The widespread view that fossil fuels are “dirty” and renewables such as wind and solar energy and electric vehicles are “clean” has become a fixture of mainstream media and policy assumptions across the political spectrum in developed countries, perhaps with the exception of the Trump-led US administration. Indeed the ultimate question we are led to believe is how quickly can enlightened Western governments, led by an alleged scientific consensus, “decarbonize” with clean energy in a race to save the world from impending climate catastrophe. The ‘net zero by 2050’ mantra, calling for carbon emissions to be completely mitigated within three decades, is now the clarion call by governments and intergovernmental agencies around the developed world, ranging from several EU member states and the UK, to the International Energy Agency and the International Monetary Fund.

Mining out of sight, out of mind

Let’s start with Elon Musk’s Tesla. In an astonishing achievement for a company that has now posted four consecutive quarters of profits, Tesla is now the world’s most valuable automotive company. Demand for EVs is set to soar, as government policies subsidize the purchase of EVs to replace the internal combustion engine of gasoline and diesel-driven cars and as owning a “clean” and “green” car becomes a moral testament to many a virtue-signaling customer.

Yet, if one looks under the hood of “clean energy” battery-driven EVs, the dirt found would surprise most. The most important component in the EV is the lithium-ion rechargeable battery which relies on critical mineral commodities such as cobalt, graphite, lithium, and manganese. Tracing the source of these minerals, in what is called “full-cycle economics”, it becomes apparent that EVs create a trail of dirt from the mining and processing of minerals upstream.

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