I have heard it said that electric cars and other renewable energy technology use rare earth elements and that this is a reason why they are not really ‘green’. But is this true?
Dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium are all extremely rare and are vital in renewable energy and electric cars, especially in batteries. The economic crisis has meant that the super-rich have a shortage of profitable outlets for their billions, with a sluggish stock market and a worldwide depression in consumption. One of the few areas that is booming is renewable energy, and the rarity of these elements has led to a modern ‘goldrush’. While much of the production comes from countries like Australia, there are also cases of land being ‘grabbed’ from indigenous people, and open cast mining in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Amazon. It is perfectly obvious to most of us that destroying rainforest to make a ‘green’ car makes no sense, but not it seems to big business.
So is this a reason not to buy renewable energy products? No. It is the same issue of regulating multinational corporations and preventing them from exploiting poor countries and the environment in their short-term grab for profits that is largely what got us into this mess in the first place, both financially and environmentally! The same problems occur for elements in the screens of your laptop and mobile phone, components in conventional cars, and even something as common as aluminium, not to mention coal for conventional power generation.
One thing we can do about it is to always recycle electrical products by taking them to the recycling centre, rather than letting them go to landfill in the domestic rubbish. The more components are recycled, the less has to come out of the ground. We can also help by placing our financial business with ethical funds or an ethical bank, since many of these environmental crimes are committed with the collective money from our pension funds and savings.
The issue also highlights that merely switching to another kind of consumption is not the whole answer. Buying an electric car instead of a conventional car is good, but so is doing half as many miles in your existing car and making it last twice as long, or waiting until your mobile breaks, instead of until it goes out of fashion, before replacing it.
Check out our pages on Energy Efficiency on: www.letsgetenergized.co.uk/energy/energy-efficiency and Sustainable Living: www.letsgetenergized.co.uk/energy/sustainable-living