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Green Energy Policies Are Built on Slavery, Child Labor

June 3, 2021

Climate Change Weekly #399

Democrats were the party of slavery before they were against it. Now they are the party of slavery again. They also support child labor and green colonialism. Check the record.

Asians and Africans, many of them children, are being enslaved and are dying in mines, refineries, and factories to obtain the minerals and metals required for the green energy technologies Democrats are mandating. The politicians and their supporters don’t seem to care. Democrats’ traditional calls for the recognition of universal human rights fall to the wayside, it seems, in the face of the purported “existential crisis” of climate change, which might require them to pay more for flood insurance for their expensive beachfront homes.

It’s not just me saying this. Amnesty International and numerous media outlets have conducted research and reported stories in recent weeks showing most of the cobalt required for the batteries needed for President Joe Biden’s big electric vehicle push comes from small mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Cobalt is a necessary metal in the rechargeable batteries that power almost every electronic device in the world today, including cellphones, laptop computers, tablets, and yes, electric vehicles and the magnets used in wind turbines.

The DRC produces more than half of the cobalt used today—more than all the other countries in the world combined.

The government of the DRC has a terrible record of human rights abuses, and many of the workers in the country’s cobalt mines are enslaved or virtually enslaved children. The Deseret News reports one woman, who had her own child and a young cousin killed working in a DRC cobalt mine, said, “Our children are dying like dogs.”

This is not new news. With recent headlines such as “Without Dirty Mining, You Can’t Make Clean Cars” finally acknowledging green energy technologies are built on premature deaths, slavery, and child labor in less-developed countries, this has been known for some time.

Amnesty International reports more than 40,000 children work in cobalt mines in the DRC, where hundreds, if not thousands, die in cave-ins and other mine accidents and from mining-related illnesses every year. Most of this cobalt is produced for or purchased by Chinese conglomerates operating in the DRC, shipping the metal to China where it is refined and put into all manner of electronic gadgets from cell phones to fighter jet display systems.

Reports on child labor and slave labor have been circulating for years, and radical environmentalists in the West, who now dominate Democratic Party politics, don’t care. In fact, they are the first to argue there are too many people in the world.

Child and slave labor is exploited not just for batteries and magnets integral to electric vehicles, wind turbines, battery warehouses serving as backup power for industrial solar power facilities, and other green energy technologies. Research from Sheffield Hallam University in the United Kingdom reports a single province in China produces 45 percent of the polysilicon that makes up solar panels, the majority of which are assembled in China. The polysilicon and solar panels are produced by Uyghur Muslims in Chinese slave labor camps.

“Solar panels are in huge demand because of climate change,” reports the BBC. “The global production of solar panels is using forced labour from China’s Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province. [P]olysilicon … is obtained under a massive system of coercion, a claim denied by the Chinese authorities.”

Cobalt and polysilicon are just two of the myriad minerals, metals, and composites underpinning all modern electronics for which the world depends on China and other oppressive regimes, purchasing both raw and refined materials and assembled products. Unless the Biden-Harris administration, other U.S. Democratic Party leaders, and the heads of other developed countries change course, child and slave labor will become even more prevalent, because each and every green energy technology they are pushing for depends on these minerals and elements.

The West’s myopic focus on fighting climate change is killing and enslaving people as governments ignore more immediate, pressing, and all too often deadly ills harming the poorest people. Billions of dollars and euros in various “green development funds” pay off the dictators of developing countries, encouraging them to look the other way as children die. Little if any of that money reaches those suffering in the mines, nor will what little money they do get compensate them for the loss of loved ones buried in mine collapses or in hidden graves at slave labor camps.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The United States and Europe have options if we are willing to make some sacrifices. We could impose sanctions on China, the DRC, and other countries that use slave and child labor. Russia is the world’s second-largest producer of cobalt, and the Philippines and Cuba are the fourth and fifth largest producers. This is the imperialist solution: dictating to other countries what labor standards they should have. We are already acting the part of eco-imperialists by denying developing countries access to funding for fossil fuel power plants that could help pull them out of poverty, so what’s one more green-colonialist power play?

Such an effort would result in shortages of these technologies or elements in the short and medium terms. It would almost certainly also result in these countries imposing a suite of countersanctions and tariffs on goods they purchase from the United States and Europe.

Alternatively, imagining the best of possible worlds, China, the DRC, and others could respond to our sanctions by adopting labor standards like those in developed countries, including our pay scales and health and safety standards. If this occurred, the prices of these technologies would rise steeply. And if China, the DRC, and others adopted the same environmental standards as the United States and Europe, the flow of these in-demand “green” energy technologies would dry up entirely because, as in United States today, almost nobody would be able to be mine or refine anything, anywhere.

Another option, arguably the best for workers in the United States and for America’s economic and national security, would be to allow the mining of critical minerals in the United States. Any environmental harms resulting from mining would be imposed on the people in the United States who are demanding the green technologies. That would be fair.

This is what President Trump attempted to do by imposing tariffs on Chinese solar panels and trying to get approval of mines for critical minerals. But with no shame at their hypocrisy, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris recently indicated critical mineral mining in the United States is not an option. While admitting we need critical elements such as cobalt for green energy technologies and electric cars, multiple sources within the Biden administration have said the president has decided the United States will continue to rely on other countries for the metals and minerals necessary to build electric vehicle and other green energy technologies, in order to “placate environmentalists,” Reuters reports.

“The plans will be a blow to U.S. miners who had hoped Biden would rely primarily on domestically sourced metals, as his campaign had signaled last autumn, to help fulfill his ambitions for a less carbon-intensive economy,” writes Reuters.

Biden is evidently hoping friendly countries such as Australia, Brazil, and Canada will pick up the slack for critical minerals so we can reduce our reliance on China without doing any new mining in the United States. Australia and Canada have environmental and labor standards like ours, however, which means higher prices for these goods. Increasing production in Brazil will likely mean displacing more Amazonian natives as ever-increasing areas of rainforest are cleared to mine the critical minerals.

Child and slave labor is the true legacy of the Biden-Harris green energy push. If we don’t produce the elements critical for these technologies here, they will be sourced abroad from the cheapest suppliers even if they have to pass through several intermediary countries to obscure their dirty and deadly origins. For Biden and other climate alarmist Western leaders, people and the environment in other countries must be sacrificed in order to “protect” the world from climate change while preserving the creature comforts of the West to the extent possible.

Exploiting the most vulnerable people and environments of the world today in the vain hope of preventing a minuscule sea level rise and slightly warmer temperatures in the world 100 years from now is stupid and morally bankrupt.

SOURCES: Amnesty International; Deseret News; BBC; CNN; Forbes; American Spectator; Reuters


IN THIS ISSUE …

GREEN ENERGY HAS HUGE WASTE PROBLEM


GREEN ENERGY HAS HUGE WASTE PROBLEM

As The Heartland Institute has detailed in various publications, green technologies are dirty and terrible for the environment.

Huge amounts of earth must be mined to extract the sparsely spaced minerals and elements needed to create the battery packs powering electric cars and designed to provide supplementary power when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun not shining. The refining of these minerals produces a toxic sludge that poisons the adjacent and downstream environments and people. Even more energy-intensive mining and manufacturing is necessary to create the composite materials of which wind turbine blades and towers are formed. Massive amounts of energy are used to create and transport the tens of thousands of tons of carbon-dioxide-intensive concrete necessary to anchor each wind turbine. Vast amounts of land, most often prime view areas, wildlife habitat, and migratory corridors, are transformed into energy-producing industrial parks when wind “farms” and vast solar arrays are erected.

And then come the huge amounts of solid waste created when batteries, wind turbines, and solar panels fail prematurely or simply cease working at the end of their anticipated useful lives, which are difficult to process, recycle, or dispose of.

Researchers are starting to study this latter difficulty looming on the horizon: handling the vast amount of waste that will result from the huge expansion of green energy technologies. Science, for example, recently wrote,

The battery pack of a Tesla Model S is a feat of intricate engineering. Thousands of cylindrical cells with components sourced from around the world transform lithium and electrons into enough energy to propel the car hundreds of kilometers, again and again, without tailpipe emissions. But when the battery comes to the end of its life, its green benefits fade. If it ends up in a landfill, its cells can release problematic toxins, including heavy metals. And recycling the battery can be a hazardous business, warns materials scientist Dana Thompson of the University of Leicester. Cut too deep into a Tesla cell, or in the wrong place, and it can short-circuit, combust, and release toxic fumes.

That’s just one of the many problems confronting researchers, including Thompson, who are trying to tackle an emerging problem: how to recycle the millions of electric vehicle (EV) batteries that manufacturers expect to produce over the next few decades. Current EV batteries ‘are really not designed to be recycled,’ says Thompson, a research fellow at the Faraday Institution, a research center focused on battery issues in the United Kingdom.

As Science details, governments are developing rules to require some recycling of batteries. It will be a difficult and costly endeavor, however,  and will add to the already high cost of green energy, because . . .

Batteries differ widely in chemistry and construction, which makes it difficult to create efficient recycling systems. And the cells are often held together with tough glues that make them difficult to take apart. That has contributed to an economic obstacle: It’s often cheaper for battery makers to buy freshly mined metals than to use recycled materials.

The problem described above doesn’t even touch on how the world will handle the millions of batteries being placed in huge warehouses to provide backup or replacement power for the Biden-Harris administration’s huge wind and solar power expansion.

Even before Biden began his big push to expand the use of electric vehicles and wind and solar industrial energy facilities, cities, states, and regions were already struggling to deal with the mounting waste from disabled wind turbines and solar panels resulting from the past two decades of expansion of wind and solar power driven by various types of federal and state subsidies and other forms of support.

The April 2017 issue of Waste Management conservatively estimated wind energy developers will have to dispose of 43 million metric tons of wind turbine blade waste worldwide by 2050. Although in theory about 90 percent of a turbine’s small parts can be recycled or sold, this is not true of the blades, which are made of a composite of resin, fiberglass, and other materials.

The blades are expensive to decommission and transport. They are 300 or more feet long, so operators must cut them into smaller pieces onsite before having them transported, using specialized equipment, to a landfill—when one can be found that is certified to accept them and will still do so.

Municipalities running certified landfills are increasingly rejecting wind turbine blades, even when they can charge double the amount per ton for accepting them, because they take up tremendous amounts of space, must be crushed at considerable expense, require hundreds of years to break down, and often release methane and volatile organic compounds into the environment as they do so.

The next time President Biden is out on the stump touting another green energy technology breakthrough, people should ask him—and the manufacturers and other government officials pushing the technology—how the materials will be disposed of and at what cost.

Until government leaders can answer those questions, they should stop mandating and subsidizing these inefficient and economically and environmentally costly technologies.

SOURCE: Science (behind paywall); Science; National Geographic; Environment & Climate News; Environment & Climate News; Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow; The Heartland Institute; The Heartland Institute

Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org
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