Most of us feel the responsibility to create a safe and healthy climate for our families and future generations. This includes ensuring a stable climate, which depends on rapidly transitioning away from our dependence on fossil fuel sources of energy that power our homes, buildings, vehicles, and industries. Electrification and renewable energy is probably our best best for reaching that objective. But it’s not without its own problems.
Electrification relies heavily on batteries – batteries that currently need lots of minerals like lithium that are mined from the earth. While concern about lithium has been stoked by fossil fuel interests that would like to keep us hooked on oil and gas, the social and environmental impacts of mining are significant.
Mining often occurs on indigenous land without the consent or support of the peoples that have stewarded that land for generations. It causes environmental degradation, ecosystem disruption, biodiversity loss, water shortages, and contamination of land, air and waterways. And when batteries reach the end of life, disposal comes with significant challenges that raise concerns in Black and brown communities where there’s a long history of discriminatory dumping.
Electrification may help us get closer to climate stability, but it isn’t the only solution. In the process of electrification, we cannot trade the fossil fuel villains of today for mineral mining villains of tomorrow!
So, what should we do instead? The temptation is to search for the next technological solution that might solve the further problems we will face. Perhaps it’s batteries that don’t use lithium or maybe it’s fossil-free hydrogen.
Even while we pursue electrification, better batteries, and hydrogen technologies, we need to stay committed to policies that enable lower impact living and restore ecological stability. Many other climate solutions – like ecosystem restoration, regenerative agriculture, waste reduction, energy efficiency and conservation, and alternative transportation – are within reach today and benefit our health and wellbeing. Join me in pursuing these solutions while also pressing for more just, equitable and clean electrification solutions.
About the Author
Brett Matulis, Communities Program Director, ecoAmerica