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The human and environmental cost of mining lithium and cobalt

December 3, 2018

By Paul Homewood


A hard hitting documentary from the German public broadcaster, Deutsche Welle, about the human and environmental cost of mining lithium and cobalt:


If you can’t watch the whole of it, I would suggest watching the first 6 minutes, and from 15 minutes to 22 minutes.

  1. RAH permalink
    December 3, 2018 12:26 pm

    Thanks Paul for the link. I watched it all.

  2. December 3, 2018 1:08 pm

    Reblogged this on ajmarciniak.

  3. Harry Passfield permalink
    December 3, 2018 2:10 pm

    Just watching it. First thought that the huge – ginormous – evaporation ponds are releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases – water vapour!
    Secondly, what are the unintended consequences of bringing such large amounts of underground water to the surface in such a dry place?

    • Hugh Sharman permalink
      December 3, 2018 5:34 pm

      That’s how they can leach the lithium salts out to the surface pond where the sun does the rest!

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        December 3, 2018 6:57 pm

        I think I got that.

  4. December 3, 2018 2:11 pm

    Truly terrifying. If I knew where to address it, I’d send the poor blokes a box of tuppenny face masks.

    As to the manufacturers, it is a case of a deliberate lack of inquisitiveness. They don’t care what conditions their raw materials are mined in.

    In the West we have health and safety and environmental standards that are simply ignored when it comes to imports.

  5. Harry Passfield permalink
    December 3, 2018 2:13 pm

    And there’s my answer: pumping out the ground water makes sustainable farming impossible as they dry out the ground. Farmers are being lost to the land.

  6. Harry Passfield permalink
    December 3, 2018 2:39 pm

    More on the film….I’m trying to imagine the Left in this country banging on about filthy imperialist/colonialists if the cobalt mining in the DRC was being managed by the British and not the Chinese. The Chinese are ripping off the ‘artisan’ miners who work with minimal safety that would not be allowed in Europe. what hypocrites we are (by ‘we’, I mean the so-called enviros who demand we switch to ‘clean’ electric cars while ignoring the plight and conditions of the people providing the raw materials.

  7. mikewaite permalink
    December 3, 2018 3:20 pm

    An opportunity for a “Costing the Earth” special from the BBC?

    • Jon Scott permalink
      December 3, 2018 4:48 pm

      hahahahahaha! You will have to wait for a regime change at the PC Biased Broadcasting Collective for that to occur. This will NEVER be reported by the BBC

  8. December 3, 2018 3:55 pm

    I’ve watched it all. I’m surprised that the BBC environmental correspondents aren’t all over this! They love their “sustainable” EVs.

    • Dave Ward permalink
      December 3, 2018 5:55 pm

      “I’ve watched it all”

      So have I, and how utterly depressing it was…

  9. Jon Scott permalink
    December 3, 2018 4:54 pm

    I challenged a believer on windfarms regarding bird and bat mortality and true to form they had no answer except to go on the attack either personally or as was the latest case to claim without evidence of any kind that fossil fuels killed more birds thereby in their tiny brain justifying killing birds! It is the standard infantile response from the non-science based religious fanatics…”how dare you attack our religion”. In reality the sanctimonious attitude of the believers is anything but caring for the environment and other people.They only want to be part of the club and to hell with everything and everyone else. Lord of the flies.

  10. Tom O permalink
    December 3, 2018 6:24 pm

    I see the comments about the Chinese ripping off the Congolese workers. We westerners really can’t say an awful lot about that really. Look how we have used children and women in sweat shops in far away lands – including China – for decades for as low a pay as possible for the maximum profit. No, the only thing I can say is it is a shame that “profit” always uses people.

    As for if it were western nations buying the cadmium or lithium from those people? The price would hardly be different and those doing the buying would be looking the other way as well. We can rave on and be sanctimonious, but our track record overseas doesn’t match what we do at home. We’ve earned our contempt by people from these same places.

    The average westerner may well feel for the conditions of these people, but the average international businessman could care less for anything other than squeezing the most profit for the least cost, and it really doesn’t matter which country he comes from. These tactics are the perfect examples of “vulture capitalism,” and have nothing to do with the concept of capitalism itself, but, sadly, have come to be what people think capitalism is all about.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      December 3, 2018 6:54 pm

      As a start, good, strong health and safety laws would help to starve the vultures. That the West is guilty of exploiting sweat-shops in the East is not an argument for accepting Chilean farmers being driven from their land nor Congolese ‘artisan miners’ being at physical and fiscal risk.

  11. Athelstan permalink
    December 3, 2018 6:48 pm

    There just ain’t enough Lithium,hasn’t anyone got the memo, certainly not in virtue signal central – the German car industry.

    However, the hypocrisy of the green goons – the unconscionable, the profiteers therein, has no limit.

    The 92 year old farmer Jose Zuleta, my heart goes out to him and to Christian Espindola, we hear your heartfelt cry! some decent and gentle people used to years and years of back breaking graft – but happy in their lot because they could in the past eke a living and may God bless them for that, enduring in uncertain fortitude – ain’t it the way with crop growing and farming? Alas….”could in the past” emphasis on erstwhile, past tense.

    No doubt of it, Lithium is a useful, a vital and ‘smart’ element but this awful exploitation, sucking up that most precious of resources – WATER, in drying up an already harsh desert region, the human race, have we gone totally bonkers? Surely there is more to life, and it begs: aren’t Jose’s and Christian’s lives also important?

    Mind you, this is about the human misery greed and green, the two are intertwined, never, NEVER make the mistake of believing that because they’re green besotted and beholden, it makes them somehow altruistic as I say the hyprocisy in all of the great green scam is vomit inducing, damn them all, the trouble is one human sins: as a race it damns us all.

    Damned we all are.

    • bobn permalink
      December 4, 2018 10:33 am

      Actually there’s lots of lithium, just not mined or refined. Bolivia has vast deserts of the stuff but mining is restricted by the socialist Govt to help inflate the price for its crony companies it grants licenses to. After the companies have had to bribe the Govst for permission to mine its no surprise they behave disreputably. They learn it from the Govts.

  12. nickreality65 permalink
    December 3, 2018 8:23 pm

    All the extractive industries are dangerous and messy.
    Copper is getting more difficult to find and more expensive.

  13. Jeff permalink
    December 3, 2018 10:52 pm

    Many exaggerated claims from greenies.
    If you halted that mining in those countries the people overall would be much worse off.
    Australia took over Chile in Lithium mining output, and I haven’t heard of any environmental problems here.

  14. HotScot permalink
    December 4, 2018 12:24 am

    A couple of things immediately sprung to mind. First, it should be recognised that these film-makers are no less financially motivated than any other media organisation. It’s in their interest to show the worst of the worst for shock value so they can sell their footage. The guardian does it all the time.

    Second, whilst the exploitation of unlicensed, peasant cobalt miners is reprehensible, just what proportion of cobalt mining is undertaken this way and how much is commercially mined by professional businesses? The documentary doesn’t tell us.

    The lithium mining seems a bit less contestable, but again, shock value is everything to a media expose.

    Thirdly, our German mining friend tells us it’s commercially viable to extract cobalt from German mines, in other words, we’ll now go into competition with Congolese peasant miners and put them out of business, according to this documentary. But seriously, are BMW, Mercedes and VW going to concern themselves with competing against peasant miners?

    Perhaps helping them to mine cobalt safely might be a better answer, unless the amount they extract, or the quality they extract isn’t worth the effort. The Congolese say they’re being ripped off by the Chinese, but they would say that. I wonder what the Chinese would say.

    Then the other side of the coin. Whilst we see the respective land masses of lithium and cobalt mining, what’s not shown is that compared to the land masses of accessible, cheap fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil.

    Just how long will these cobalt and lithium resources last? By this documentaries presentation, we only have a few short years, yet there are known to be hundreds of years of fossil fuels remaining in the ground, that we know of.

    I also note that whilst we lament the poverty and lack of facilities to these poor people, one miner is happily interviewed with a mobile phone in his hand and electricity pylons straddling his village.

    Personally, I’ll chalk this up to an ambitious, opportunistic, production crew with an axe to grind and a desire to make a living out it.

    Attenborough on a budget.

    • bobn permalink
      December 4, 2018 10:39 am

      Correct Hotscot. In any operation you can find impoverished people trying their luck. Peasants in africa enter abandoned and unsafe old gold mines to hack for nuggets, and wade through rubbish dumps to find food and clothes. Doesnt make it normal or widespread. Criminal gangs run extortion rackets in london but that doesnt mean all london business is extorted (except by the Govt and City Council). This is media micro-focus on the criminal edge of the trade.

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