Lithium batteries have changed our lives: they power everything from cell phones to electric cars to laptops to iPads. Without them, much of the modern tech we take for granted would be impossible. Electric cars allow folks to feel good about themselves—they’ve reduced their carbon output by moving away from gas-powered vehicles, and get to think they’re contributing to the battle against climate change.
But at what cost? My colleague Jim Thompson wrote a piece about EVs in July, saying, “Own an electric car? Thank a slave.” That’s because the lithium batteries that power the vehicles require the rare element cobalt, the richest deposits of which are found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—and child laborers and slaves are forced to dig it out.
Siddharth Kara, a Harvard professor and author of “Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives,” appeared on the Joe Rogan podcast recently and told some hard truths about what’s really happening:
…Cobalt took off [10-12 years go] because it was started to be used in lithium-ion batteries to maximize their charge and stability.… [Congo] is sitting on more cobalt than the rest of the planet combined…
Before anybody knew what was happening, Chinese Government, Chinese mining companies, took control of almost all the big mines, and the local population has been displaced is under duress, and they dig in absolutely subhuman, gut-wrenching conditions for a dollar a day, feeding cobalt up the supply chain into all the phones, all the tablets, and especially electric cars.
CONGO – “Green" neocolonialism of Africa is surging, all under the banner of Net Zero.
So we can pretend to save the planet & by driving electric cars & tweeting on our iPhones.
Congolese children are still mining cobalt in mines in the Congo, for you.
— Bernie's Tweets (@BernieSpofforth) December 23, 2022
The Biden Administration isn’t losing any sleep over the problem, because they’re happy to exploit another country if it helps them advance their green agenda. In fact, the United States just entered an agreement with Congo and Zambia to further expand the supply chain of these magic elements.
Kara continues, saying that this is one of the worst episodes of slavery ever:
Throughout the whole history of slavery—I mean, I’m going back centuries. Never, never in human history, has there been more suffering that generated more profit and was linked to the lives of more people around the world. Ever, ever in history than what’s happening in the Congo right now.
And the reason that I say that is this. The Cobalt that’s being mined in the Congo is in every single lithium-ion rechargeable battery manufactured in the world today. Every smartphone, every tablet, every laptop, and crucially, every electric vehicle.
Kara then goes on to show a video depicting a cobalt mine, explaining that there are supposed to be no “artisanal miners”—those who dig by hand without industrial machinery—yet the place is teeming with them, many of them little kids.
There’s more than 15,000 human beings crammed into that pit, digging by hand, and if you have sound, you hear the mallets you hear the shouting, you hear the the grunts. It’s a mass of humanity…
Kara also points out that EV and tech companies can pretend their raw materials come from “clean” mining operations, knowing that no one’s going to go down to the Congo and actually check for themselves.
Except that Kara did, and although he’s not the first to discuss the suffering in the African nation, he offers up some powerful new details backed up by video. I’m not sure how we solve this, but the first step is getting the information out there.