Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Counting the Colossal Cost of Wind & Solar’s Toxic Legacy
Behind every smug Tesla driving show pony, there’s literally a toxic lake of sludge building up somewhere in another part of the world. Every wind turbine, every all EV and every solar panel critically depends upon a myriad of so-called ‘rare earths’.
The minerals in question have become ‘rare’, of late, as a consequence of the Western world’s insatiable appetite for ‘feelgood’ electricity generated by sunshine and breezes, occasionally stored in giant lithium batteries, as well as the thirst among the truly virtuous for the ultimate exhibition of moral posturing: the all-electric powered vehicle.
As the demand for rare earth minerals continues to grow, principally driven by subsidised wind and solar and all EVs, so too does the mountain of toxic filth left behind during mining and, particularly, processing.
Much of the processing occurs in upcountry China; a veritable earth away from Californian where millions of solar panels glisten and Teslas roam endless highways without a care in the world (except the rapidly falling battery charge level and where the next quick recharge station might be). These are first world problems, but they’re still problems, right?
And it almost feels churlish to rain on the virtue signalling parade, by pointing out that vast tracts of China will be left with a toxic legacy that will easily outlast religion.
Here’s a couple of pieces to that effect.
China’s Dystopian Lake–Courtesy Of The World’s Lust For Rare Earths
Not a Lot of People Know That
24 December 2020
Further to my post on neodymium, it is worth taking a closer look at just why China dominates most of the world’s production, their share being estimated at 90%.
Although neodymium is classified as a “rare earth”, there is actually plenty of it about. The real problem is that extracting and refining it, and other rare earths, is a highly hazardous and toxic process.
Quite simply, few countries, other than China, are prepared to take the environmental hit.
Back in 2015, the BBC published this account of Baotou, where rare earths are mined:
Hidden in an unknown corner of Inner Mongolia is a toxic, nightmarish lake created by our thirst for smartphones, consumer gadgets and green tech, discovers Tim Maughan.
From where I’m standing, the city-sized Baogang Steel and Rare Earth complex dominates the horizon, its endless cooling towers and chimneys reaching up into grey, washed-out sky. Between it and me, stretching into the distance, lies an artificial lake filled with a black, barely-liquid, toxic sludge.
Dozens of pipes line the shore, churning out a torrent of thick, black, chemical waste from the refineries that surround the lake. The smell of sulphur and the roar of the pipes invades my senses. It feels like hell on Earth.
Welcome to Baotou, the largest industrial city in Inner Mongolia. I’m here with a group of architects and designers called the Unknown Fields Division, and this is the final stop on a three-week-long journey up the global supply chain, tracing back the route consumer goods take from China to our shops and homes, via container ships and factories.
You may not have heard of Baotou, but the mines and factories here help to keep our modern lives ticking. It is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of “rare earth” minerals. These elements can be found in everything from magnets in wind turbines and electric car motors, to the electronic guts of smartphones and flatscreen TVs. In 2009 China produced 95% of the world’s supply of these elements, and it’s estimated that the Bayan Obo mines just north of Baotou contain 70% of the world’s reserves. But, as we would discover, at what cost?
It’s well worth reading the whole piece. But this paragraph sums it up:
The intriguing thing about both neodymium and cerium is that while they’re called rare earth minerals, they’re actually fairly common. Neodymium is no rarer than copper or nickel and quite evenly distributed throughout the world’s crust. While China produces 90% of the global market’s neodymium, only 30% of the world’s deposits are located there. Arguably, what makes it, and cerium, scarce enough to be profitable are the hugely hazardous and toxic process needed to extract them from ore and to refine them into usable products. For example, cerium is extracted by crushing mineral mixtures and dissolving them in sulphuric and nitric acid, and this has to be done on a huge industrial scale, resulting in a vast amount of poisonous waste as a byproduct. It could be argued that China’s dominance of the rare earth market is less about geology and far more about the country’s willingness to take an environmental hit that other nations shy away from.
Biden should help clean up the developing world’s exotic mining tragedy
9 January 2021
Reducing America’s emissions (if that’s your thing) is a major goal of President Elect Biden’s platform, but it should not be implemented by “leaking” environmental degradation and human atrocities to foreign countries that are supplying the exotic minerals and metals to support green electricity. Biden has an opportunity to follow the lead of the United Nations and Amnesty International as the efforts to achieve net zero emissions must not be built on human rights abuses or on non-existent environmental regulations in foreign countries.
Biden’s “war on pollution”, will require worldwide transparency of supply chains, and environmental and labor protection laws and standards to control the environmental degradation and humanity atrocities occurring around the world from the mining in the foreign countries that dominate the supply chain of the exotic minerals and metals to support wind turbines, solar panels and EV battery construction.
The dark side of renewable wind, solar, EV batteries, and biofuel energy is that they are not clean, green, renewable, or sustainable. They are horrifically destructive in foreign countries to their vital ecological values that will last for generations to come.
At the end-of-life cycles for wind turbines, solar panel, and EV batteries, Biden has the opportunity to seek decommissioning, restoration, and recycling standards in foreign countries down to the last dandelion, just like we have for a decommissioned mine, oil, or nuclear sites in America.
Climate change remains one of the most serious threats to the integrity of life on earth. But we still need the world to have compassion for the trade-off to eliminate fossil fuels too quickly as it will allow the continuation of 11 million children in the world dying every year. Those fatalities are from the preventable causes of diarrhea, malaria, neonatal infection, pneumonia, preterm delivery, or lack of oxygen at birth as many developing countries have no, or minimal, access to the thousands of products from oil derivatives enjoyed by the wealthy and healthy countries.
Biden can share with the world their need to comprehend that energy is more than intermittent electricity from wind and solar. Ever since the discovery of the versatility of products available from petroleum derivatives, and the beginning of manufacturing and assembly of cars, trucks, airplanes, and military equipment in the early 1900’s, the world has had almost 200 years to develop clones or generics to replace the crude oil derivatives that are the basis of more than 6,000 products that are the basis of lifestyles and economies around the world.
The social needs of our materialistic societies, both stateside and worldwide, are most likely going to remain for continuous, uninterruptable, and reliable electricity from coal, natural gas, or nuclear electricity generation backup to the intermittent renewables, and for all those chemicals derivatives that get manufactured out of crude oil, that makes everything that’s part of our daily lifestyles and economies.
The key to wealth and prosperity is continued access to the thousands of products made from oil derivatives, and reliable, continuous, uninterruptable, and affordable electricity. The ‘unreliable’, wind and solar threaten both wealth and prosperity.
America has only about four percent of the world’s population (330 million vs. 8 billion). Biden knows that oil and gas is not just an American business with its 135 refineries in the U.S. but an international industry with more than 700 refineries worldwide that service the demands of the 8 billion living on earth.
The unintended consequences of Biden’s goal of getting rid of fossil fuels in America by 2050 is that it would result in importing the fuels and products from foreign locations that have significantly less stringent environmental controls. That plan will work, but with higher costs to the American consumer, and may put America at a national security risk with increased dependance on foreign countries for the products and fuels for America’s economy.
Biden need not reinvent the wheel requiring transparency of worldwide environmental laws and labor laws as the U.N. trade body, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD,) has already issued a report breaking down some of the unintended negative consequences of the green shift, or emission “leakage”, to foreign countries, which include ecological degradation as well as human rights abuses.
Additionally, Amnesty International has documented children and adults mining cobalt in narrow man-made tunnels), and the exposure to the dangerous gases emitted during the procurement of these rare minerals, not to mention the destruction of the local ecosystems when the wastewater and other unusable ores are let loose onto the environments they have no choice but to live in because their wages are so infinitesimally small, it should cause us to take a step back and examine our moral obligations to humanity.
America could promote sustainable mining in those developing countries to restoring the land to a healthy ecosystem after the mine closes and by leaving surrounding communities with more wealth, education, health care, and infrastructure that they had before the mine went into production. Like the mining in America, the mining in developing countries must be the objective of corporate social responsibilities and the outcome of the successful ecological restoration of landscapes.
America’s passion for green electricity to reduce emissions must be ethical and should not thrive off human rights and environmental abuses in the foreign countries providing the exotic minerals and metals to support America’s green passion.
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Filthy ‘Green’ Future: The Dark & Toxic Side of Wind & Solar PowerIn “Big wind industry”Filed Under: Batteries, Big wind industry, Big wind politics, Environmental costs Tagged With: Batteries toxic waste, China toxic waste rare earths, Electric vehicle rare earth, Electric vehicles mining, Electric vehicles renewable energy, Electric vehicles toxic waste, Net zero emissions electric vehicles, Rare earth electric vehicle, rare earth wind power, Renewables toxic waste, Solar panels rare earth, Solar panels toxic waste, Toxic waste renewable energy, wind turbines rare earth« Fatal Attraction: Transport & Construction Workers Add to Wind Industry’s Mounting Death TollAbout stopthesethings
We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.
- tony1825 says:January 31, 2021 at 6:51 pmThat BBC documentary was shown over five years ago. They dare not show it now because it would call into question the whole ethos of the renewables industry.