by Don Keelan
Some time ago, while talking with the late Senator Jim Jeffords (1934-2014) about what it took to develop legislation in Congress, he said I didn’t want to know. He compared it with making sausage: you would not eat it if you saw how it was done.
His comment can apply to other uncomfortable issues: homelessness, drug addiction, and the mental health crisis. If we don’t personally witness it, we don’t need to concern ourselves. For decades, Vermont has been in denial. Not anymore.
When it came to what was needed to make an Electric Vehicle, the car itself and its propulsion (batteries), I was also in denial. EVs require the precious metals of Cobalt, Lithium, Manganese, Nickel, and Bauxite that go into car manufacturing. The Washington Post recently stated, “The breathtaking demand for EVs…typically require six times the mineral input of weight of their fossil-fuel-burning counterparts…just to make them go.”
So where do all of these critical minerals come from? For starters, Bauxite comes from northwest Guinea. If you need to get up to date on international affairs, Guinea is one of the poorest countries in the world, according to the Washington Post. As I write this column, Guinea and its 13 million residents are going through a nightmare: their country’s rivers, lakes, farmland, and villages are being devastated as tens of thousands of tons of Bauxite are mined daily, primarily by Chinese government-owned companies.
It is not much better for Cobalt extraction. 70% of the world’s Cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainly from state and Chinese government companies. The Washington Post noted in its April 30 th report that over 200,000 folks work in the unregulated sector (15%), including 5,000 to 35,000 children, some as young as six.
I could go on, but it is depressing, especially when it is well-known in the EV industry that China processes (refines) over 50% of the minerals noted above and controls over 75% of the world’s battery production. And how are the smelting plants generated? By coal-fired furnaces?
But we don’t have to travel halfway around the world to maintain our denial status. All we need to do is look north to Canada, specifically the Province of Quebec and the province-owned company, Hydro-Quebec.
H-Q is a significant electricity supplier to Vermont and will continue until its contract ends in 2038. However, the company is running out of power and needs to create more hydro dams. To do so, it will again devastate lands owned by First Nation Canadians where the reservoirs for future dams will be made. Meanwhile, Vermont needs more renewable power.
Do we care what it takes to get us an EV or a kilowatt of electricity?
When I was a visiting history teacher at Arlington Memorial High School’s 11 th grade, I surveyed where the class of 22 students had their sneakers manufactured. Except for one student’s, all sneakers were made in Southeast Asia. A front-row student had a ghastly blue pair that he acquired at the local Walmart. The sneakers were made in Bangladesh and cost him $18.
When the class traced back the sneaker’s cost to sell and its 10,000-mile transportation, it was determined that the labor cost was only a few dollars and most likely paid to a youngster in a not-so-well-kept plant. The wearer didn’t care as long as he didn’t have to pay more than $20.
And so it is with the advent of transitioning to EV and all-electric. We don’t care what the cost is to the environment and to individuals as long as we can claim that we reduce the carbon footprint here in Vermont. If we don’t have to witness what it takes, we really don’t care.
The author is a U.S. Marine (retired), CPA, and columnist living in Arlington, VT.