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Another Dirty Side of ‘Clean’ Energy, “Cobalt Red, How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives”

Compiled by Patricia Burke with Sarah Aminoff of Safe Tech International 

(Top images source: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250284297/cobaltred)

“Never in human history has there been so much suffering that generated so much profit that directly touched the lives of more people around the world.”

Siddharth Kara’s new book is “Cobalt Red, How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives.”

“An unflinching investigation reveals the human rights abuses behind the Congo’s cobalt mining operation—and the moral implications that affect us all.”

“Cobalt Red is the searing, first-ever exposé of the immense toll taken on the people and environment of the Democratic Republic of the Congo by cobalt mining, as told through the testimonies of the Congolese people themselves. Activist and researcher Siddharth Kara has traveled deep into cobalt territory to document the testimonies of the people living, working, and dying for cobalt. To uncover the truth about brutal mining practices, Kara investigated militia-controlled mining areas, traced the supply chain of child-mined cobalt from toxic pit to consumer-facing tech giants, and gathered shocking testimonies of people who endure immense suffering and even die mining cobalt.

Cobalt is an essential component to every lithium-ion rechargeable battery made today, the batteries that power our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and electric vehicles. Roughly 75 percent of the world’s supply of cobalt is mined in the Congo, often by peasants and children in sub-human conditions. Billions of people in the world cannot conduct their daily lives without participating in a human rights and environmental catastrophe in the Congo. In this stark and crucial book, Kara argues that we must all care about what is happening in the Congo—because we are all implicated.” Source

About the Author: SIDDHARTH KARA is an author, researcher, and activist on modern slavery. He is a British Academy Global Professor and an Associate Professor of Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery at Nottingham University. Kara has authored three books on modern slavery and won the Frederick Douglass Book Prize. Kara’s first book was adapted into a Hollywood film, Trafficked. A feature film inspired by Cobalt Red is currently in preproduction. He divides his time between the U.K. and the US. – Source

New York Times Review

The New York Times review about the book asks, “How Is Your Phone Powered? Problematically.” Siddharth Kara’s “Cobalt Red” takes a deep dive into the horrors of mining the valuable mineral — and the many who benefit from others’ suffering.

Contributing writer Matthieu Aikins explains, “Cobalt, a mineral essential to the batteries of smart devices and electric vehicles — and therefore to the future — is haunted by a past of slavery and colonialism. The phone in your hand contains several grams of this element; some of it, as Siddharth Kara shows in “Cobalt Red,” was likely mined by people hacking away in toxic pits for subsistence wages.

Used as a source of blue pigment since antiquity, cobalt has joined blood diamonds and forced-labor shrimp as the latest bête noire of critics of globalization. Nearly half of the world’s reserves are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a conflict-stricken country that has long been the site of a geopolitical scramble for strategic resources. Human rights abuses and child labor are rife in Congo’s mining sector; in 2016, Amnesty International and the watchdog group Afrewatch put out a report that tied companies like Apple and Samsung to exploitatively mined cobalt. The industry promised reforms, but since then the demand for cobalt has only grown. Kara sets out to investigate what, if anything, has changed.

A lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Kara has written on sex trafficking and other forms of so-called modern slavery, part of a new group of abolitionists who claim explicit parallels with the historical fight against the slave trade. Like his previous books, “Cobalt Red” takes the form of a righteous quest to expose injustice through a series of vignettes of exploitation and misery. Kara proposes to take us “down the only road that leads to the truth,” a journey into the Katanga mining region, toward the cobalt hub of Kolwezi, “the new heart of darkness.””

“Regardless of its moral equivalence with historical slavery, today’s extreme labor exploitation is rooted in our modern economy.”

“Returning from his travels, Kara sees Western prosperity with new eyes. “The world back home no longer makes sense,” he writes. “Clean air and water feel like a crime.””


Newsweek’s Meredith Wolf Schizer’s interviewed the author in her article,  “Clean Energy’s Dirty Secret—Human Rights Abuses in Cobalt Mining”

” Q _ Why this book? Why now?

A _ Almost every lithium-ion rechargeable battery in the world has cobalt in it, and almost three-fourths of that cobalt is mined in appalling conditions in the Congo. Never in human history has there been so much suffering that generated so much profit that directly touched the lives of more people around the world. Most people are unaware of this tragedy, and that is why I wrote Cobalt Red. The reader will hear directly from the Congolese people themselves how they live, work and die to enable our rechargeable lives. [ ]

EVs are hailed as the future of transportation, to protect the world from carbon emissions. Yet the quantity of cobalt required for EV batteries is a significant issue. Is the human cost of mining cobalt worth the benefits? And is there enough cobalt in the Congo or elsewhere?

We should not tolerate a green future that is achieved through acts of violence against the people and environment of the Congo. EV manufacturers know the clock is ticking on cobalt reserves, as demand will far outstrip supply in the coming decades. Alternative battery chemistries are being developed, but this does not exonerate any of these companies from the harm caused by cobalt mining to this point, and for years to come.

What was the most surprising thing you learned when researching this book?

I was startled by the extent to which the realities on the ground in the Congo ran completely antithetical to the stories being told at the top of the chain. I expected the narratives promulgated by tech and EV companies were sanitizing the truth to some degree, but the ground reality was a horror diametrically opposed to the picture painted by stakeholders outside of the Congo. It was like I had stepped into an alternate universe, one in which the moral clock had been dialed back centuries to a time when the basis of exchange with the people of Africa was motivated solely by violence, piracy and utter contempt for their humanity. – Meredith Wolf Schizer’s Interview w/ Siddharth Kara

Another Dirty EV Issue: Battery ‘Disposal

Two years ago, Perry Gottesfeld  penned “ Electric cars have a dirty little recycling problem — batteries” for Canada’s National Observer. “In the rush to embrace this technology, auto companies are adopting the same pretence that has been embraced by the plastics industry: They are claiming that used batteries will be recycled. However, the truth is being swept under the rug. None of the lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles are recyclable in the same sense that paper, glass, and lead car batteries are. Although efforts to improve recycling methods are underway, generally only around half the materials in these batteries is currently extracted and repurposed. And without the most valuable ingredients, there will be little economic incentive to invest in recycling technologies. The result, if nothing is done to tip the scales, could be a massive health and environmental crisis.”

“We have already started shifting the burden of lithium-ion battery disposal to low- and middle-income countries, many of which lack stringent environmental safeguards and the facilities to recycle or otherwise process used batteries in an environmentally sound way. Some have even put in place incentives, including tax waivers, to encourage used electric and hybrid vehicle imports. A recent United Nations report found that hundreds of thousands of electric and hybrid vehicles are being exported annually from Japan, the E.U. and the U.S. to countries like Sri Lanka and Mauritius.”

In February of 2021, Richard Kent, Researcher on Business and Human Rights at Amnesty International wrote “Corruption and child labour have no place in the energy transition.” “Never before has mineral extraction sought to mitigate climate change on such a scale. But there are currently no laws in place to ensure green technologies do not themselves cause harm – and cause harm they do.”

Revisiting ‘Bright Green Lies

The 2021 book “Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It (Politics of the Living)” addresses EV’s as well as other green-washing narratives.

“Jeff Gibbs, writer, director, and producer of the film Planet of the Humans, notes, “Bright Green Lies dismantles the illusion of ‘green’ technology in breathtaking, comprehensive detail, revealing a fantasy that must perish if there is to be any hope of preserving what remains of life on Earth. From solar panels to wind turbines, from LED light bulbs to electric cars, no green fantasy escapes Jensen, Keith, and Wilbert’s revealing peak behind the green curtain. Bright Green Lies is a must-read for all who cherish life on Earth.” – SOURCE

About the Author “ Derrick Jensen is the acclaimed author of more than twenty-five books, including A Language Older Than Words, The Culture of Make Believe, and Endgame. Author, teacher, activist, small farmer, and leading voice of uncompromising dissent, he has been hailed as the philosopher poet of the environmental movement. Writes Publishers Weekly, “Jensen paints on a huge canvas an emotionally compelling and devastating critique of the intellectual, psychological, emotional and social structure of Western culture.”His premise is as profound as it is persistent: industrial civilization is inherently unsustainable. It will always require violence to biotic and human communities. And it will create a culture where trauma is normalized, where living beings become objects, and where the only relationship left is one of domination. “-SOURCE

Domination’ and ‘Utter Contempt for Their Humanity’- Yes, ‘Smart’ Meters

The theme of “utter contempt for their humanity” and “domination” infusing the drive for ‘clean energy’ is not confined only to mining and electric vehicles.

As reported by Suzanne Burdick PhD, writing for the Defender at the Children’s Health Defense, smart metering technology continues to be promoted, authorized, and forcefully deployed in states across the U.S., despite the fact that having a utility ‘smart meter’ installed has reportedly caused illness and disability in a portion of the population.

Take Action: Virginia Families Forced to Choose Between Smart Meters or No Power At All • Children’s Health Defense (childrenshealthdefense.org)

The smart meter narrative is based on the opinions and interpretation of mercenary tobacco scientists regarding health and ‘safety.’

The NCSL distributed and promoted a document created in 2012 by the Utilites Telecom Council to address smart meter concerns.  The presentation includes the opinion of Gradient’s Peter Valberg and other product defense experts.  (https://www.ncsl.org/documents/energy/Oldak_PPT.pdf) It is no longer available on the NCSL website but can be accessed on the Way Back Machine.. Peter Valberg was investigated by the Center for Public Integrity in their series Science for Sale: Meet the ‘rented white coats’ who defend toxic chemicals – Center for Public Integrity

It is difficult to comprehend that a system of checks and balances is not in place to ensure that Federal decision makers are not misinformed by pro-industry ‘experts,’ and that the warnings of independent researchers and reports of harm have been ignored.

But the ‘clean’ energy movement’s partnership with telecommunications has been playing fast, loose, and dirty. We need to do a better job of addressing domination and contempt powering ‘clean’ energy.

See Also: FCC: 1984 Isn’t Just a Book, It’s the Last Time the EPA Looked at RF Safety

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