Child labour, chemical leaks: the price for a greener future we should pay


Fighting the impending climate crisis on Earth is pushing the creation of various new green technologies by engineers. Although electric cars are driving gasoline and diesel vehicles off our highways, wind and solar plants are expected to replace coal and gas-fired power plants.

Fossil fuel dependency will eventually decrease, mitigating global warming, but scientists warn that it will come at an environmental cost to create a world powered by green technology. They claim that discovering the materials to build these devices and then extracting them may have major ecological effects and substantial impacts on biodiversity. Prof. Richard Herrington, Head of Earth Science at the Natural History Museum in London, says: “The move toward net-zero carbon emissions will place new stresses on the planet, at least in the short term,” “We will have to learn to consider gain and loss in terms of ecosystems in the same way we do now when we consider economic issues. “Examples of the thorny problems ahead, Herrington said, are metals such as lithium and cobalt.

To make lightweight rechargeable batteries for electric cars and to store electricity from wind and solar plants, both elements are required. In the case of cobalt, 60% of the world’s supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where children as young as seven are used as miners by multiple unregulated mines. There, when operating in tunnels which are susceptible to collapse, they inhale dust containing cobalt, which can cause deadly lung disease. Mark Dummett of Amnesty International, who has been investigating the cobalt mining crisis in the DRC, said, ‘Men, women and children operate without the most basic safety equipment, such as gloves and face masks.’ “In one village we visited, people showed us how the water they were drinking from the local stream had been contaminated by wastewater from a mineral-processing plant.” Over the next decade, global demand is projected to rise sharply. But mining is rife with environmental concerns of all kinds.

In South America, the so-called Lithium Triangle, containing Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, immense quantities of water are extracted from underground sources to extract lithium from minerals linked to the lowering of water tables and the spread of deserts.

In Tibet, the local Lichu River was polluted by a leak of toxic chemicals from the Ganzizhou Rongda lithium mine in 2016 and triggered widespread protests in the area. Nor will these environmental concerns be confined to specialty metals, analysts point out. They claim that increasing demand for conventional materials such as cement to construct hydroelectric plants or copper to supply cables to link wind and solar farms to cities and build electric cars, if not taken care of, may also cause extensive environmental harm. Our growing appetite for copper provides a striking example of the problems. In order to create wind or solar turbines, thousands of tons are required, whereas electric vehicles use two to three times more copper than diesel or gasoline engines.

Global copper demand will increase by more than 300 percent by 2050, according to a recent estimate. “You need ten kilograms more copper for an electric car than for a gasoline-powered car,” Herrington said. “That means if you wanted to convert all 31 million cars in the UK into electric cars, you would need about 12 percent of the world’s total copper production – just for the UK. That’s an unrealistic requirement, given that we hope not to be making electric cars for another decade. “Harrington said it was inevitable that mining and electricity supply would be extended for the ref. In addition to these issues, the planned expansion of nuclear power in the United Kingdom – to satisfy demand that coal or gas-fired power plants can no longer meet – is likely to contribute to the production of greater amounts of nuclear waste. However, the United Kingdom does not yet have a method for secure underground storage of nuclear waste and relies on the storage of highly radioactive residues from the operation of power plants.

Many promising marine sources have been found.


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