The Dark Side of the Energy Transition: The Unsustainable Demand for Critical Minerals
The energy transition is gaining momentum as the world aims to tackle climate change by shifting away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner, renewable sources of energy. However, what many people don't realize is that this transition is not without its environmental costs. MiningWatch Canada estimates that an astonishing 3 billion tons of mined metals and minerals will be needed to power the energy transition. In this blog post, we'll take a closer look at the critical minerals that are in high demand, the environmental impact of their extraction, and the unsustainable demand that could lead to serious consequences in the future.
The Six Critical Minerals in High Demand
The six critical minerals that are in high demand for the energy transition are lithium, graphite, copper, cobalt, nickel, and rare earth minerals. These minerals are essential components in batteries, wind turbines, solar panels, and other green energy technologies. However, the demand for these minerals is increasing at an unprecedented rate, leading to an expansion in the mining industry. This expansion has serious environmental implications that must be addressed.
Environmental Impact of Mining
Mining for critical minerals has a significant environmental impact. It can lead to deforestation, habitat destruction, water pollution, and soil erosion. In addition, the extraction and processing of these minerals require large amounts of energy, leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions. The use of toxic chemicals, such as cyanide and sulfuric acid, in the mining process can also have serious health implications for local communities.
What is concerning about the energy transition is the unsustainable demand for critical minerals. Even if green energy were to last, over the next 30 years, we will have to increase the production of these minerals consuming more than all the past generations combined. This is not a sustainable model for the future. The demand for these minerals is so high that it could lead to a supply shortage, price spikes, and geopolitical tensions. Furthermore, the environmental impact of the mining industry could be irreversible.
MiningWatch Canada's "What-If" models project that copper will be at 9-10 by 2028, shutting down fossil fuels and moving to battery-stored electricity. While this might sound promising, it also means that there will be a significant increase in copper demand for batteries, electric vehicles, and other green energy technologies. The demand for copper is expected to grow by a factor of 4 by 2050, leading to an unsustainable demand that will have serious environmental consequences.
The energy transition is an important step towards tackling climate change, but it is not without its environmental costs. The demand for critical minerals is increasing at an unprecedented rate, leading to an expansion in the mining industry and serious environmental implications. The unsustainable demand for these minerals could lead to serious consequences in the future, including supply shortages, price spikes, and geopolitical tensions. We must find a more sustainable way to power the energy transition while minimizing the environmental impact of mining.