In June, the European Parliament voted to effectively outlaw the sale of new cars using gasoline or diesel by 2035. If approved by the European Union, the move would revolutionize the world’s third-largest auto market after China and the United States—and hasten the global transformation of the entire automotive industry to battery technology.
What the parliamentarians didn’t mention: The world cannot mine and refine the vast amounts of minerals that go into batteries—lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, palladium, and others—at anywhere close to the scale for this rapid transition to electric vehicles (EVs) to occur. The dirty secret of the green revolution is its insatiable hunger for resources from Africa and elsewhere that are produced using some of the world’s dirtiest technologies. What’s more, the accelerated shift to batteries now threatens to replicate one of the most destructive dynamics in global economic history: the systematic extraction of raw commodities from the global south in a way that made developed countries unimaginably rich while leaving a trail of environmental degradation, human rights violations, and semipermanent underdevelopment all across the developing world.