support for the sceptical viewpoint in aspects of the New Deal, but sceptics really don’t want this kind of support.

    • Mining dot com webpage, “Congo miners buying cobalt from artisanal operators to balance market” from October 2018 by Cecilia Jamasmie is an interesting article and has a bar chart showing how large scale mechanised mining and artisanal mining has varied in Congo over the period 2012 to 2019. Large scale makes up over 80% most years.

      If the large scale mining did it all the artisanal miners would be out of a job. Maybe if enough tax was gathered from the large industrialised mines it could pay for a Congo NHS & state schooling & clean water & sanitation for all ?

      A 2017 BBC article said,” More than 20% of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s mining revenue is being lost due to corruption and mismanagement. At least $750m (£580m) has gone missing over the past three years. “Congo’s mining revenues should be helping to lift its people out of poverty,” says Pete Jones, a Global Witness senior campaigner.

      According to the report, much of DR Congo’s mining revenue goes missing after being paid to the state-owned mining company, Gécamines.

      The head of Gécamines, a close ally of President Kabila, has denied allegations of corruption and insisted the company is transparent.

      Other alleged culprits identified by the report are the country’s tax agencies which are legally allowed to hold back a percentage of the taxes they impose.

      This creates avenues for corruption through inflating how much of the fines they can keep for themselves, Global Witness says.

      The report says that if the money not reaching the state coffers through corruption, mismanagement and an ineffective tax system was collated, from 2013 to 2015, then the amount rises to $1.3bn.

    • Hi Gary, I hear you. I still think if prices shoot up and demand for Cobalt rises 12x it could still get messy. There seems to be enough instability on the ground to keep medical NGOs worried.

      As for kids doing what their parents did – difficult situation. England faced a similar hard decision in the mid 1800s, and decided they had to get kids out of the mines, though this caused hardship for the kids.
      https://museum.wales/articles/2011-04-11/Children-in-Mines/

      Did they make the right decision? A long time ago I spoke to a former Welsh coal miner, he was an election teller at a quiet polling station (as I was, for a different party), so there was plenty of time to chat.

      He said “all my friends back in Wales, they curse Thatcher closing the mines, but they don’t think about the fact they’re all still alive. Back when the mines were open people didn’t live long, they died of black lung. All these people who are complaining the mines were closed just don’t think about the fact if they had kept their old jobs, they would all be dead by now.”

      Of course, dying of starvation is no fun either.

  9. What, not all electric vehicles can be lithium ion batteries, recharged with by Glycerin? But we should all be able to drive a VW ID. R

  10. Presumably it is the minor child’s father that directs it to labor at anything in Africa. When there is no constant father in the household “… it takes a village …” to channel that child’s actions according to some author not from Africa.

    Evidently in the USA this is how ex-president Johnson’s “Great Society” programs has fostered the “woke” entitlement spectrum. With ex-president Obama’s cell phone for all program much of the youths’ work consists of lifting their device for filming & also digitizing their activity to varying degrees. To these people the mining conditions of their phone battery ore is in the past & their focus is what’s trending.

  11. 1200% is likely a woeful underestimate, it does not take into account realistic battery useful life or pitiful recycling and recovery rates. There is not enough cobalt in the world to electrify a fraction of the world’s automobiles, and it will make these rare elements impossibly expensive for purposes where there is no viable alterntive. And it is not just cobalt, the same applies to cadmium and molybdenum. We risk consuming these vuluable rare elements for a delusional fantasy. Definately not renewable resources.

  12. The irony is that ‘renewables’ have no effect on climate. The human contribution to warming is from increasing water vapor. Water vapor has increased faster than possible from temperature increase.

  13. This permeates everything…

    https://www.reddit.com/r/news/comments/h90uyd/github_to_replace_master_slave_with_alternatives/

    I was in discussion with workmates about this and everyone stated it was the right thing to do as a result of the BLM movement. Ignoring the fact that Africans have enslaved Africans well before the white man arrived. I do not condone slavery (Well, we are slave to the world machine are we not?) but to change these words because they are racist and may offend people?

  14. Asteroid Mining may yet prove profitable. And you would have to have highly trained workers not third world child slaves

  15. I think you are making a BIG strategic mistake if you focus on cobalt in order to “fight” against renewables. All current investigation about batteries is focused on reducing or totally eliminating the use of cobalt. And there are very good perspectives that this will be achieved in a very short time from now. In fact, it is already easy to do for applications like electricity grid balance support which do not have the very strong needs in terms of energy density that are needed for electric vehicles, so we are not even talking about a problem to solve for renewables, but an already solved one.

    • Absolutely, lead batteries or vanadium flow batteries, sodium in place of lithium, iron to replace cobalt. All possible.

      But right now when a government orders a big battery from Tesla, they get lithium cobalt.

      A big problem with the renewables crowd is they try to live in the future, all their projections involve hypothetical cost cuts they think will happen. But you can’t gamble on future advances which haven’t happened yet. Just ask the nuclear fusion crowd.

  16. Surely, if “climate change” is the terrible threat it is made out to be, the way to go would be nuclear? If the West continues on the path of replacing energy with wind, solar and biomass, they will succeed only in creating environmental destruction on the most unimaginable scale. By 2050 someone will no doubt observe “to save the environment we had to destroy it.”

    • I was waiting for it Vincent, a sensible comment. Don’t even understand why we would be trying to justify or persevere to make ‘green’ technology work. Nuclear is the obvious answer. Hears hoping that common sense will prevail. Clean energy that isn’t weather dependent operating just about 24/7 and has a miniscule amount of waste compared to so called ‘green’ technology.

    • Even nuclear won’t stop global warming.

      The assumption made by the environmentalists is that it is all down to CO2 levels. So if we reduce energy production from fossil fuels then everything will be fine. So increasing nuclear power seems logical (except most environmentalists hate that even more). But what if this is not true? What if ALL energy use heats up the environment, whatever the source?

      This is actually true, but most climate scientists believe that it only heats the Earth’s surface up by an average of 0.013 °C or less, and so has a negligible effect. But this heating is not uniform. It is almost all on land, and 90% is in the Northern Hemisphere. That means that the average temperature rise on land in the Northern Hemisphere increases by a factor of 6 to about 0.08 °C. It is then easy to show that, for some countries or states with advanced economies and high population densities, the heating can be much more than 0.013 °C without needing to rely on the additional Greenhouse Effect from CO2. In fact it can be up to 75 times higher.
      E.g.
      Texas (0.3 °C)
      Pennsylvania (0.5 °C)
      Italy (0.3 °C)
      Germany (0.4 °C)
      UK (0.4 °C) – England (0.7 °C)
      Belgium (1.0 °C)
      Netherlands (1.0 °C)
      The problem is that most weather stations are located where the highest populations are found, or in the countries with the highest GDP. So they are bound to reflect the high local energy usage. So we can only solve this problem (if it is a problem) by using less energy, but I can’t see anyone voting for that.
      I have explained the physics and my reasoning here : https://climatescienceinvestigations.blogspot.com/2020/06/14-surface-heating.html

    • Even nuclear won’t stop global warming.

      The assumption made by the environmentalists is that it is all down to CO2 levels. So if we reduce energy production from fossil fuels then everything will be fine. So increasing nuclear power seems logical (except most environmentalists hate that even more). But what if this is not true? What if ALL energy use heats up the environment, whatever the source?

      This is actually true, but most climate scientists believe that it only heats the Earth’s surface up by an average of 0.013 °C or less, and so has a negligible effect. But this heating is not uniform. It is almost all on land, and 90% is in the Northern Hemisphere. That means that the average temperature rise on land in the Northern Hemisphere increases by a factor of 6 to about 0.08 °C. It is then easy to show that, for some countries or states with advanced economies and high population densities, the heating can be much more than 0.013 °C without needing to rely on the additional Greenhouse Effect from CO2. In fact it can be up to 75 times higher.
      E.g.
      Texas (0.3 °C)
      Pennsylvania (0.5 °C)
      Italy (0.3 °C)
      Germany (0.4 °C)
      UK (0.4 °C) – England (0.7 °C)
      Belgium (1.0 °C)
      Netherlands (1.0 °C)
      The problem is that most weather stations are located where the highest populations are found, or in the countries with the highest GDP. So they are bound to reflect the high local energy usage. But can we then trust their data?

      We can only solve this problem (if it is a problem) by using less energy, but I can’t see anyone voting for that.

      I have explained the physics and my reasoning here : https://climatescienceinvestigations.blogspot.com/2020/06/14-surface-heating.html

  17. Well NSS.

    What about the slag lakes mining for wind turbines?

    Being GREEN used to mean reducing pollution, cleaning up the land, water, air. Responsibly managing land resources, mineral resources, and educating the public to stop littering, pick up after themselves, be a good neighbor (don’t pollute the land and water so it flows downstream).

    Now it’s all about pushing a fabricated agenda for the new world order.

    I used to be an environmentalist. I believe in reducing pollution, recycling goods that have a market for them to be recycled, responsible land management (which means controlled burns on forests to increase new growth and health), cleaner mining for coal to protect the people that do it, cleaner emissions on industry, and more efficiency for cars–be that a hybrid, or redesign of the internal combustion engine for better efficiency or moving to another form of fuel entirely. I believe that our dependence on fossil fuels is not going to be wiped aside but rather reduced by new technologies that are more efficient, better output, less input (which is not solar or wind).

    In other words, we can do this because we already have, we’ve taken measures, small at first then widespread–which is how things work. And then comes along someone that is not getting recognition that they feel they “deserve” and blows the whole damn thing up to a global scale of fear mongering. Well crap, there goes the neighborhood.

    In the meantime, people are not recycling the way they used to, but actually looking at the product they are recycling to see if it can be recycled(like is there a market to recycle it?). They are force fed that all plastic is bad and needs to be recycled without realizing not all of it is. They are force fed that landfills are full….when they aren’t. That we are running out of land for landfills….when we aren’t. All of this to feed a global shame for simply being human…while “they” provide outright lies, 1/2 truths, omissions of fact, and a myriad of more intensive manipulation techniques to keep you quaking in your boots so that the only voice you hear will be theirs because they are “scientists” and “scientists are the new priests of truth”…..nothing could be further from the truth.

    Science is full of errors….in fact, science is based upon errors….finding errors….finding out why there are errors. I have a science degree and it galls me to no end to hear people sputter out the mantra they have been forced fed: that they are “following the science” on this. They don’t even know what that means and they would be surprised as hell to realize that science does not have all the answers….but is simply full of questions.

    So I’m not an environmentalist anymore because I don’t follow the dogma, now I’m a naturalist (which used to mean someone who prefers to not wear clothes), because to be an environmentalist requires me to take the pill of ignorance and spout fear and shame upon my fellow human beings. No thanks.

  18. “The team’s findings reveal widespread child labor, the subjugation of ethnic minorities, toxic pollution, biodiversity loss, and gender inequality …”

    C’mon. These things aren’t happening because of new jobs coming to developing nations. These things are happening because the local culture is defective. It would be happening with or without this additional for such economic development in poor countries. And yes, the reason these countries remain mired in poverty is partly because of the same defective culture.

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