The Stream

How sustainable are electric vehicles?

On Thursday, March 23 at 19:30 GMT: 
Electric vehicles have been hailed as an essential technology on our path to a fossil fuel-free and sustainable future. The US, UK and Europe have all enacted measures in recent years to ban new non-electric cars from 2035 onwards.

Companies themselves are also making moves to meet the increased demand for electric vehicles. General Motors has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2040, while an array of EV startups have also entered the market. But as electric vehicles continue to gain momentum, critics are raising concerns about the extent of their sustainability and the ethics behind the manufacturing process.

Batteries are the lynchpin technology of EVs and they’re composed of critical minerals including lithium, cobalt, copper, graphite and nickel. The extraction of which is often marred by environmental contamination and worker exploitation in the global south. More than 70 percent of the world’s supply of cobalt is produced in the Democratic Republic of Congo where worker exploitation runs rampant in the artisanal mining industry. Mining itself, while an essential component of many economies, comes with high environmental costs such as the degradation of forests and contamination and overuse of already scarce water.

In response to these concerns, environmental and human rights advocates are calling for more responsible practices in the industry. A commitment to finding new and better ways to recycle batteries is also emphasized by experts who see recycling as a way to reduce reliance on mining and opaque supply chains while improving sustainability. Better battery resilience and recycling is also seen as an essential step towards more sustainable EVs.

In this episode of The Stream, we discuss the sustainability of electric vehicles.

In this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Alissa Kendall
Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of California, Davis

Christina Bu @ChristinaBu_
Secretary General, Norwegian EV Association

Henry Sanderson @hjesanderson
Author of “Volt Rush: The Winners and Losers in the Race to Go Green”