Humanity can’t victory in the battle to stop climate change is exactly the case, but the electrification of cars has begun to look like a success story. Ten percent new passenger vehicles sold worldwide last year is electricity, powered by batteries instead of gasoline—the extraction of this fuel causes the world not only to emit harmful carbon emissions, but also causes local environmental damage to frontline communities.
However, that revolution has its own dirty side. If the goal is to electrify everything we have, as soon as possible—including millions of new trucks and SUVs with the same range as gas-powered models—there will be an increase demand for minerals used in batteries such as lithium, nickel and cobalt. That means more holes in the ground—nearly 400 new mines by 2035, according to an estimate from Benchmark Minerals—and with it more pollution and ecological destruction. That’s why a new one research published today by researchers affiliated with UC Davis attempt to map out another path, one that decarbonization could be achieved with less harm and perhaps faster. It starts with fewer cars.
The analysis focused on lithium, an element found in almost every design of electric car batteries. This metal is abundant on Earth, but mining is concentrated in only a few places, such as Australia, Chile and China. And like other forms of mining, lithium mining is a messy business. Thea Riofrancos, a political scientist at Providence University who worked on the research project, knows what hundreds of new mines will look like above ground. She witnessed the impact of groundwater near lithium mines on arid conditions in the Atacama Desert, and how indigenous groups were left out of the benefits of mining while being hampered by harm. its.
Riofrancos and team looked at roads leading to gas-powered cars, but in a way that replaces them with fewer electric vehicles, use smaller battery. A future with millions of heavy-duty, long-range eSUVs is not the default. “The goal isn’t to say, ‘Never new mining again,” said Alissa Kendall, professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis and co-author of the study. Instead, she says, researchers have found that “we could do this better” if people were less dependent on cars to get around.
The group outlined five roadmaps for the United States, each focusing on different scenarios for lithium demand. First, the world continued on the path it had laid out: Cars became electric, Americans maintained a love affair with big trucks and SUVs, and the number of cars per person remained the same. Honestly, very few people use public transit because most systems continue to underperform.
Other scenarios model the world with better public transport and walking and cycling infrastructure. In the greenest of them all, changes in housing and land use policies allow everything—homes, shops, jobs, schools—to come closer together, shortening the length of time. commuting and other routine itineraries. Trains replaced buses and car ownership dropped dramatically. In this world, the number of new electric vehicles sold in 2050 will be less than in 2021, and those sold in the market have smaller electric batteries, mainly made from recycled materials. , so each new vehicle doesn’t need extra mining to support it.