There is a hidden cost to Net Zero, where the aim is to cut greenhouse emissions to zero by 2050. However, people living in the vicinity of the mining areas pay the hidden cost of Net Zero. Their way of life is threatened because of the ever-increasing demand for electrical gadgets, which require lithium.
Electrical Gadgetry Hidden Cost Of Net Zero
It will take many lifetimes to replenish the sources of coal, petroleum and natural gas. Meanwhile, the demand for both copper and lithium has skyrocketed with the increased demand for technological gadgets.
In the drive to do away with fossil fuel, electrical gadgetry has taken over. Electric cars require three times more copper than petrol-driven vehicles. How many iphones, ipads etc., are used on a daily basis? All require the chemical element, lithium.
They use lithium in the storage of energy on renewable grids. Lithium is used in the manufacture of aeroplanes, heat resistant glass, and creating industrial grease. Doctors use lithium to treat bipolar disorders and depression. The list goes on and on.
The hidden cost of Net Zero is a forcing the world into a new era. Mineral exploitation to get the elusive chemical, lithium, compromises pristine environments and endangers indigenous people’s way of life.
Value Of Lithium
Lithium was first discovered in 1970, but it wasn’t until 1855 viable quantities of lithium were available, through the process of electrolysis. Lithium is a light-weight alkali metal.
Chile supplies 30% of the world’s copper and 36% of the world’s lithium. Australia being the world’s largest supplier of lithium.
The market value of lithium-ion batteries was US$30 billion in 2017. This demand will soar to $100 billion, by 2025. The hidden cost of Net Zero is creating a dilemma for environmentalists.
Atacama Salt Flat
The Salar de Atacama salt flat is the third largest in the world. It has an area of 3000 sq km, at high altitude, three miles above sea level.
The salt flat is an expanse of majestic graduations of white and grey, with brilliant red lagoons. Towering volcanoes dominate the area. Lascar being one of the most active volcanos in Chile. The Sale de Atacama has a dramatic landscape, but it holds part of the Hidden Cost Of Net Zero.
In some areas, the salt is 24 metres deep. A briny, salt sea lies underneath, and there are no drainage outlets. Rather like the Dead Sea in Israel.
Salar de Atacama has unique qualities. There is a concentrated brine, a high evaporation rate through both solar and high winds and a low rainfall. This makes mining the lithium the easiest to procure and the cheapest to produce.
World’s Purest Lithium
They pump the brine from as deep as ten metres down. It is the world’s purest and most active source of lithium. The soft, silvery-white metal is Chile’s ‘oil’.
Environmentalists are concerned about the process. Atacama desert is the driest place on earth, second only to the poles. Salar de Atacama salt flat’s annual precipitation is 15 mm. It has not rained in over 500 years in some areas.
As with many mining endeavours, the locals pay the hidden cost Of Net Zero. While they can view the expensive metal mined, they receive no monetary return.
Hidden Cost Of Net Zero Paid By Indigenous Locals
The salty brine is pumped into massive ponds. The evaporation rate is higher than in other lithium mines. but it can still take up to 18 months to separate the valuable salts. Lithium, manganese, potassium and borax are all found in the brine.
Indigenous women live high above the salt flat. Their roots go back thousands of years. They look down at the massive ponds, threatening their way of life. The mine consumes 65% of the area’s scarce water resources.
It’s only a matter of time before the villagers are relocated, as has happened in other areas. The hidden cost of Net Zero is silent and insidious. It is the demands of modern living encroaching on an ancient way of life.
Wetlands dry out, and ecosystems are damaged. The flora and fauna disappear at an alarming rate. The Andean flamingo population has halved. Indigenous people are side-lined, as if their ancient way of life is of little consequence to the modern world of electronics.
Repairable Cost Of Net Zero
Is the ecosystem repairable? Representatives of the 18 local Indigenous communities, Minera Escondida and the State Defence Council, held a meeting in 2021. They reached an unprecedented settlement. The court ruled 19 measures to repair the ecosystem and pay compensation. Will it allay the hidden cost of Net Zero?
Minera Escondida’s mining has caused the loss of groundwater. The villagers can no longer graze their animals on the perimeter of the salt flat. Those who can afford it, purchase potable water. The situation is unsustainable.
The Chilean government placed restrictions on foreign exploitation of natural resources. However, Chile considers lithium important to its economic development. Do they hear the ecologist’s warnings? Do they hear the plight of grieving indigenous women?
In 2019, the Chinese mining company, Tianqi Lithium, became the controller of the lion’s share of lithium reserves in the world. They gained 24% of Chile’s Sociedad Química y Minera. They are the major domestic producer and the operator of the Atacama salt flat.
Tianqi ran into financial difficulties and liquidity shortages when there was a downturn in the lithium prices. These are now on the road to recovery.
There are efforts underway to increase the recycling of lithium-ion batteries. Will it be enough to stop the local indigenous communities from being displaced? Will it help counteract the Hidden Cost Of Net Zero?
Women’s Voice In the Hidden Cost Of Net Zero
Indigenous women have a small voice that few hear. They carry a heavy burden in the hidden cost of Net Zero.
Their voice is valuable. They have the right to their choice of life. For hundreds of years, they enjoyed a certain way of life. Demands from modern living is drowning out their voice. They are in the minority, like those who lost their homes to copper mining.
Check out more posts at Whispering Encouragement