Environmental damage is a growing concern worldwide, and rightly so. The world has never been warmer than it is today, and the acceleration of global warming will only continue as humanity fails to change its ways. It is no longer a suggestion to reduce our emissions but rather a necessity that governments have been forced to acknowledge and address. As a result, many industries have begun re-imagining their production methods in an effort to reduce the size of their carbon footprint on the environment. The automotive industry has made the most noticeable changes with their focus on electric vehicles, or EV’s. However, many questions have arisen about both the long term sustainability of battery powered vehicles, and the ethical concerns about how they are initially manufactured.
As of right now, the majority of electric vehicle batteries are produced in China. While this is excellent for reducing manufacturing costs, it also gives the automotive companies buying these batteries very little supervisory authority over the battery manufacturers. As a result, the vast majority of batteries coming from China involve some element of child labor. This is largely due to the lack of oversight and incredibly low manufacturing costs that China is known for. However, it is not just the manufacturing that involves the exploitation of children. The cobalt mining industry, which is responsible for providing one of the main components in the lithium ion batteries which power your phone, car, and almost every other manner of rechargeable electronics, heavily involves child labor. Currently, more than half the world’s supply of cobalt is being sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Child laborers there have reported numerous human rights violations such as being required to work 12 hour shifts and being physically abused by overseers of the mines. This is not to say that the mining industry is entirely responsible for the lack of ethics surrounding cobalt extraction. The lack of infrastructure combined with the world’s exploding demand has resulted in a largely unregulated aspect of the EV industry that allows for such abuses to take place. This will hopefully be corrected as governments become more involved in the EV market.
In terms of sustainability, the EV market appears to be very environmentally friendly at a superficial level. However, the current method of production involves the intercontinental shipping of raw materials and batteries which produces massive amounts of carbon emissions. Materials mined in North America, South America, and mainly Africa must be shipped to China for processing and battery cell construction. Said batteries are then shipped back overseas following a lengthy manufacturing process before finally being installed in car assemblies. The final result is a vehicle which, on average, requires 19,000 miles of driving before it becomes more environmentally efficient than a gas powered vehicle. There is also the question of whether we can sustain the level of mining that will be required to meet the world demand. It’s projected that by 2026 we will need to produce 75% more cobalt than we are currently. This alone will have huge environmental implications that have yet to be accounted for. However this will be explored further in future blog posts.