People can’t exactly to win his battle to prevent climate change, but the electrification of cars has begun to look like a good story. Ten percent of new passenger cars sold around the world last year were electric, powered by batteries instead of gasoline – an emission that harms the planet not only through carbon emissions, but also the environmental damage to the people in front.
However, this change has its own ugly side. If the goal is to install all the electricity we have now, ASAP-including millions of new cars and SUVs with the same models as gas models-there will be a significant increase in the demand for minerals used in batteries such as lithium, nickel, and cobalt. That means more holes in the ground — about 400 new mines by 2035, according to one estimate from Benchmark Minerals — and more pollution and environmental damage along with them. This is why a new study published today by researchers affiliated with UC Davis tries to map out another way, in which decarbonization can be done with less harm, and perhaps faster. It starts with a few cars.
The analysis focuses on lithium, an element found in almost every design of electric vehicle batteries. The metal is abundant in the world, but mining is concentrated in a few places, such as Australia, Chile, and China. And like other forms of mining, lithium extraction is a messy business. Thea Riofrancos, a political scientist at Providence College who works in research, knows what the new mines might look like on the ground. He has seen what a falling water table near a lithium mine does to the drought in the Atacama desert and how cultural groups are left out of the benefits of extraction while being placed in the path of its harm.
Riofrancos and the team looked at ways to get to gas-powered cars in the sunset, but in a way that replaces them with smaller EVs, using smaller batteries. The future of having millions of long-range, luxury eSUVs is uncertain. However, “the goal is not to say, ‘There will be no more new mines,'” said Alissa Kendall, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis who led the study. Instead, he says the researchers found that “we can do this better” if people don’t rely so much on cars to get around.
The team developed five US strategies, each targeting a different scenario of lithium demand. In the beginning, the world continues on the path it created for itself: Cars become electric, Americans keep their love affair with large cars and SUVs, and the number of cars per capita remains the same. Few people travel on public transport because, of course, many systems continue to suck.
Other world events with better public transport and cycling. In greener areas, changes in building and land use laws allow everything—homes, shops, jobs, schools—to move closer together, reducing commutes and other routine trips. Trains replace buses, and the share of people who own a car drops dramatically. In this country, fewer new electric cars will be sold in 2050 than were sold in 2021, and those leaving the scene will have smaller batteries, made from recycled materials, so each new one won’t require a lot of mining to support it. that.