CONVENTIONAL wisdom has it that electric cars are going to beat climate change. The SNP Government, for instance, is pledged to phase out new petrol cars in Scotland by 2032, eight years ahead of the UK. The First Minister has announced plans to make the A9 Scotland’s first fully electric-enabled road. South of the Border, Mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged that all London’s taxis and minicabs will be electric by 2033. However, the trouble with conventional wisdom is that it frequently masks a deal of naked self-interest. And behind self-interest lurks the next big disaster. Remember when everyone thought Facebook was a free way of keeping in touch with friends and family? Instead it turned out to be a Big Brother commercial espionage system that sells your intimate personal secrets for profit or for political advantage. In like fashion, beware the Janus face of electric cars. Far from solving climate change, they are introducing a whole new set of environmental and social problems. These problems have a name: cobalt. This is a very rare metallic element, usually found alongside nickel, silver and copper deposits. The word itself derives from an old German word, kobolt; a mythical goblin who was supposed to steal the silver ore and leave behind the blue, oxidised cobalt. For millennia, it was used to impart the distinct hue to expensive glass and ceramics. Then the modern industrial world found extraordinary new uses for cobalt. I agree wholeheartedly with the SNP Government’s commitment to a Green New Deal. But this has to represent more than virtue signalling. We might be reducing CO2 emissions in Scotland by driving more electric cars. Yet the resultant waste from more cobalt mining in the DRC pollutes rivers, the dust from the pulverized rock causes serious lung infections and the great Congo rainforest is fast disappearing. We need to change the system, not just the technology. Starting in Scotland.
The National 15th July 2019 read more »